Vera fulfills dream to fight Couture at UFC 105 | NevadaAppeal.com
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Vera fulfills dream to fight Couture at UFC 105

GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

Brandon Vera thought it was the worst idea he had ever heard.

To get back in the octagon just 2 1/2 months after his last fight? And to do it in England, where he had lost twice in the past two years?

Then UFC president Dana White told him who else would be in that octagon.

“When they first told me, I was like, ‘I’m not fighting,”‘ Vera recalled. “They said, ‘It’s in the U.K., and you’ll be the main event.’ I didn’t give a damn. Then they mentioned Randy Couture, and I was like, ‘I’ll call you back.”‘

After a quick talk with his wife, Kerry, a fellow mixed martial artist, Vera decided he couldn’t pass up the chance to fight his hero at UFC 105 in Manchester’s MEN Arena on Saturday in a bout he has anticipated ever since he first began watching the sport that eventually consumed his life.

“I’ve been a fan of Randy probably since he first fought,” Vera said. “When he was wearing tight black shorts and fighting four or five times a night just to get that $5,000 check. For sure, he’s one of the greats, so if I’m going to get to where I want to be, I know I’m going to have to fight him.”

Couture’s return to light heavyweight is the main attraction of a lively card also featuring Manchester native Michael Bisping fighting Denis Kang, along with Nottingham’s Dan Hardy against Mike Swick.

The bout also is new territory for the 46-year-old Couture, who headlined the late-August card in Portland, Ore., on which Vera also fought. Couture (16-10) hasn’t had two fights so close together in at least eight years, and he hasn’t fought outside the U.S. since February 2001 – although the enthusiastic fraternity of British MMA fans already considers him a hero.

“I’ve been over there a few times and always got an amazing reception, so I loved that I got the chance to fight over there,” Couture said. “These are the kind of fights I want to have, against tough opponents like Brandon in a place where I can help out the sport.”

Both are former military men and college wrestlers with a healthy mutual respect, but not much else is similar about Couture and Vera.

With nearly every conceivable MMA honor already captured, Couture has established a thriving career as an actor even while staying in the fight game with no plans to retire soon, while Vera (11-3) is an ebullient, half-Filipino fighter whose career nearly collapsed during a contract dispute with UFC in 2007.

Vera knows how close he came to dropping out of the sport after an eye-popping start which had some people believing him when he boasted of plans to win the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight titles simultaneously. Since getting back to serious training two years ago, Vera has rounded his game to the point where White felt comfortable challenging him with Couture.

“Where I’m at right now, I didn’t know I could be at,” Vera said. “I didn’t know there was this level of speed and conditioning and focus. It would be like somebody telling you you’re going to be an astronaut, and none of your family ever graduated high school before.”

Vera’s comeback also received a major boost from a 30-minute conversation with Couture outside of the veteran fighter’s gym in Las Vegas two years ago, discussing the vagaries of their sport and the importance of relentless training. Many MMA stars have similar stories about Couture’s generosity, but most haven’t tried to turn it against him, as Vera says with a laugh.

“I still think about what he said, and how that helped me,” Vera said. “Nobody has anything bad to say about Randy, and if they did, I’d probably smack them. He is the living legend.”

The matchup also is a stark contrast in fighting styles. Couture’s game plan usually involves boxing to get inside on an opponent, followed by ground-and-pound work in which he can benefit from his wrestling skills. Vera has superb kickboxing skills from his work in muay thai, and he’ll attempt to set a pace that will keep Couture backpedaling and away from the close fighting in which Couture excels.

Vera doesn’t think the quick turnaround between bouts hurt him, although it cut down on the time he can spend with Kerry, who will fight Couture’s estranged wife, Kim, in a Strikeforce show on Nov. 20 in Kansas City, Kan.

Vera knew an opportunity to meet Couture might not come along again – and after Couture’s impressive performance in a loss to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Portland, Vera knows he can’t expect to see anything less than the Natural’s best.

“I’d much rather fight Randy now, as Randy is,” Vera said. “I hate making the comparison between the two, but (former champion) Ken Shamrock? I wouldn’t want to fight him when he’s on his downswing. Randy is still up there with the best guys. The way he took on Nogueira? That’s not too bad. He’s not losing to no chumps. He still bangs it out.”