Last time you saw (saw being the operative term) Brandon Vera, he was getting emasculated by Thiago Silva at UFC 125. Not only did the Brazilian beat him for three solid rounds, but he taunted Vera, slapping him in the face with an open hand and playing an extended drum solo on his opponent's back.
For the proud Vera, it was mortifying. How had a man, a man who once, in a fit of hubris, claimed he would hold the light heavyweight and heavyweight titles simultaneously, come to this? For the UFC brass, it was the last straw. Vera, after years of being the promotion's most promising prospect, was finally shown the door. He was out.
A lot has changed since those dark days. Vera was saved by a Thiago Silva urine sample that was less than human. His loss was changed to a "no contest." Vera was given yet another chance, buried on the preliminary card at UFC 137, a chance he took advantage of with a win over Elliot Marshall.
Vera had survived to fight another day. But in a title eliminator? On national television? For a shot at the mighty light-heavyweight champion, Jon Jones?
Not even in his wildest dreams. Not even in an opium fueled delusion. It's such a ludicrous proposition that the writers of HBO's True Blood would have rejected it outright—and they don't reject anything featuring two participants who are only half-dressed rolling around.
Before a tepid win over Marshall, Vera hadn't won a fight since 2009. He hadn't beaten anyone of consequence since beating Frank Mir all the way back in 2006. And yet here he sits, one win away from a title shot against arguably the best fighter in the business.
Make no mistake, though. Vera is being put in the cage this Saturday on Fox to lose. He's a speed bump for former champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. But a banged-up fighter like Rua losing to a fighter he's supposed to beat isn't outside the realm of the believable.
There's a reason Brandon Vera was once considered such a hot prospect. He has the tools to beat anyone, but especially Rua. Vera has the solid standup to survive Shogun's standing attack and the Greco Roman pedigree to possibly beat him in the clinch.
Of all the top contenders at 205 pounds, Rua is the fighter Vera has the best chance of besting. Rua is unlikely to take Vera to the ground, which seems to be his Kryptonite.
Standing, or in the top position, is where Vera makes his money. He'll be there all night against Rua. And that could make things very interesting for the UFC when it comes time to promote their next light heavyweight title fight.
Brandon Vera: title contender. I suppose stranger things have happened. Just not very many.