When one is caught between a rock and a hard place, the only thing left to do is make the best of what’s around.
That’s precisely what the UFC was left to do when the injury bug bit Brian Stann, and his headlining bout against Hector Lombard at UFC on Fox 4 was scrapped. Ultimately, this left Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Brandon Vera headlining the card. By now, everyone knows how Vera ended up in the main event of a card televised on Fox—that in and of itself is crazy.
What is even more insane is the fact that he may end up with a title shot out of the deal. Yes, the same guy who narrowly eked out a decision victory over Elliot Marshall at UFC 137 last October, and before that was on a three-fight losing streak—his loss to Thiago Silva was later overturned due to Silva failing his post-fight drug test.
I’m not here to rag on Vera though. He’s been given an opportunity and now it’s his job to capitalize on it and prove that he deserves to be in the cage with the likes of “Shogun.” He has faced some very formidable opponents, including a victory over Frank Mir. “The Truth” also has phenomenal Muay Thai and is a brown belt under Lloyd Irvin at Alliance MMA in San Diego.
Jon Jones, the current light heavyweight champ, is proving to be in a league of his own. Many feel that the 25-year-old champion is unstoppable, and so far they’ve been right. But with that in mind—and UFC President Dana White’s announcement at Monday’s press conference that the winner of Saturday’s main event will be next in line for a shot at the 205-pound belt—you’d have to be crazy to not question whether or not Vera deserves that honor.
Yes, the 34-year-old Vera has been in the UFC for seven years and has never had a shot at the title. However, he’s also never won more than four fights in a row inside the Octagon, and those were the first four of his UFC career. Since then, he’s lost more than he’s won. One of those losses came at the hands of Jones, a first-round TKO in which Vera was clearly overmatched.
This leads to the next point: Jones also had his way with “Shogun.” It was a little over a year ago that Jones beat Rua for the belt. Since then, Jones has beat Lyoto Machida, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans. Rua has defeated Forrest Griffin, while losing to Dan Henderson.
The difference between Rua and Vera is night and day. Aside from Mir, who was in a different weight class, Vera has never beat anyone with any sort of significance, while Rua has beat a who’s who of MMA. Rua was a champion in Pride, he’s been a champion in the UFC, and his loss to Henderson was one of the best fights in history. A case can be made for Rua, whereas you’d be hard-pressed to make any sort of a case for Vera.
After a severe fan backlash via Twitter Monday afternoon, White changed his previous statement to include the men in the co-main event, Machida and Ryan Bader. Whoever wins their fight in the most dominate fashion will be next in line for a shot at the crown.
While this does open the door a little bit more, Jones has still defeated all four potential top contenders. Henderson and Rua would be a welcome rematch, as the debate continues as to who really won that fight. Besides, who would complain about seeing those two go at it again?
Aside from the aforementioned Henderson vs Rua II, the scenario doesn’t get much better should Henderson upset the current champ on Labor Day Weekend. Vera still isn’t worthy of a title shot. Machida is coming off a loss to Jones and should have to do more than win one fight before being given another shot. Bader has looked great since being upset by Tito Ortiz, but in a perfect scenario that sees Bader fighting Henderson, you’d be a fool to think that as soon as Jones gets his next title shot he won’t once again dismantle the Arizona State University alum.
It’s clear that the UFC can’t produce contenders fast enough to continue providing Jones with new challenges—that’s a fact. But, should “Bones” be victorious at UFC 151 against Henderson, his next opponent likely will be a guy that he has not only manhandled in the past, but who hasn’t won two consecutive fights in approximately three years.
With stars like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, the light heavyweight division was once the shining light of the UFC. To be the champion in that division truly meant something, likely that you were the best fighter on the planet.
With White’s announcement that the most impressive winner between Saturday’s main and co-main event will be next in line for the once prestigious crown, one is left to ponder if being the UFC light heavyweight champion still holds the same weight as it did ten years ago. At this point, you’d be crazy to think so.
Photo: Brandon Vera (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)