Brandon Vera knows all about highly-regarded rising stars in MMA, having been one not that long ago.
But in less than four years, Vera has gone from a sure-fire future champion to "that guy who said he'd be champion of two divisions at the same time who never really lived up to the hype."
Sunday night in Denver, he'll stand across the cage from Jon "Bones" Jones, a 22-year-old with a 9-1 record and a one-way ticket to stardom waiting to be cashed in. While Vera was in a similar place before and has so far failed to capitalize, Jones will show why the hype is justified and why he's the horse I'm backing in this installment of Creature vs. Creature .
Jones is going to prove he's a better Brandon Vera than Brandon Vera, and he's going to do it at Vera's expense.
Back when Vera was the most hyped prospect on the heavyweight landscape, there was very good reason to be impressed with "The Truth": The Alliance MMA fighter stormed out to an 8-0 record to begin his career, earning wins over Ausserio Silva, Justin Eilers, and former heavyweight champion Frank Mir.
Then came a year-long layoff due to a contract dispute, followed by back-to-back losses and a drop to light heavyweight. Vera has since gone 3-2, never quite reaching the level of success he and many others believed he would achieve.
Which brings us to Jones.
Like Vera, Jones is a dynamic young striker with an outstanding wrestling base. Through his first 10 professional fights, the New York native's lone loss came via disqualification in a bout he thoroughly dominated.
All the talk is the same as it was with Vera: Jones is as good a prospect as the sport has seen, he's destined for a championship, there is no end to how successful he can become.
But what will lead Jones to succeed where Vera has failed?
For starters, there is Jones' humility and modesty. Whereas Vera is still telling everyone about the titles he's going to have, and how great a fighter he is, Jones lets his actions speak for him.
Secondly, have you seen this kid in the cage? In just his second UFC bout, Jones was suplexing Stephan Bonnar like Rick Steiner in the glory days of WCW, before manhandling Matt Hamill like he was nothing more than pedestrian.
Watch Jones' patented spinning back elbow attack alongside Vera's version from his fight with Keith Jardine, and you'll think "The Truth" is standing in quicksand.
You also have to factor in Team Jackson. Not just Greg Jackson, though the MMA version of Yoda certainly plays a serious role in this, but the team as a whole.
From having the experience of working with a fighter like Jardine, who has already beaten Vera, to rolling with Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, and a fairly talented French-Canadian kid who was instrumental in his move to Albuquerque, Jones is surrounded by highly-skilled and experienced champions.
Sprinkle in the sage wisdom of the master tactician Mr. Jackson, and you have the makings of a fighter who will fulfill the destiny he and many others believe rests before him.
Jones is in the same position Vera occupied four years ago: standing on the cusp of stardom with championships on the horizon.
Four years from now, we won't be looking back and wondering where and how it all went wrong for Jones. We'll be patting ourselves on the back for knowing all along that he was bound to be a champion.
Four days from now, we'll be talking about the dominant performance the youngster from upstate New York put together in Denver, earning a victory in the main event of the UFC's debut on Versus.
You know, the fight in which he was a better version of Brandon Vera than Brandon Vera.
Robert Gardner has a different take on this fight. Check out his side of the Creature vs. Creature debate, and be sure to catch UFC Live on Versus this Sunday night. Check your local listings.