Commentary

Vera not thinking about life after glove

Updated: January 7, 2011, 4:06 PM ET
By Franklin McNeil | ESPN.com

The necessary elements to be a successful mixed martial artist were in place: good striking, solid wrestling and a winning attitude.

Brandon Vera possessed them all, and when he made his WEC debut on Jan. 22, 2005, labels like "future star" were heaped upon him.

The descriptions seemed appropriate then. "The Truth" won a WEC heavyweight tournament that night, and the UFC wasted no time gobbling him up.

Once on the big stage, Vera continued to open eyes. He was taking opponents out left and right -- knees, punches and submissions. In whatever fashion Vera wanted to finish an opponent, he did it. But the good times would not last forever.

After compiling an 8-0-0 mixed martial arts record, all but one of the wins coming by early stoppage, Vera met Tim Sylvia in October 2007.

Vera lost that fight by unanimous decision. About eight months later, he lost his next fight -- a first-round TKO at the hands of Fabricio Werdum.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Vera
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comInsult to injury: Brandon Vera got his nose broken, then was cut by the UFC.

From that moment on, it's been an uphill battle for Vera. He even dropped a few pounds and competed at light heavyweight, in hopes that the lesser load would make his upward climb easier. It didn't, and his quest to reach the UFC mountaintop ended Thursday. The promotion released Vera, whose 205-pound UFC experiment concluded with a 3-4 record.

His release came as little surprise. Even Vera could see the writing on the wall. Before taking on Thiago Silva at UFC 125 last week, Vera acknowledged that he was fighting for his UFC life.

"It's Thiago or me," Vera said. "If I don't beat Thiago, I'll be in the unemployment line with the rest of the folks in the recession. It's funny, but it's not. This is my back against the wall."

He vowed to be at his best inside the Octagon -- and maybe he was. But Vera's best wasn't close to being good enough. Silva didn't simply defeat Vera; he humiliated him. Vera had his moments during the brief periods when they were standing, but Silva landed the more powerful punches. He easily took Vera down at will, and the assault at times was difficult to watch.

Silva punched and elbowed Vera repeatedly, even disfiguring his nose. When Silva became tired of punching Vera, he slapped him around with open hands.

Final remnants of the accolades that once covered Vera were wiped away at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, leading UFC officials to wash their hands of the 33-year-old who once showed great promise.

But Vera has never been a man to quit fighting. Before losing to Silva, he promised to continue pursuing his goal of being a champion.

"This is my job; this is what I'm supposed to be doing," Vera said. "People always ask me what would I do if I weren't fighting. I honestly don't know what I'd do if I stopped fighting."

[+] EnlargeGerald Harris
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comGerald Harris, bottom, knows what it feels like to receive his walking papers.

Whether or not his UFC career has come to a permanent end, Vera will continue to fight. The question is: where?

Strikeforce would seem to be an obvious destination, but that promotion's CEO, Scott Coker, recently told ESPN.com that he isn't rushing to sign every fighter released by the UFC.

"I wouldn't rule out looking at a fighter from UFC," Coker said. "But we have several up-and-coming fighters we're developing."

It's a different world outside the UFC. And adjusting to that life is no simple task.

"It really sucks to be cut by the UFC," recently released middleweight Gerald Harris told ESPN.com. "The thing that sucks is job security. You know when you're going to fight. You know whom you're fighting. They even pick you up from the airport.

"You get spoiled. Then you go back to showing up for fights and your opponent doesn't show up, sometimes you don't even get paid. It's crazy."

Finding a promotion that wants his services is just the first hurdle. Vera (11-6-0) must also figure out what division to compete in. Heavyweights are larger than ever, while light heavyweights continue to get faster and more skilled. Whether at heavyweight or 205 pounds, Vera faces obstacles.

Harris believes that heavyweight is where Vera should focus his attention. But he must find a way to minimize his size disadvantage.

"When Brandon dominated the heavyweight division, what was it, 4-5 years ago? Things have changed since then," Harris said. "Look at Shane Carwin, Brock Lesnar, even Stefan Struve. They're all huge. [Vera] is a victim of his weight: he's stuck between 205 and heavyweight.

"He has to figure out which one is going to work for him. I believe heavyweight would work best for him."

Finding the right mixed martial arts promotion, deciding on a weight class and fine-tuning his game; these are some of the issues Vera must resolve before resuming his career.

Despite a three-fight losing skid, Vera remains a very talented fighter. The belief here is that the onetime MMA phenom will return to his winning ways. His next victory won't come inside the Octagon. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing, if Vera stays true to his goal.

"There is life after the UFC, but if your goal is to be UFC champion you have to do whatever it takes to get there," Harris said. "[Vera] has to figure out what it is that got him cut, and correct it.

"That's what I'm doing right now."

Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.