5 Defining Moments: Brandon Vera

Brandon Vera, even at the age of 45, still believes he has work left to do.

The former One Championship titleholder will return to the mixed martial arts stage for the first time in more than 19 months when he tackles Amir Aliakbari in a ONE 164 heavyweight showcase on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines. Vera enters the cage on a two-fight losing streak. In fact, he has not tasted victory since he punched out Mauro Cerilli in 64 seconds at ONE “Conquest of Champions” in November 2018.

As Vera makes final preparations for his forthcoming clash with Aliakbari, a look at five of the many moments that have come to define him:

1. Power Player

Vera cemented himself as a true person of interest in the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division when he blew away Frank Mir with punches in the first round of their featured UFC 65 attraction on Nov. 18, 2006 at ARCO Arena in Sacramento, California. The curtain was drawn a mere 69 seconds into Round 1. Vera dazed the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a left hook, followed it with a right cross and upped the intensity of the assault with a crushing knee strike from the clinch. An unsteady Mir zeroed in on the legs, only to be greeted by a textbook sprawl from the Lloyd Irvin protégé, his situation having gone from alarming to downright dire in a matter of seconds. Vera settled in side control, cut loose with elbows and eventually progressed to a kneeling position in half guard, at which he dropped right hands on the turtled Mir until referee Steve Mazzagatti had seen enough.

2. A ‘Natural’ Low

Randy Couture leaned on every bit of his considerable guile and grit, as he piled up nearly nine minutes of control time and outstruck Vera to a contentious unanimous decision in the UFC 105 light heavyweight main event on Nov. 14, 2009 at the Manchester Evening News Arena in Manchester, England. All three cageside judges struck 29-28 scorecards for “The Natural,” though many observers believed Vera deserved a better fate. While Couture completed only one of his 10 attempted takedowns, he managed to engage the Norfolk, Virginia, native at close range for extended stretches, perhaps creating the illusion that he was the man in charge. Vera nevertheless authored the most significant moment of the fight in the second round, where he dropped the former two-division champion with a knee strike to the body and gave chase with ground-and-pound. Couture withstood the assault, recovered between rounds and resumed his typical song and dance. Vera surprised him with a takedown in Round 3 but failed to do enough elsewhere to sway the judiciary.

3. Crack in the Facade

The impact was audible and sickening, as Jon Jones rebounded from his disqualification loss to Matt Hamill and put away Vera with elbows and punches in the first round of their UFC Live 1 headliner on March 21, 2010 at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. “Bones” brought it to a close 3:19 into Round 1. After Jones executed the second of his two takedowns, he absorbed an illegal upkick that resulted in a brief pause to the action. The foul cost Vera a point but did not factor into the outcome. Referee Herb Dean restarted the match with Jones in top position. The Jackson-Wink MMA star then uncorked a volley of elbows, one of which connected with more force than the others. Vera turned away from contact in visible distress—it was later determined that he had suffered a dislocated cheekbone—and ate a few more punches before Dean called for the stoppage.

4. Rising to the Occasion

Vera seized possession of the vacant One Championship heavyweight crown when he knocked out Paul Cheng in the first round of their ONE “Spirit of Champions” main event on Dec. 11, 2015 at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines. “The Truth” slammed the door 26 seconds into Round 1, nailing down what remains the fastest finish of his 20-year career. The two combatants traded leg kicks from the start and engaged one another in a brief close-range exchange before moving out into open space. Vera dropped the “Typhoon” to a knee with a left hook, decked him with a subsequent head kick and mopped up what was left of his now-supine adversary with hammerfists. He went on to defend the title on two occasions and enjoyed a historic stay atop the heavyweight division.

5. Violent Transition of Power

Arjan Singh Bhullar laid claim to the One Championship heavyweight title when he took out Vera with punches in the second round of their ONE “Dangal” headliner on April 28, 2021 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore. Bhullar finished it 4:27 into Round 2. So ended Vera’s 1,982-day reign as champion. Bhullar applied consistent pressure throughout the match, often backing it up with clubbing right hands. Vera tried to keep him at bay with stance switches, steady jabs and low kicks, but his cardio appeared to betray him midway through the second round. Bhullar swooped in for two takedowns, bottled up the UFC veteran in a kneeling position and fired away with punches and hammerfists from both hands until referee Justin Brown had seen enough. It was Vera’s first loss as a heavyweight in nearly eight years.
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