For Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, it all came down to name recognition.
Rua bypassed a potential bout with fast-rising Ultimate Fighting Championship newcomer Glover Teixeira and will instead meet Brandon Vera in the UFC on Fox 4 headliner on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The decision did nothing to lower Brazilian’s profile within the company, as UFC President Dana White has indicated the winner of the Rua-Vera matchup will be in play as the top contender for the light heavyweight championship.
Rua views Vera as a clearer path to contention than Teixeira, a man who has won 16 consecutive bouts.
“Vera is a guy that’s very well known in the MMA business and the UFC,” he said during a pre-fight media call for UFC on Fox 4. “He has a strong name, and Glover still has a long way to go. Right now, the best option is a guy who’s well known, and Vera is the choice.”
Now 30, Rua last appeared at UFC 139 in November, when his five-round epic with former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson resulted in a unanimous decision defeat. He surrendered the UFC light heavyweight crown to Jon Jones in a one-sided technical knockout loss in March 2011 and undoubtedly wants a chance to reclaim it. Vera comes first.
“I’m only focused on Saturday,” Rua said, “not on Jones.”
Vera has taken a different route to the main event. Originally booked to meet James Te Huna at UFC on Fuel TV 4, he was shifted instead to the date with “Shogun” when the original UFC on Fox 4 headliner -- Brian Stann vs. Hector Lombard -- fell through.
“I had a head start on camp while preparing for Te Huna, and it’s been good,” Vera said. “It’s been amazing.”
Once an undefeated superstar in waiting, Vera has never realized the potential many saw in him. The 34-year-old Alliance MMA representative has put together a mediocre 4-5 mark in his past nine bouts and has not won consecutive fights since he defeated Michael Patt and Krzysztof Soszynski three years ago. A victory over “Shogun” could go a long way towards Vera shedding his underachiever label.
“My mindset preparing for ‘Shogun’ has been amazing,” he said. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime, and you only get this call once. Training has been great. People from all over the globe have been coming in to help me get in shape.”
Like Rua, Vera has past history with Jones. He succumbed to a vicious series of elbows and punches from “Bones” -- the barrage left him with a fractured orbital -- at UFC Live 1 in March 2010. Less than a year later, Jones was champion.
“I thought Jones was a young punk when we fought, and I got what I deserved for underestimating him,” Vera said. “I didn’t train hard and I didn’t take him serious.”
Showtime for Bader
Ryan Bader realizes he has his hands full. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner will meet former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida in the co-main event, as he looks to consolidate wins over Jason Brilz and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson with a victory over another Top 10 opponent at 205 pounds.
The 29-year-old Bader recognizes the opportunity in front of him.
“This is it ... time to show what I can do,” he said. “I’m better than ever. I used to be just a wrestler with a big overhand right, but I’ve added many more skills to my game now. Fights against ‘Rampage’ and Brilz have shown my standup is a lot more technical and smooth. The win over ‘Rampage’ felt like the start of a new chapter. After dominating ‘Rampage,’ my confidence went through the roof, and I’m now more than happy to face anybody in the light heavyweight division.”
Only a select few have cracked Machida’s combination.
“Machida brings a lot of problems to the table that you don’t see in a lot of fights or in the gym,” Bader said. “You have to seek out training partners that have a little bit of that. If you can’t find it in the gym, you’ll be surprised in the fight. Being elusive and striking when he needs to are his best qualities.”
Unbeaten in his first 16 professional appearances, Machida has lost three of his last four bouts since his controversial decision victory over Rua in October 2009. The 34-year-old karateka has not competed since he was choked unconscious by a standing guillotine from Jones at UFC 140 in December.
“I respect Bader very much as a fighter,” Machida said. “He will pose some great problems, but I believe my training camp has been one of the best of my career. My striking is very sharp, and I’ve worked on my wrestling because Bader is a strong wrestler.”
Machida sounds like a man who has left no stone unturned in his quest to make one last run at light heavyweight gold.
“I’ve made some radical changes in my training, although karate will always be my main focus,” he said. “I am getting back on the road to the title. I know what I have to do, and I am ready for this opportunity.”
This & That
Joe Lauzon will enter his featured lightweight matchup against former WEC champion Jamie Varner as the second most active submission fighter in UFC history, according to FightMetric figures. He averages 4.78 submission attempts per 15 minutes, second only to T.J. Waldburger (5.77) ... The talented but oft-injured Mike Swick has not won a fight since he stopped Ben Saunders on second-round punches at UFC 99 more than three years ago ... Five of the 20 fighters competing at the event will be seeking their first victory inside the Octagon: Ulysses Gomez, John Moraga, Oli Thompson, Wagner Prado and Josh Grispi ... Seventeen of Michihiro Omigawa’s professional bouts have reached the judges. He owns a 7-9-1 mark in those bouts.