LOS ANGELES -- All summer long, Brandon Vera told anyone who would listen that he was going to bring it when he set foot in the Octagon at the Staples Center on Aug. 4.
And all summer long, Vera served as a verbal punching bag for everyone from snarking fans to too-cool-for-school journalists.
Those who gave the Alliance MMA light heavyweight a fair hearing before his UFC on FOX 4 main event against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua were few and far between (though there were, in fact, some).
But the beauty of mixed martial arts is that ultimately, the only thing that matters is what happens when the cage door locks. And though Vera didn't get his arm raised Saturday night, Vera's tenacious performance was a statement to the MMA world, one that said that no one should question his heart.
"You can't put a number or a ranking on someone's heart and determination," UFC president Dana White said at the postfight press conference. "Brandon Vera told me at the last press conference that we was going to stick it on Saturday night. And he did, he fought like the wanted to win that fight. And he stood toe to toe, ‘Shogun' was actually shooting on him. Brandon Vera came to fight tonight and he looked awesome."
White wasn't the only person who noticed Vera's performance. Rua won the first round and rocked Vera early in the second, but Vera redoubled his efforts and rallied to win the round. By the start of the third round, the crowd of 16,080, who had greeted Vera's walkout with classic SoCal indifference, sensed the possible upset bid and thundered a deafening "Vera" chant across the Staples Center.
"I've never experienced anything like that, man," said Vera. "It was cool, bro. It reminded me of Rocky when he was fighting Ivan Drago. Everyone was rooting against him at first, but when they started banging it out and he was still in there, everyone started chanting his name. What I was feeling, I knew I was doing work against one of the legends. I'm not happy I lost, but I'm happy I fought the way I did."
Vera has had some great victories -- think the night he destroyed Frank Mir -- and he may have more yet. But a fight Vera lost will go down as the most important moment of his career: The moment in which he proved he's learned his lessons, and the moment at which he re-earned his respect.
With two black eyes and a face full of bruises to prove it, Vera reflected on where his path has taken him and where it might go.
"I thought just by being Brandon Vera, a.k.a. "The Truth," people would be nervous just by fighting me and they would back off," he said. "It's not like that. This is a place of champions. Its been a hard lesson, but I've learned it, I had a great time fighting tonight, but I'm going to keep pressing forward. I'm not going to stop training. ... I'm not done man, not by a longshot.
UFC on FOX 4 Notes
There's a line of thinking that implies that if the UFC is going to become like other major sports, it needs to start acting more like them. There's some merit to that. But UFC on FOX 4 seems proof that maybe marching to the beat of its own drummer is the company's best path. Many have criticized the UFC's decision to give the most impressive 205-pound performer on Saturday a title shot, but ask yourself this: How would pro boxing handle the situation in the UFC's light heavyweight division? If MMA was run like boxing, with its endless layers of bureaucracy, Jon Jones likely wouldn't even have gotten a title shot yet. Mauricio Rua would be the WMMAA champ, Quinton Jackson the WMMAC champ, Lyoto Machida the IMMAF champ and Rashad Evans the WMMAO champ. Hell, Tito Ortiz would probably be holding some sort of minor title right now. And their managers and promoters would all come up with reasons not to fight Jones, who would be fighting James Irvin because no one else would step to the plate. If Dana White didn't have the ability to decree that there was a title shot at stake, would last night's co-main events have been so compelling? While the system isn't without its flaws, I'll take a model that aims high and sometimes misses but usually hits over one that routinely deprives the fans of fights it wants to see.
I'm still going with Chan Sung Jung's May 15 victory over Dustin Poirier for fight of the year, but Joe Lauzon's victory over Jamie Varner certainly belongs on the short list. For the better part of three rounds, Lauzon and Varner showed the casual fans who may have been channel surfing everything that's great about MMA: The momentum swings, the sharp striking, the artistic ground work, and an endless supply of fighting spirit. But Jung-Poirier had all that as well. It's also worth remembering that few gave "The Korean Zombie" a real chance of beating Poirier. Comparing Jung-Poirier to Lauzon-Varner is like trying to pick a favorite Picasso. But the fact Jung's win was considered a major upset and one that altered the landscape at 145 pounds, whereas Lauzon's win was a great fight that doesn't really change the lightweight picture, makes the difference.
UFC on FOX 4 Quotes
"Everything I've seen from Lyoto Machida looks like he wants this fight worse than 'Shogun' does. 'Shogun' hasn't shown me anything that says he demands to fight Jon Jones again. Machida is." -- Dana White.
"I thought I had a chance at both, I wasn't sure when the Brandon Vera and ‘Shogun' fight was going on. It started out all hot and heavy, so I thought they might have gotten fight of the night. I'm thrilled I got both and I'm even happier I got the record." -- Joe Lauzon, whose Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night awards gave him 11 career postfight bonuses, surpassing Chris Lytle's previous record of 10.
"It's still hard to put into words. It was amazing. I just pushed forward and hoped something like this word happen. To be sitting here after a big fight on FOX, I can't put it into words." -- Mike Swick, sitting at the postfight press conference after winning his first fight in 910 days.
To the ringside doctor who called off the Phil Davis-Wagner Prado bout after Davis suffered an eye poke. Is it a downer to have a fight end in such a manner? Sure. But Prado walked directly in front in front of me on his way back to the locker room, a good five minutes after the eye poke, and there was still blood coming out of the injured eye. The doctor's there for a reason. Better safe than sorry.
It's my policy that I won't pick a "Bad Call" for the sake of picking a bad call if there really wasn't one. That's the case with UFC on FOX 4.
Stock up: John Moraga
The Arizona Combat Club flyweight made his UFC debut count. Moraga used a sharp and varied striking attack to batter Ulysses Gomez and his finishing sequence was both a thing of beauty and an awesome display raw power for a 125-pounder. Moraga is 11-1, with his only loss a decision against John Dodson. I don't think I'm alone in saying I want to see more of Moraga.
Stock down: Cole Miller
It might be time Miller to re-think his drop down to 145 pounds. Miller had an enormous size and reach advantage over Nam Phan on Saturday night, but once Phan managed to find his range and timing, Miller had no answer against his significantly smaller foe. This puts Miller, who looked like a walking skeleton at Friday's weigh-ins, at 0-2 since dropping down from lightweight. Miller at featherweight is an experiment which simply isn't working.
Fight I want to see next: Joe Lauzon vs. Nate Diaz.
Yeah, I know, this fight wouldn't make sense for Diaz, since he's in line for a lightweight title shot. But I'm not thinking in terms of the title picture, I'm thinking purely in terms of exciting fights. Lauzon set the UFC record for postfight awards Saturday night by getting his 10th and 11th. Diaz has nine. What's not to love about a Diaz-Lauzon fight?