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Brandon Vera: 'My Head Got Real Big, and Someone Had to Pop It'

LAS VEGAS -- Stop me if you've heard this one before: Fighter wins a few fights, gets a big head, makes grand proclamations, struggles and falls to the back of the line.

It's the exact storyline of Brandon Vera's UFC career, an athlete who found immediate success, voiced a desire to win two belts at the same time, and yet today, finds himself fighting simply to keep his job.

Vera has no problem identifying his rock-bottom moment. It came in March, against rising star Jon Jones. Vera found himself on his back, with Jones looking to work him over.

We'll let Vera tell the story from there.

"I remember being off in my own world while he was throwing elbows," he said. "He was missing and I was holding his wrist and thinking, 'Geez, all the hype is about you? Really? This is what you have to offer on the ground? Really?'

"And I remember saying, 'You F'in' and then I said, 'suck' but before I said 'suck,' an elbow came down in my face, and smashed my face," he continued. "That's when I realized right then and there, 'That's what you get, you bastard. That's what you get for thinking you're so ahead of the game. That's what you get.' For sure I didn't respect him the way I should have. It was a hard thing to learn, but I promise I learned that one."

The elbow in question damaged Vera's face (it resulted in three broken bones), but it might have repaired his vision. For years, Vera coasted on natural talent. For a time, it brought him success. He won his first four UFC fights and seemed to be on the road to a heavyweight title shot, until a contract holdout situation cost him nearly a year. When he returned, he lost a decision to Tim Sylvia.

In his next fight, he was TKO'd by Fabricio Werdum. Vera (11-5) protested the stoppage, but there always seemed to be an excuse. In a split decision loss to Keith Jardine at UFC 89, he said the judges got it wrong. The complaint was the same after a loss to Randy Couture at UFC 105.

But against Jones, there was no one to blame but himself. Nothing to blame but his overconfidence.

"The fights seemed to come easy," he said. "It just seemed to be easy. I was in there training hard, going in and knocking someone out real quick. Training hard, going in and knock somebody else out real quick. I guess my arrogance caught up to me. My head got real big, and someone had to pop it. Too bad someone had to pop my face. But it's popped. I'm back, my head's level and I'm ready to go."

At UFC 125, he won't have an easy road back to the winner's circle in a match that could very well decide whether he has a future in the UFC. Vera has lost two in a row, and at 33 years old, he's no longer the young phenom that seemed to have all the time in the world.

The matchup against Thiago Silva (14-2) is fine with him, even though Silva is among the most powerful strikers in the light-heavyweight division, with 11 of his 14 wins coming via knockout or TKO.

"I appreciate they didn't give me a gimme," he said. "They gave me a chance to come back into the UFC and prove myself, make sure I'm worth what I'm worth."

The kid that started 4-0 in the UFC is now a man who has gone 3-5 in his last eight fights. Now it's no longer about winning two championships, or even one. It's almost like starting over from scratch.

"When I first came in here, I was a young kid, guns blazing," he said. "You learn a lot. Life experiences, fight experiences. I've learned a lot. If I had to go through it right now I'd wind up writing you guys a book. I've learned a lot. My teammates got on me, my coaches got on me. People smacked me around and told me to get it together. I think I got it together and I'm ready to show it."

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