One Championship will crown its first heavyweight champion on Friday but not without controversy.
Brandon Vera will meet Paul Cheng for the vacant title in the One Championship 35 main event at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines. Vera was originally set to face undefeated British heavyweight Chi Lewis-Parry, a professional kickboxer and former pro basketball player. However, One Championship CEO Victor Cui on Tuesday announced Cheng as a replacement, citing Lewis-Parry’s failure to submit test results and failure to board his scheduled flight. Lewis-Parry contends Cui’s claims are untrue and that the organization intended to replace him long before the actual announcement was made.
The change altered the entire approach for Vera, who had spent his entire camp preparing for the 6-foot-9 Lewis-Parry. He even went so far as to attend one of his kickboxing matches in November in San Diego. Vera and his team had assessed the threat and devised what they considered to be a solid game plan. Unfortunately for “The Truth,” all the homework went out the window.
This will be Vera’s first title fight, though he was scheduled to challenge Tim Sylvia for the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight belt in 2005 before a contract dispute led to his removal. In his stead, Randy Couture upset Sylvia at UFC 68. Vera was matched with Sylvia upon his return, broke his hand in the first round and lost a unanimous decision. Throughout the rest of his time in the UFC, Vera faced several opponents that he believed to be using performance-enhancing drugs; he was proven correct twice. However, he takes a surprising stance on the matter.
“Either all the way in or all the way out; you can’t pussyfoot around,” Vera told Sherdog.com. “Either let everyone do it or none of them. The biggest thing is, look at everyone’s bodies before random testing started happening and now look at them afterward.”
Vera was released by the UFC in 2013 following consecutive losses to Mauricio Rua and Ben Rothwell. Despite the fact that Rothwell was later flagged for elevated testosterone, Vera was not brought back.
“After it came out that I had left the UFC, as soon as that came out, I started getting offers; everybody had really good offers, but One was the one who offered the chance to fight in the Philippines and for the inaugural world title,” he said. “I was like, “Hell, yes! Let’s do it!”
Vera remains dissatisfied with his UFC experience.
“It’s like working for a company you don’t like,” he said. “You don’t go to perform. You just go to do your job [and] get by with the minimum. If your heart’s not in it, you’ll never be your best. Like with the lawsuit, if anybody -- fighters are different breeds -- in the world other than family talked to us the way the UFC did, we would slap their face from the disrespect. The only way they get away with that is because they were the premier organization. Every day, if you could see the names and the messages on my social media, big names, asking for One’s contact information ... fighters are over it.”
One Championship has renewed his passion for the sport.
“My performance and attitude is all different now,” Vera said. “Now I’m with a company that I love. It’s easy to work out, get up early, push the extra round, go the extra mile. Here at One, everybody respects everybody, whether you win or lose, and they’re not just saying it; it’s heartfelt. Everyone here in Asia knows about them, and attendance reports are not bloated numbers. They really are sold out every time. It’s an honor.”
Vera also prefers the rule set and judging criteria the organization uses.
“Even my training partners feel the difference. Using the global rule set makes it more of a real fight, a live fight,” he said. “If you’re laying down and trying to rest, just doing what it takes to get the points to win the round, you might get soccer kicked in the head. It’s a real fight, not a point fighting system. It lends itself to finishes and exciting fights. The global rule set has changed the game. It gives fighters the tools they need to finish fights instead of taking them away.”