“The second coming of Jesus Christ!”
The hype surrounding dynamic light-heavyweight contender Jon Jones left little choice for Brandon Vera to compare him to the Messiah during the UFC on Versus Countdown show. Vera refuses to believe it. He sees himself in “Bones” just a few short years ago, a kid on the rise and destined to be one of the best ever. Once he bought into it, Vera began to crack. His fall from grace was hard and hit bottom following a lifeless decision defeat to Keith Jardine.
After a change in diet and attitude, Vera quickly reasserted himself and enters Sunday’s main event against Jones one impressive win from a likely title fight against the winner of May’s Lyoto Machida-Mauricio Rua rematch. Headlined by Vera-Jones, the UFC’s debut on Versus also features two critical heavyweight fights. One, Junior Dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga, could put the winner in line for a shot at the champion later this year. The other, Paul Buentello vs. Cheick Kongo, is a battle between two veterans who could be fighting for their UFC lives. The telecast opens with light-heavyweights James Irvin and Alessio Sakara – and just in time for DirecTV subscribers. DirecTV and Versus parent company Comcast settled their lengthy dispute that kept customers in the dark for more than six months
Two stubborn sides fighting over money eventually figured it out. Vera knows he must do what nobody in Jones’ 10 MMA fights has been able to do, neutralize a ferocious attack that confused even a capable veteran named Stephan Bonnar. Jones’ lone defeat came via DQ for illegal elbows to Matt Hamill’s face in a bout Jones felt had to be stopped long before.
“I'm gonna have to crack his aura,” Vera told me for an upcoming story on FightMagazine.com.
There are big differences between Vera in his early days and Jones today: The latter is one of the most mature 22-year-olds you’ll ever meet. A vendetta with ex-manager Mark Dionne kept Vera out of the Octagon for 11 months; Jones’ Team BombSquad fronted by Ryan Ciotoli hasn’t steered him wrong. To his credit, Vera learned from his mistakes. He has strong management in the Blackline Fight Group and is again a top contender. Jones is a humble father of two, guided by Greg Jackson to ensure he always says and does the right things.
“I think the UFC has a certain amount of respect for me and I have tremendous amount of respect for the UFC,” Jones told me for my story running in the current edition of MMA Worldwide magazine. “I’m here to be their young gun. I want to do the best I can do in every interview. I want to carry myself like a gentleman on the streets. I want to be the best representative for the UFC as possible. I want to show people we’re not cage fighters, we’re not barbarians, that we’re young men with class and this is a sport that will be taught in schools one day.”
Jones is bound to lose eventually – that’s how competitive it is in MMA – and even if Vera’s hand is raised it won’t be a setback. There is much more at stake for Vera. He wants a title shot and eventually a move back to the heavyweight division. Vera is better mind, body and soul since Jardine in October 2008, but he won’t be the one to solve the Bones puzzle. Jones takes the bout via decision.
Roger Huerta is a fantastic pickup for Bellator Fighting Championships. Its second tournament starts April 8 in Hollywood, Fla., and Huerta will compete. He said during a media call he's in for a "gruesome" summer, but guaranteed he’ll earn the required three wins for a shot at lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. "Going through this mountain in this tournament, you're going to see me fight three times," Huerta said. "I guarantee that. You will see that fight against Eddie, and that's going to be awesome, too." The tournament will be aired on Fox Sports Net and is worth checking out. Bellator presents something unique to MMA in the United States and the Huerta signing shows they’re here to play. The overall completion between the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and eventually Shine Fight Promotions will bring out the best in all parties. In the end, the fans win.