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UFC 105 Main Event Fight Breakdown: Brandon Vera vs. Randy Couture

Every time Randy Couture steps into the cage, the mind can't help but wonder if this will be the last time. For years, the 46-year-old has made a very good living bucking the odds and overcoming expectations, but his UFC 105 bout with Brandon Vera will mark the first time since 2002 that Couture stares a possible three-fight losing streak in the face.

In Vera, Couture will face a mercurial talent who was once seen as a future superstar but has yet to reach the heights expected of him.

So how will the fight go down? Let's take a look.

With Couture (16-10), we always have a very good idea of what we'll be seeing. He has favored a similar gameplan for most of his fights while tailoring a few distinct wrinkles to each individual opponent. His game has always been predicated on utilizing his wrestling prowess to clinch his opponent against the fence, put his foe on his back, and utilize ground and pound from his favored half-guard position.

Couture's general strategy has often worked because in most matchups, he has decisively been the superior wrestler. Surprisingly, that might not necessarily be the case on Saturday.

While Vera (14-3) has never utilized his wrestling in the way that Couture has -- nor is he as decorated as Couture is -- he has a solid background in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines. Staying upright has the potential to swing the fight in his favor, and Vera has the skills to do it. To do so, however, Vera may have to tone down the kicks that tend to play a big role in his offense. He will certainly need to more carefully select his shots. While it is highly unlikely he will eliminate kicks altogether from his arsenal, he needs to minimize the opportunities for Couture to catch a leg and initiate a takedown.

The issue with this is that Vera seems to do his best striking with his kicks and knees, so his best weapon will also put him in the biggest danger for a takedown. That dynamic should make for an interesting cat-and-mouse between Vera and Couture in close quarters and especially in the clinch, pitting Vera's Muay Thai excellence against Couture's dirty boxing prowess. Whichever man can keep his back off the cage will get the edge there.

Another aspect of the wrestling game that has been somewhat dismissed is the possibility that Vera might try to take Couture down. Though he's never featured takedowns as a primary weapon in his game, Vera has proven capable of it in the past, even taking down the former All-American wrestler Reese Andy twice in a unanimous decision win during his UFC light-heavyweight debut in July 2008.

Couture has improved with his striking over the years, but will need to overcome a three-inch reach disadvantage against Vera. That should not be a major hurdle for a man who has spent a large portion of his career fighting giants.

The bigger issue might be an increased succeptibility to damage. No one wants to doubt the legend's durability, but it can not be denied that he was badly hurt in his TKO loss to Brock Lesnar last November. That can easily be explained by Lesnar's massive size and power. A bit more alarming, however, was his August loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who has never been known for his striking power but knocked Couture down twice during the bout. The fight with Vera will show if we are seeing the decline of a great, or if the seemingly ageless wonder has one more run in him.

This fight is equally pivotal for both men. Couture is just 3-4 since the start of 2005, though his losses are to Chuck Liddell (twice), Lesnar and Nogueira. A loss in his return to light-heavyweight could mark the end. Vera, meanwhile, needs the legitimacy that comes from toppling a legend.

While Vera is considered something of an underachiever, he has the chance to put that label behind him. At 32, he's no longer a young prospect. His future is now or never, and he seems to have a sense of maturity about him that wasn't there when he first debuted in the octagon.

With a standup advantage, underrated wrestling and clinchwork, I believe that Vera will keep the fight upright enough to put himself in advantageous positions, and do enough to warrant a decision victory.

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