MANILA, Philippines – There was an upbeat air to Brandon “The Truth” Vera at the One Fighting Championship media luncheon on September 3 at the NBA Café of SM Aura in Taguig City.
Just a week previous, at the Alliance MMA gym in California, he was contemplative and anticipating his Manila flight, as he posed for Rappler inside the MMA camp’s cage.
The 37-year-old Filipino-American fighter is the latest acquisition of the Asian MMA organization, and he’s as delighted as a returning hero, bantering with the attendant media, impressing us with his command of the vernacular, his Tagalog coming easy and full of warmth sans any California twang – notably a far cry from the garbled, peanut butter Tagalog tongue of fellow Fil-Am fighter Mark Munoz, who visited the country last year.
“Seryoso na ba to?!” he joked, when asked to give his answers in Tagalog and confirmed that he has always wanted to fight in front of a Pinoy audience, citing the upcoming One FC 22: Warrior’s Way, the December 5 card at the MOA Arena, as the perfect venue to showcase his skills as he makes a return to the heavyweight division against a still unnamed opponent.
He then replied with an enthused “Baka!” in reply to the query of putting up a local gym; “[I am] very interested in putting up a gym in Manila, but [I] want to concentrate first on beating up and hurting people in One FC,” Vera said.
Photos by Paolo Seen
Meanwhile, former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder Rich “Ace” Franklin, the new One FC VP of Operations, was laconic to the point of cool, answering questions like a level-headed vet. He knew this was Vera’s show, he’s a suit next to the conquering star, but he played his part well, putting context to the rise of MMA in Asia with One FC at the tip of the spear.
“I’ve seen milestone differences in the growth of One FC in the short time I’ve been here,” exclaimed Franklin, “The MMA brand in Asia, with One FC, is a tricky situation because not only do we have to build our brand, our organization, but we also need to build the infrastructure. So we’re simultaneously doing this.”
Ex-UFC and Bellator fighters have proven to be smart, money-making acquisitions for the fledgling Asian MMA organization. New welterweight champ Ben Askren (released from Bellator), who upset the belt away from Nobutatsu Suzuki with glorious ground and pound at their Dubai “Reign of Champions” card on August 29, certainly proved his star status as much deserved, and an amazing crowd-draw, too.
Another ex-UFC star making a comeback is Roger Huerta, the Mexican-American who made short work of Christian Holley on the same Dubai card with ruthless knees to the head. This Pride-style rules set, which allows knees, soccer kicks, and foot stomps to a grounded opponent, may be key to Vera’s victory, what with his vicious muay Thai employed in such a devastating manner.
It has also proved to be an enjoyable spectacle for any fight fan, making the scenario not only interesting but lighting an amazing spark as fuel for aggression in fighters. I still remember Andrei Arlovski, fighting like he was back in the late 90s, twisting the head of a grounded Tim Sylvia with a soccer kick in One FC 5: Pride of a Nation – although that bout was eventually ruled a “No Contest”; hey, it’s a young league, and they eventually erased that stupid “Wait for the ref’s signal before you can kick him” rule.
Vera was released from the UFC in June, after a 1-4 losing streak with one no-contest. Although he suffered a TKO loss against Ben Rothwell, that fighter subsequently failed his drug test because of elevated testosterone levels – albeit the loss remains on Vera’s record, since the decision was not overturned. It’s a stark reminder of the rampant issue of illegal performance-enhancing drug use that has seen the likes of MMA stars like Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva expelled from the UFC and under scrutiny by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
Vera trains under the Alliance MMA camp in Chula Vista, California, where these photos were taken with teammates like UFC fighters Dominick Cruz and Phil Davis and Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler. Though Vera’s fall was a hard one to watch, he was once so highly touted that his soundbytes about aiming to win two UFC titles from heavyweight down to light heavyweight, ala Dan Henderson in Pride, were thought by analysts as ambitious, but doable – or at least not too far-fetched.
To back up the talk, Vera built an impressive 8-7 record in the UFC with wins over the likes of elite fighters like Frank Mir and Krzysztof Soszynski, but only one win over the past six bouts cemented his losing streak.
Vera has always represented the Philippines well what with his Baybayin (Alibata) tattoos as well as flying the country’s flag or brandishing Pinoy colors on his fight shorts or walkout clothing; which means that, if a crowd of Brown faces energizes him to become The Truth of old, he may yet get a chance for revitalization, a second coming in an organization full of potential.
Is heavyweight the right division for Vera? He certainly confirms that it’s healthier and less of a drain on his energy – “I’m tired of cutting weight,” Vera said.
Will it be a return to form, or will it be more of the whooping he got from Randy Couture in UFC 105 back in 2008? Or, worse, the humiliation of open hand slaps that typified his light heavyweight fight against Thiago Silva in UFC 125, a fight where he came out with a brutally mangled nose.
With the addition of Vera, and other MMA superstars like Shinya Aoki, Ben Askren, former Ultimate Fighter cast member James McSweeney, and Roger Huerta, One FC’s rise as the premier organization in Asia continues to be cemented. Certainly MMA greats like Matt Hume, Rich Franklin, and even Lene Hardt as the fight entrance voice has made it, as critics say, the natural successor to Japan’s defunct Pride FC.
The spectacle, pageantry, and (with the international, non-unified rules set) promise of brutal finishes are certainly on full display whenever a One FC show is organized. “I haven’t seen any [organization] rise this fast after just 19 shows,” exclaimed Rich Franklin.
We hope to see The Truth back in top form, back to his winning ways in such a promising league. And Vera himself is fired up: “My goal [in One FC] is to say to the world that the fighters from the Philippines are here and we are on beast mode.” – Rappler.com
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