Vera the ‘future’ of MMA

Brandon Vera destroying Frank Mir at UFC 65. (Photo courtesy UFC)

Brandon Vera destroying Frank Mir at UFC 65. (Photo courtesy UFC)

-- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

As we pass the midway point of 2007, fans of mix martial arts have already dubbed this to be the year of the upsets.

Georges St. Pierre, Mirko Cro Cop and Chuck Liddell were all once thought to be unstoppable, only to each get knocked out by opponents in the first round. Randy Couture shocked the martial arts world by coming out of retirement to win the UFC heavyweight championship. The list goes on.

With MMA now firmly establishing itself as a sport where anything can happen and since future stars are coming from all over the fighting landscape, now seemed like a good time to highlight some of the best up and comers going today.

If you don’t know who these guys are now, you will soon. You can count on that.

THE TRUTH

When asked who he thought was the cream of the crop, former PRIDE FC announcer and current EliteXC commentator and on-air host for The Fight Network, Mauro Ranallo, didn’t have to think twice. His answer: Brandon (The Truth) Vera.

“Brandon Vera is the prototype of the future of MMA,” he said. “First of all, he’s very marketable – a good talker and absolutely devastating in all facets of mixed martial arts. He represents the purest form of the mixed martial artist of the modern era – knockout power, submission skills and he’s a tremendous athlete.

“This guy needs to be on display and fighting on a regular basis. I hope Brandon realizes that he’s a superstar in the making. Right now I think he’s the one to watch in terms of the next generation of MMA fighters.”

Even current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton (Rampage) Jackson – who had very little to say on a lot of the fighters – knows ‘the truth.’

“I’m very impressed with him,” Jackson said. “He’s got what it takes to be a champion.”

These are some pretty strong endorsements, but, ironically, Vera has been MIA in MMA for almost eight months now.

The UFC heavyweight was on a meteoric rise to top the top of the division with decisive wins over Fabiano Scherner, Justin Eilers and Assuerio Silva. Following his complete dismantling of former champion Frank Mir in 69 seconds at UFC 65, speculation ran wild that he would be next to challenge, then champion, Tim Sylvia.

“I guess the most satisfying win for me would be Justin Eilers because I kicked him in the head,” Vera said. “I know that’s not saying much because no one really thinks too much of Eilers, but that’s my favourite. I kicked him and was like, ‘Oh man it works! It really works!’”

And then with one fight left in his UFC contract, Vera disappeared from the fighting world.

It was later revealed he was busy trying to separate himself from his current manager. Rumours circulated that Vera’s manager turned down a new contract offer from the UFC without consulting him. As a result, the California State Athletic commission is set to hold an arbitration hearing this month to settle the dispute.

“If that’s what you heard, then I can kind of tell you that’s sort of the gist of the situation,” Vera said. “I can’t say much; my lawyers have advised me not to say anything. I don’t want to jeopardize anything between me, my manager and the California State Athletic Commission.”

When told about Jackson’s comments on him, Vera was excited and said it fuels his desire to get his ordeal sorted so he can return to the octagon.

“To hear something like that from Quinton – who’s been in the game as long as he has, been through the wars he has and that he’s the damn champion right now – that’s great,” he said. “I use that sort of stuff to motivate me to train harder. That’s really good to hear.”

Vera noted that he wants to both apologize to and thank the fans who are waiting for him to return to the UFC.

“Just because I haven’t had a fight recently doesn’t mean I’ve stopped training,” he said. “If anything, I’m learning more while training for fun than I ever did when I was training for a fight. Even though I’m not in the limelight, I’m still in the mix.” Though the UFC has yet to approach Vera about a fight, when asked who he looks forward to fighting, he was quick to throw names around like Andrei Arlovski, Mauricio (Shogun) Rua, Gabriel Gonzaga and Randy Couture.

“Randy would be a hard fight, but it would also be a very good fight,” he said. “He is definitely one of my idols – I think he’s every fighter’s idol – but, man, our business is to fight and I’ll do whatever it takes to win a title.”

If Vera gets his managerial situation together he could return to the UFC towards the end of the year, around the same time former heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia is set make his comeback. How would he feel about fighting The Maine-iac?

“Yeah, I’ll fight Tim,” Vera began. “It won’t be a fun fight; wait, no I guess it would be. As long as I press him and don’t just let him sit back and jab the whole damn time it’ll be a good fight.”

OTHER UP AND COMERS

TYSON GRIFFIN

I have a feeling Tyson Griffin is about to become very unpopular in the UFC locker room area. Reason being: the other fighters must know they’re not getting anywhere near the bonus money that comes with being awarded “Fight of the Night.”

So far in 2007 Griffin has fought twice. Both matches are legitimate candidates for best fight of the year. Though he lost by unanimous decision to Frank Edgar (more on him later), he bounced back with a controversial decision victory over Clay Guida.

Ranallo: To me, Tyson Griffin is the most exciting fighter of 2007. Considering the fights he had with Clay Guida and Frank Edgar, as well as his marketability – let’s face it he’s a good-looking kid, very well put together and tremendous in all aspects of the game.

I definitely think Tyson Griffin is someone you will want to watch out for at 155 lbs.

Rampage: I think he’s a tough fighter and an excellent wrestler.

KALIB STARNES

Ultimate Fighter 4 contestant Kalib Starnes raised a few eyebrows with his recent victory over Chris Leben. Though the Surrey, B.C. native lost one of his three fights to Yushin Okami, he has proved that he’s someone to watch in the middleweight division.

Ranallo: His ground game is second to none and we’ve seen incredible improvement in his stand-up game. Kalib’s got all the skill in the world, but it’s his mental game (that’s suspect). If he’s confident in his skills, then the world is his oyster.

It hurts me to say this because of my personal affiliation with him, but I don’t know if he’s capable of being a champion. He’s definitely capable of having a great career and being an obstacle for anyone. I’m not saying he won’t be a champion – he’ll definitely have a very fruitful career if he wants it - but MMA is 90 per cent mental.

FRANK EDGAR

Edgar’s aforementioned victory over Griffin is his only fight to date in the UFC. However, tonight at UFC 73 he returns to face Toronto’s Mark Bocek.

If Edgar can continue his hot streak, expect to see him in the lightweight-title picture in the near future.

Ranallo: Edgar’s got a world-class wrestling background and I think he would be an interesting match up with Sean Sherk. Frank Edgar is definitely a guy to keep your eye on.

HOUSTON ALEXANDER

Though he’s only fought for 48 seconds in the Octagon, that time was put to really good use. With an intense flurry of strikes, Alexander stopped Keith Jardine’s hot streak dead in its tracks.

Rampage: I think he’s pretty good. I was very impressed with his win over Keith Jardine.

Ranallo: He looked tremendous, but is 48 seconds enough to know what he’s about? He’s definitely put himself on the map, but I still think it’s too early to tell whether or not he’s the real deal or simply a one-hit wonder. I would really like to see him in action again.

JON FITCH

Part of me didn’t want to put Jon Fitch on here because he’s already fought and won six fights in the UFC, but at the end of the day he just hasn’t received the recognition he deserves.

He’s already proven himself to be serious contender in the welterweight division. Keep your eyes on him because he should be in the title picture soon.

Ranallo: Fitch is always in an entertaining fight and shows up ready to put on a show. He’s been flying under the radar a bit, but die hard fans know the name Jon Fitch. He’s a guy you’re definitely going to have to watch.

He’s very solid in every aspect of fighting. I don’t know if he’s spectacular in any single aspect, but he’s very solid at everything. He’s a candidate to beat anyone on any given night and that makes for a dangerous opponent.


Videos

Photos