UFC 164 was headlined by the lightweights, but the main card featured two high-profile heavyweight bouts as well. One of those two clashes came between Ben Rothwell and Brandon Vera, with the UFC mainstays hoping to improve their standing.
With Rothwell picking up a third-round TKO victory, Vera suffered a major setback in his once promising career.
Vera was strong early, controlling the first round with a flurry of kicks to the body and legs. He even landed a huge left hand, but Rothwell shook it off, and Vera's damaging blow appeared to be limited in effectiveness.
Even still, it was clear who the better fighter was after one round.
And then the second round began.
The second round wasn't pretty for either fighter, with neither landing significant strikes and the action stuck in the clinch. With that being said, Rothwell was in control, using his gargantuan size to push Vera against the cage and land short-range knees.
Vera threw shots of his own, but they weren't enough to counter the opposition during the second round. While neither impressed, Rothwell's size was enough for him to take control.
With that being said, Vera was still winning the fight after two.
During the third round, Rothwell went borderline insane, stunningly shaking his head and wildly swinging at Vera. The shots didn't land, but it was enough for the powerhouse to strike big and land a knockout blow with his opponent off guard.
In turn, Rothwell picked up the win, and Vera was humanized, once again.
The question for Vera is terrifyingly simple: now what?
Vera began his career with World Extreme Cagefighting, becoming the 2005 Heavyweight Grand Prix champion and instantly turning heads. He proceeded to join the UFC and make his mark, winning his first four fights and picking up a high-profile TKO victory over Frank Mir.
Since starting 8-0, however, Vera has gone 4-7-1, dropping to 12-7-1 for his career.
The opponents whom he has lost to are of an elite caliber, including Jon Jones, Randy Couture and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Equally as important, he has reached the third round in eight of his past nine fights, with his loss to Jones serving as the exception.
While the superstar fighters he's facing may be having trouble with him, they're still winning. Until that changes, he is becoming more of an entertainer than a contender.
In turn, we're left wondering where the vicious slugger has gone.
The skill is still there, but the ability to close out hasn't been.
If we know one thing about Vera, it's that he has a great deal of heart inside the Octagon. He pushes through even the most physical bouts, taking hard strikes and responding with shots of his own.
When push has come to shove, however, he just hasn't been able to win, which is the only statistic that counts.
In terms of popularity, he is one of the best that the UFC has to offer. In terms of what he's been able to produce, however, his stock is slipping fight after fight. He has lost to the best in the world, and on Saturday, he fell to a less-notable veteran.
Whenever Vera fights next, it will be must-win territory.
He has proved that he can take fights into the closing rounds, but when he fights next, it'll come down to whether or not he can continue his career as a legitimate competitor. As the losses pile up, his draw value withers, and his stock as a heavyweight takes a hit.
Vera's loss to Rothwell wasn't just disappointing—it was a crippling setback.