You’ve heard this story before.
A young, up-and-coming fighter starts off their career with a string of impressive victories. There are highlight-reel finishes, charismatic promos, and maybe even a win over a former world champion to add some much-needed credibility.
Maybe they have the good fortune of being able to compete at multiple weight classes, leading to the inevitable goal of holding two belts – often before even one has been attained.
In the last few years, several stars have added “champ-champ” to their list of accolades, among them Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes, Henry Cejudo, and Ryan Bader. It doesn’t matter whether they had to work their way up two divisional ladders. They made the most of their shot and etched their names in the history books.
In the mid-2000s, chasing multiple titles wasn’t as common a pursuit, which made Brandon Vera something of a curiosity at the time. He openly spoke about becoming a champion at heavyweight and light heavyweight, and for a moment in time, it looked like he was on his way. In just over one minute, he beat Frank Mir at UFC 65. A win over a former world champion? Check.
A drop down to 205 pounds offered new promise of winning a UFC title. But it produced mixed results, and it looked like the end of Vera’s double-champ aspirations. It wasn’t until he moved to ONE Championship in 2014 that a spark was lit again.
Vera, the inaugural ONE heavyweight champion, has defended his title two times. While he’s competed sporadically in the last five years, and only in the Philippines, where his heritage has made him a beloved figure, his two-division conquest is back on.
Now, Vera is set to take his first ONE bout outside of the islands when he challenges Aung La N Sang for a light heavyweight (225-pound) title at the promotion’s massive “Century” event on Oct. 13.
At last, the 41-year-old is close to checking a second belt off of his list. If he pulls it off, he believes it’s an achievement that will stand on its own.
“There’s a lot of copies, but only one original,” Vera told MMA Fighting. “I am that OG who put it out there a long time ago in the universe. So for this to come, especially on the biggest platform in martial arts right now, with (one) billion people watching, this is going to mean more — if you’re just looking at numbers— because they’ve never competed against anybody like Mr. Aung La. This is going to mean more because I will have to defend this title.
“And I think it will mean more because after this event, October 13, I want to start collecting belts from all organizations from all over the world. So we’ll see. We’ll see who’s really real.”
According to Vera, he recently signed a 10-fight contract with ONE, and the plan is for him to compete at least twice a year. Should he triumph over the “Burmese Python,” he’s ready to defended two titles – or chase others.
ONE previously has cross-promoted with other notable Asian organizations, including Japan’s long-running Shooto and Pancrase promotions. But it has yet to form a deal with partners in Europe or North America. In Vera’s mind, it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance to test his mettle against the best all around the world.
“As fast as ONE Championship is growing and how big they’re becoming, the key word is ‘yet,’” Vera said of cross-promotion. It hasn’t happened yet. But I can only imagine that has to be on their radar.”
Eighteen years into his professional fighting career, Vera has other priorities. He lists off a number of projects he’s working on, ranging from getting into movies, starting businesses, owning real estate, and dabbling in cryptocurrency. He’s also heavily invested in making improvements in the Philippines.
He pauses when asked about doing more for his community.
“It’s just like MMA,” he said. “We see where there’s holes, and we try to fix what we can.”
Winning two titles was always in the back of Vera’s mind, even as he sputtered to a 1-4 (1 NC) record in the end of his run with the UFC. Back then, fighting was all about being in the moment.
Now, he’s older and wiser, and his long-term goal is arriving at the right time.
“I never had a plan for this,” Vera said. “We just go with life. My wife came out, we had this plan of just getting our minds right, doing really well, performing well and earning our first world title.
“After we have our first world title, what can you do next? It’s always been a dream to own two belts in two different categories. That dream (has) always been there – it’s just been put on pause. Let’s bring that back into play. So this game and this lifestyle, this sport, this whole thing that we call martial arts, it’s forever going to be evolving for me. I don’t know what the future holds for me in mixed martial arts. I guess (I’ll) keep going until my body doesn’t want to do it anymore.
“But we never planned on it. When the opportunity stuck it’s head up, I said, ‘We’re going to go ahead and do this now.’ We might as well. What are we gonna do...just wait forever?”
There’s no more waiting for Vera. If everything goes according to plan against La, it won’t be one year between in-cage appearances anymore either. Vera can’t guarantee he’ll fulfill all 10 fights on his contract; he’s already told his family he plans to compete at least four more times as mental preparation for a potential retirement.
After that, he’ll play it by ear.
Outsiders may see a fighter fulfilling his destiny. But Vera sees himself as part of a greater whole. He could soon have another belt to take home. But the understanding is that life beyond the fight game has already provided its own rewards.
“That’s all there was before,” Vera said. “That’s all there was, that’s all I was doing. I kind of put myself into this little box. It’s the old saying, ‘You put all your eggs in basket, what happens?’ Any little heartbreak, any little trauma, any little sidestep, any mishap, anything can break you, you know? So we don’t put all our eggs in one basket.
“We do everything now, and martial arts just happens to be number one on my list of priorities every day. From training to thinking to watching videos, so I’m living this lifestyle as a martial artist while living my life. And it’s improved me. You see what we’re doing now compared to what we used to be doing, so I absolutely love it. I love it this way now.”