Brandon Vera knows what it feels like, even briefly to be unemployed from the UFC.
And it sucks.
The former top ranked prospect had received his walking papers after three consecutive losses in the UFC light heavyweight division but received a saving grace when his last opponent, Thiago Silva, submitted inhuman urine during his drug screening. He was instantly invited back into the world's top MMA promotion.
But the sting of those losses still resonates with "The Truth."
The Alliance Training Center product spoke with MMAmania.com about special changes he's made for his upcoming UFC 137 fight with Eliot Marshall, getting back to his old "killer" self and what he'd do to Thiago Silva if he saw him again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This is basically a second chance for you and I know you've talked about how you're not even writing a new chapter, you're trying to write a whole new book for your career. Can you talk about making the most of this opportunity you've been given?
Brandon Vera: Making the most of it, I can't even describe it man. Training three times a day and enjoying training again, understanding that this is my life. It was not natural to me for a while, I lost it. I lost my life even if was for 3-5 days, I don't know how long I was cut from the UFC, I really honestly don't remember how long I was cut from the UFC before I got the call back but from losing to getting it back, I understand that I don't want to be out of the UFC. I am doing everything, everything in my power, traveling, training, paying attention, watching tapes, listening to my coaches just to make sure that I am getting back on my path of getting that title belt.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned the traveling part. You've talked about how you didn't feel like you had the right mindset for a while and during this most recent 8500 mile road trip where you were doing seminars, I heard you found yourself while on that trip. Can you talk about that?
Brandon Vera: Yeah, you know it was just interacting with the students and other people and watching people smile, talking to me and being out with the public again I guess. It helped me grow, seeing how much people want me to win, people asking me, "What happened, what went wrong?" I didn't really have an answer for them until it just dawned on me one day that MMA wasn't important, it stopped being important for a while. I don't know why. I don't know when. I'm pretty sure there was a time frame but I don't know why and all of a sudden it went to number three on the list instead of number one and it needs to be number one.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I even saw something about a specific instant where you saw a kid just absorbing everything you were teaching and applying it better than the adults. Can you tell me about seeing that and the impact it had on you?
Brandon Vera: I think he was 11 years old and every time I showed something, he got it before all the adults. There was maybe a couple times where some of the pro fighters got it before he did but the rest of the time he was on point, he was just enjoying the seminar so much and just watching him training and watching him learn like that made me smile so big and bright. I was like, "Man, that's what I missed! I missed learning stuff and the reason why I stopped learning stuff was because I stopped traveling." If you want to be the greatest chef in the world, you can't stay in one kitchen. You have to travel. You always have your home, you always have your stable but if you want to learn other stuff and you want to grow, you have to travel and bring it back home and show the rest of the team, figure it out and tweak it. That's what I wasn't doing so I was being a detriment to myself and to Alliance MMA.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Obviously you are still a member of Alliance, that's your home but you've branched out for this camp. I saw you moved out to Maryland to work with Lloyd Irvin again. Can you tell me about hooking up with your original Muay Thai coach, the one that you were working with when you were laying waste to people?
Brandon Vera: My very, very, very, very first Muay Thai coach, Brad, I got to work with him and just tweak a couple of things and talk to him about my style and try to change some things up. He's got some new fighters at his gym and I was getting to work with them and move around and I got to try some new stuff, add some new things and fix some old stuff.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's not the only thing you've been doing that's new, I saw you were working with your Alma Mater, the Old Dominion wrestling team. That's got to be a nice benefit as well, right?
Brandon Vera: That was amazing. Wrestling with the OD guys? Yeah. Coach Steve Martin over there and those guys are amazing. The whole OD wrestling team, those guys aren't getting paid. They're just trying to go to school for free you know? They're just trying to make the team, they just want to get a spot on the team, the starting position so those guys were all hungry and they brought it back. They helped put stuff back in perspective for me as well. I got to hang out with them, I got to watch a UFC fight with them and it was awesome. They're a great group of guys and they also work super hard.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I lastly saw some of the work you've been putting in with boxing coach Troy Fox. It looked like you were, at least from the video I saw, it looked like you were really working those body shots. Is that something you want to really add to your game or is it just one of the little things that you've been working to complete the puzzle?
Brandon Vera: It was one of the little things, but I definitely for sure want to hit people in the body more. If they want to shoot in on me or be close to me, I want to make them pay so I'm gonna start tearing up people's bodies hard.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's what people have been trying to do to you in your last three fights. You had Randy Couture clinching you against the cage, there was Jon Jones taking you down and most recently Thiago Silva was on top of you for three rounds. Is that a focus of yours now to punish the guys that want to try to take away your striking weapons?
Brandon Vera: Yeah nobody wants to stay with me on the feet no more. (laughs) I laugh about it every time I say it. Nobody wants to fight me on the feet. All these people are supposed to be murderers on the feet. What happened? What happened? I want to find out what it's like on the feet first but I get it now. I'm gonna have to stuff their takedown attempts and get them off me so that's for sure what we've been working back into my gameplan. Make people stand with you. If you want to stand with people, I can't let them do it for me, I've got to make them stand with me so that's what we're doing. I'm gonna make people stand with me. I'm gonna give them no hope for taking me down and if they do take me down, I want to go right back up, piss them off so bad like, "Oh my god, now I have to stand with this guy?" Yes, yes you do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Have you looked to any fighters that use that style, to keep a fight standing because they're so good at striking as an example for you?
Brandon Vera: You know, honestly? Old school Chuck [Liddell]. Old school Chuck, if you took him down, he'd pop right back to his feet or if you moved while you were on top of Chuck he was for sure going to get right back to his feet. That was his whole goal, to get back to his feet and he was one of the best at it when he was in his prime, that's what he would do. Chuck was gonna beat you up on the feet and if you didn't want to stand with him, you'd take him down and before you knew it he was right back to his feet and punching you in the face.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going back to the last three opponents trying to take you down or put you in the clinch, Eliot Marshall is in a similar vein. He's a type of fighter that may stand for a little bit but he wants to get up close and personal just like those guys. Do you feel like all this extra work you've put in is gearing you up nearly perfectly for a fighter like Marshall?
Brandon Vera: Yeah, I geared this whole camp towards the last three fighters. Everyone's gonna try to take me down now so, Eliot's gameplan is gonna be exactly like the rest of the guys and that's what we trained for. I need to get in my thick-ass head, I think it finally went through that this is the gameplan that we've been working on and this is the plan we need to stick with for a while.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about being on the undercard for this fight? They've promoted a couple fights from the undercard to the main card but they didn't pick yours. Do you feel less pressure, does it almost feel good that the spotlight isn't on you for this fight?
Brandon Vera: Maybe, I haven't really even thought about that. I look at it like, I'm on the undercard because I put myself there. The UFC's not punishing me, this is just exactly where I ended up because I haven't been doing my job. I need to get back on the main card. That's how I look at it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about what motivates you a bit? I know you wanted to be one of the best in the world.
Brandon Vera: I do. I want to be the best in the world again. Every time I see Jon Jones fight, I see the top 10 guys fight, it eats at me. I'm glad it's eating at me again. Before, it didn't bother me for a while. Now it does because I want to be one of the best in the world, one of the greatest ever and I for sure have been doing my job to get there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there also motivation like, almost negative motivation, like you don't want to be that cautionary tale, the guy that had it all, was a top prospect and people would one day tell a prospect, "Don't be a Brandon Vera." Is that motivation to you as well?
Brandon Vera: Yeah, I don't want to be that guy at all. That story would suck ass. (laughs) I for sure don't want to be that guy.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I saw you did this exercise presentation with TRX at the UFC expo in Houston earlier this month. Is that something you've added to your training as well recently?
Brandon Vera: For sure. I've been on my TRX every day, about 5-10 minutes every day and my body just feels different. I've been able to keep all my muscle, I haven't been losing my muscle with my weight cut and I feel good too. My coaches are super-excited with the results as well. Usually my coaches tell me, "Don't do this, don't do that," but they actually adjusted my workouts so I could use TRX every day. It works out all my major muscle groups and I still get my training in. It's nice man. It was nice to be able to use that this whole camp. You'll see at the weigh-ins. I'm for sure not going to be skinny.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I think that's something people noticed at 205, you were almost drawn out a bit, like really skinny.
Brandon Vera: Yeah, I was able to add some good carbohydrates to my diet this camp too. White rice, I was able to eat white rice again. All these nutritionists can kiss my ass because I'm eating white rice this camp. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you harbor any resentment towards Thiago Silva for the way he acted in the fight and of course for the steroids?
Brandon Vera: If I saw him right now I would kick him in the nuts for sure. I don't like that guy. I don't care for him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): (laughs) That's the line of the interview right there. Okay, when you originally came to the UFC, you were just destroying people in a minute and you've talked about how you went to that mindset where winning was more important than just beating people up and finishing them. I know you mentioned you wanted to change that mindset, you wanted to get back to being a killer again. Can you tell me about that?
Brandon Vera: I want to go in there and fight. I've gotten to watch enough fights in the UFC where people are just trying to win and they're so boring, man. I just don't want to be that guy anymore. Plus, watching and learning, I've learned that I don't want to be that guy.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you've talked about how you have a post-fight speech prepared for when you're done with Eliot Marshall, but before that you've got to have the fight. How would you like to have the fight play out against Marshall on Saturday night?
Brandon Vera: I want him to quit. I want him to stop. I either want to knock him out or make him stop fighting me either by tapping out or not answering the bell or just quitting.
Brandon would like to thank TRX, the ODU wrestling team, coach Steve Martin, Team Lloyd Irvin, Alliance Training Center, Hybrid Academy in Virginia Beach and everybody else who's helped him along the way and helped him find himself for this fight.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will the changes he's making help Vera find himself again? Or is it too little, too late for the former top heavyweight and light heavyweight prospect?