Remember the days, way back in 2006, when Brandon Vera was considered the future of mixed martial arts?
He was going to be heavyweight champion, and then he'd drop some weight and capture the light heavyweight belt just for the fun of it. Vera repeated the claim for anyone who wanted to listen, but he wasn't making empty threats. Many fans and media folks alike thought Vera had the tools to follow through on his promise.
I sure did, especially after his violent dispatching of Frank Mir back at UFC 65.
But then consecutive losses followed to Tim Sylvia and Fabricio Werdum, and Vera suddenly found himself scrambling to light heavyweight without the heavyweight belt. He won that 205-pound debut fight against the completely unheralded Reese Andy, but has gone just 3-3-1 since.
He wouldn't even be on the UFC roster in 2012 if it hadn't been for Thiago Silva's brainiac decision to use fake urine for a drug test after beating Vera at UFC 125 early last year.
Vera survived the cut and came back to win a narrow decision over Eliot Marshall last fall. For his next trick, he'll jump directly into the fire for the biggest fight of his life when he faces Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC on FOX in August.
Vera told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that beating Rua could be his finest moment:
This is a golden ticket. I need this. This could almost become the defining moment of my career, through all the good, the bad and the ugly. If I do this the way I'm supposed to, the way I can, the world will start following. I'm not ready to let my story come to an end. I'm not ready to retire. I'm not ready to hang up the gloves.
Vera makes a cogent point. A win over Shogun still means something—not as much as it used to, mind you, but something—and beating the former light heavyweight champion would launch Vera back to the kind of heights many assumed he'd never again attain.
Who wins this fight?
But a loss to Shogun still means something, too.
A loss is a loss—especially when you're only on the UFC roster due to a technicality. Vera isn't stepping in on short notice, either, which means he won't be afforded the usual grace for saving the UFC's bacon as a late-notice replacement.
Listening to Vera, I was utterly convinced that he believes he will beat Shogun in August. And maybe he will.
But history has been full of promise for Brandon Vera, and thus far he hasn't been able to deliver on it. Perhaps he'll start doing so in front of the largest audience of his career, and wouldn't that be something?