Highly experienced Heavyweight mixed martial arts (MMA) veterans Brandon Vera and Ben Rothwell will square off this Saturday (Aug. 31, 2013) on the main card of UFC 164, which takes place from BMO Bradley Harris Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Vera was at one point the most hyped prospect in all of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), but now he's fighting for his relevancy. "The Truth" was last seen in a hard-hitting war against Mauricio Rua. While Vera was ultimately finished off in the fourth round via technical knockout, he gained a ton of lost credit back by showing incredible toughness and heart.
Rothwell was last seen losing to former UFC Heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga last January. Rothwell has alternated losses and wins throughout his tumultuous UFC career, and he may be in need of a statement victory to keep his job with the promotion. The Wisconsin native will have the support of the Milwaukee behind him.
It's been a rough go for both combatants recently, so this bout could potentially be the straw that breaks the camel's back for the loser. Let's check out the backstory behind Brandon Vera vs. Ben Rothwell at UFC 164:
Record: 12-6(1) overall, 7-6(1) UFC
Key Wins: Frank Mir (UFC 65), Krzysztof Soszynski (UFC 102)
Key Losses: Mauricio Rua (UFC on Fox 4), Fabricio Werdum (UFC 85), Jon Jones (UFC on Versus 1)
How he got here: Vera has a rather long and chronicled backstory for a man who's only had 19 professional fights. He started out 2-0 in regional shows before making the transition to World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in Jan. 2005. He entered the WEC Heavyweight Grand Prix and won the title, defeating Mike Whitehead in the finals.
Hype was growing fast for "The Truth." He made his Octagon debut in October 2005, beginning a four-fight win streak where Vera finished every single one of his opponents. The final victory, a TKO finish over former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 65 is still Vera's biggest win to this day.
Vera sat with an impressive 8-0 record in MMA, set to face then-UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. Unfortunately, an ugly contract dispute with the UFC kept Vera out, and Randy Couture defeated Sylvia in the meantime.
Although the title was no longer on the line, Vera returned to action at UFC 77 to finally fight with Sylvia. He lost the fight via unanimous decision after breaking his hand. Vera then battled Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master Fabricio Werdum at UFC 85, losing via TKO.
Eager to re-prove himself, Vera chose to drop down to Light Heavyweight and came back a month later at UFC: Silva vs. Irvin, beating Reese Andy via unanimous decision. His next bout came against Keith Jardine, where he lost a closely contested split decision loss had Vera stagnating.
Vera came back to win two in a row over Mike Patt and Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 96 and 102, respectively. This small win streak earned Vera a step up in competition against Couture at UFC 105. Vera fought well, owning a decided advantage in the striking department while exhibiting good takedown defense. Despite this, the judges awarded Couture the decision victory, a win that even Couture himself did not think he had earned.
His next fight would not be so controversial, as he met up with quickly rising Light Heavyweight prospect Jon "Bones" Jones in March of 2010. Jones' vaunted wrestling and ground and pound skills came into effect in a big way during the fight, culminating in Jones breaking Vera's face in three different places with a well-placed elbow. Vera next faced Thiago Silva at UFC 125, and lost a thoroughly one-sided unanimous decision, having his nose broken in the process.
The surprising fall from grace had lead to a rather lackluster 2-3(1) record in his last six bouts, and he was subsequently released from the UFC. Luckily for "The Truth," Silva was found to have falsified his urine sample in the UFC 125 drug tests, resulting in a suspension and Vera's reinstatement into the company.
Vera came back at UFC 137 to win a decision over Eliot Marshall, and then fought the war against "Shogun" Rua in August of last year. Even in defeat, Vera gained a lot of supporters to his cause for his valiant effort. The performance showed a ton of heart and proved that Vera still had a lot of fight left in him. In Milwaukee, he'll move back up to Heavyweight to see if his former home can be as welcoming as it once was.
How he gets it done: Although Vera is most widely known for his vicious, attacking style of Muay Thai, in truth, he's actually a very well-rounded mixed martial artist. He has a strong wrestling base that dates back to his time spent in the United States Air Force. In terms of MMA, Vera has primarily used his wrestling skill to utilize excellent takedown defense and good throws from the clinch.
To complement his wrestling skills, Vera possesses a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt. It's been pivotal in terms of the stellar submission defense that he's exhibited throughout his entire MMA career, having never been submitted. However, he's only gained one victory by way of submission, so he could perhaps look to be a bit more offensive with his holds.
His bread and butter skill will always be the relentless striking that he's parlayed into seven (T)KO victories. He's never been one to shy away from a war on the feet, and that's definitely what his bout with fellow power striker Rothwell could turn into. Rothwell's extremely experienced and has double-digit knockouts and submissions to his name, so Vera will have to stay active and agile, utilizing his speed to stay outside of Rothwell's range.
If he can avoid being taken down and smothered by his larger opponent, Vera should be able to utilize leg kicks, knees, and combinations to pick Rothwell apart on the feet. His ground skill should keep him from being submitted. He has the power to end Rothwell's night quickly, but he hasn't shown that aspect of his game enough recently.
Record: 32-9 overall, 2-3 UFC
Key Wins: Roy Nelson (IFL: Moline, Brendan Schaub (UFC 145), Ricco Rodriguez (IFL: 2007 Team Championship Final)
Key Losses: Gabriel Gonzaga (UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Bisping), Mark Hunt (UFC 135), Cain Velasquez (UFC 104)
How he got here: Rothwell is one of the most experienced competitors in the UFC Heavyweight division, but he only just arrived there in 2009. Prior to that, he racked up an impressive 29-5 record in promotions such as the International Fight League (IFL), King of the Cage (KOTC), Affliction, and M-1. The IFL is where Rothwell enjoyed his most measured degree of success, owning victories over Roy Nelson and Ricco Rodriguez.
He made his first foray into the Octagon at UFC 104 versus current UFC Heavyweight titleholder Cain Velasquez, losing by technical knockout only 58 second into the match. He rebounded with a decision victory over violent striker Gilbert Yvel at UFC 115, then lost his next bout to Mark Hunt in a rather uninspired performance that had critics questioning Rothwell's level of conditioning.
Coming back in better shape at UFC 145 in April 2012, Rothwell made a statement with his impressive first round knockout of touted prospect Brendan "The Hybrid" Schaub. His "Knockout of the Night"-winning performance netted him a bout against Gabriel Gonzaga, but the opportunity was squandered when his Brazilian opponent submitted him with an early guillotine.
Now, Rothwell may be fighting for his job, and with the potential for a knockout looming around every corner, his bout with Vera could end quickly.
How he gets it done: Rothwell has a wide array of weapons at his disposal in the cage. Like fellow UFC 164 participants Anthony "Showtime" Pettis and Erik Koch, Rothwell is a Duke Roufus-trained striker, even holding a professional kickboxing record of 3-0. His striking proficiency has paid dividends within the cage to the tune of 18 total knockouts. Vera's exhibited that he can be finished off with strikes, and Rothwell will be looking for the knockout early and often.
He'll have to be accurate in Wisconsin because Vera will most likely hold a substantial advantage in speed and agility. If Rothwell can use varied strikes enough to keep Vera guessing, he could be able to score a fight-changing right hand. Despite his respectable 11 submission victories, he'll probably be best served to look for victory on the feet, as "The Truth" has never submitted.
Although Vera looks for takedowns from the clinch, Rothwell will be tough to drag down. "Big Ben" could definitely use his size advantage to grind out some convincing rounds on the ground, but this fight seems more likely a slugfest. Rothwell has a great chance to win a war like this, but he's going to have to maintain focus to do so.
His up-and-down UFC tenure is beginning to look inconsistent, so an impressive win over a veteran like Vera would do well to prove otherwise. If his head's in the game, Rothwell will hold a decided power advantage over Vera, which could very likely result in a quick win.
The support of his home crowd could be a great assistance to Rothwell, who -- with so many fights under his belt -- most likely won't be affected by the pressure of such a big stage.
Bottom Line: Vera and Rothwell could have their Octagon futures on the line come Saturday. You can bet they’ll be swinging for the fences the minute the bell sounds, meaning that the match could end quickly ... and violently. Both fighters have a great backstory and a ton of history behind their careers, and both also need a win badly at this point to keep their jobs.
Vera showed the heart and determination that once defined him in his loss to "Shogun" Rua. If he can return to the cage that shape, his generous speed and agility advantage could give him a great shot at dismantling Rothwell. Vera has the potential to hang with some of the best Heavyweights in the world, but he doesn’t always show up in the game mentally.
That won’t work against Rothwell, who’ll have the support of Wisconsin behind him.
"Big Ben" will be hungry to prove that his quick loss to Gonzaga was a fluke. If he wants to keep the fight standing, he can with his huge size advantage. Vera may the more elusive fighter, but the larger Rothwell should have the edge in power.
And in a war like this, that will obviously be paramount.
His lengthy track record should make the hometown crowd a huge boost for him. Rothwell is in for a fight in Milwaukee, but he should show up highly motivated and ready to make his fans proud.
There’s a ton of entertaining fights on the UFC 164 line up, but this one could turn out to be one of the best.
Two Heavyweight knockout artists will collide in Milwaukee. Who is your pick to fight on to a bigger name in the Octagon?