In that, there is a lesson to be learned. It is a title that was once bestowed upon his "UFC on Versus" opponent, Brandon Vera, after Vera burst upon the scene smashing everything in his path and proclaiming his intent on becoming the first UFC fighter to simultaneously hold the light-heavyweight and heavyweight championship belts. Yet now, here Vera stands a loser of four of his last seven fights, and facing the possibility of a must-win situation.
Opportunities can come quickly in MMA. They can end just as fast. With the benefit of some age and maturity, Vera knows that now, and that at 32, his chances of fulfilling his promise are running low. This bout against Jones gives him his best chance of reigniting his career.
Vera is coming off a UFC 105 decision loss to Randy Couture. The decision was a bit controversial as many thought Vera did enough to take the fight on the judges' scorecards, but looking back, Vera did not fight with any sense of immediacy or urgency. Particularly in the final round -- when ostensibly the fight hung in the balance -- Vera landed just nine punches, according to Compustrike (12 if you prefer FightMetric).
Though some of that can be attributed to having the crafty, seasoned veteran Couture as an opponent, Vera's cautious approach has to send up red flags as he steps into the cage with the ultra-aggressive Jones. Interestingly, a more measured approach has become the norm for Vera, who's gone to a decision in four of his last five fights, earning his only finish against Mike Patt via leg kicks at UFC 96.
The question now is whether Jones' aggressive approach forces Vera into a more offensive style. There are hints it will. When Vera defeated Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 102, he outstruck the active Soszynski, earning the judges' nod. Most tellingly, he had his most active round in the third.
Vera's striking is good enough, technical enough, that he feels comfortable standing up with anybody. His wrestling is good enough that he can take anyone down, and his jiu-jitsu is competent enough to threaten anyone. His skill-set is not the issue; the issue has been putting all the pieces together, mixing in some killer instinct and bringing it all to a boil. Sometimes, you have the right ingredients, but the recipe doesn't come together.
To be fair to Vera, he had a tough time with the weight cut the first two times out at 205, when he grinded out a decision against Reese Andy and lost a split decision against Keith Jardine. He's been more comfortable with it since, and those three performances have come closest to the early UFC version of him.
Jones, I think, will draw him out again. Against someone so dynamic, you almost have no choice but to match firepower or be overwhelmed. He is in some sense just the kind of opponent Vera needs, one that will push him, challenge him, and force him out of comfort zones.
Jones, too, is coming off a loss, but one made of his own doing; he was disqualified for illegal downward elbows while in the process of probably finishing Matt Hamill back in December. It was until then a dominant performance that seemed to be moving towards his first UFC TKO, and despite the loss, no one found anything in his performance that signified he wasn't moving towards the division's elite.
Vera may not be as flashy as Jones, but he's the most versatile opponent the 22-year-old has yet faced. He's solid in every aspect of the game, so if Jones mows through him, it will certainly raise the eyebrows of those who haven't yet boarded the Jones hype train.
On their feet, I expect Vera to be the more crisp striker, but Jones to throw more volume. The clinch should be interesting, with both men having extensive Greco-Roman backgrounds. That may be a wash. The ground may be Vera's biggest advantage, but Jones hasn't spent enough time on his back in his career to truly say how out of his element he'd be there. The one peek we've had of him on the ground against a top grappler was at UFC 87 against black belt Andre Gusmao, and Jones had no issues staying out of trouble when the fight went to the mat.
But while Jones and Vera are close in all the individual aspects, I ultimately believe that Jones gets the nod because of his dynamic style and aggressive pace. Even if a fighter like Vera counterstrikes well, judges often favor the man pushing the action as long as he's doing some damage on the way in. The one element of Jones' game that makes things dangerous is his willingness to take risks, and against someone that stays composed, he could put himself in a position to be exploited. Vera is good enough to take advantage of that kind of mistake, but those holes will probably be minimized since training at Greg Jackson's MMA with top trainers and seasoned fighters who are more likely to point out such issues.
I expect this fight to go the distance with Jones winning by decision.