Ben Fowlkes
Friday November 13th, 2009

All the success, attention and money that came his way during his first two years in the UFC, it might have been too much, too soon for Brandon Vera. And he'll admit it.

"I think I got a big head," said Vera, who was unbeaten in his first four UFC fights as a heavyweight. "I figured I knew everything already. It was like I was a teenager all over again, like I was 16 again. Nobody could tell me or teach me anything."

It's not hard to see how Vera might have gotten a little too full of himself. Not only was he walking around with a nickname like "The Truth," he notched four straight wins -- three of them by knockout and one of them against a former UFC heavyweight champ. He was being hailed as the future of the organization's heavyweight class, and it's possible that he started to believe his own press.

A fall was inevitable.

Vera lost a decision against Tim Sylvia in his fifth UFC fight, marking his first career defeat. He followed it up with a TKO loss to Fabricio Werdum that precipitated his drop to light heavyweight. It wasn't until 2009 that he managed to string two straight victories together again, thanks to a change of attitude and training partners.

"I really didn't know that training could be like this. I wake up in the morning now and I'm excited about training and learning and getting faster and just becoming ... more -- more of a fighter. A better fighter," he said. "What changed were all my new training partners. Those guys are hungry. Trying to stay better than those guys really changed things for me. They're working hard every day, and if I want to stay ahead of the game, I have to work harder. They're showing me that now."

Vera knows he'll need every edge he can get heading into his main event fight against Randy Couture at UFC 105 in Manchester, England, this Saturday. Even at 46 years old, Couture is revered for his conditioning and his ability to break opponents in the cage.

"One thing everybody knows about him is that if you don't train hard for Randy, if you don't do what you're supposed to do in the gym to get ready, you're going to get whipped," said Vera. "You know that it's going to be one of the hardest fights of your life. This could be one of the fights that defines you."

Though he's 32 and has been in the UFC for the last four years, the jury is still out on him. He may have started as a heavyweight prospect with a bright future, but he still hasn't the reached what he considers his full potential. He isn't even sure what that would look like, he says, but a chance to fight Couture has helped him edge closer to finding out.

Vera acknowledges that Couture's wrestling skills and prowess in the clinch could be a problem for almost anybody in the UFC. His plan, he says, is to break the middle-aged icon down with kicks.

"I was thinking, what can I do to Randy that he's never experienced before? I thought long and hard about it and it's tough because of who he is and how long he's been in the sport. But Randy's never fought anybody with kicks and shins like me. I only have to hit him three or four times each round with my shin, and it could change the fight. I'm going to hit Randy like he's never been hit before."

That's not going to be easy to do; Couture has been hit by some of MMA's best, after all. But in order for Vera to prove to fans, and to himself, that he's finally becoming the fighter people expected him to be, a win here is vital. Vera believes he's still only at "60 or 70 percent" of his full potential, but insists that the number is steadily growing. When he steps in the cage across from Couture, he expects to find a game and savvy opponent who can help push him the rest of the way.

"I think Randy could still beat probably 95 percent of the fighters who are still out there, at 205 [pounds] and heavyweight," said Vera. "Do I think his best years are behind him? I hope so. But I can't say that. Randy's done everything. He's broken all the barriers. Every time somebody counts him out, he comes back. I won't make that mistake."

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