Vera schooled in trash-talking, then boxing
Brian Vera's 15 minutes of "Contender" fame were ones he'd most like to forget. The Austin-based fighter endured verbal abuse before climbing into the ring with Jaidon Codrington, and it only got worse from there.
Originally Published: September 12, 2007By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com
It's "Contender" Quiz Time.Fight fans, who's Sonja Christopher? Time's wasting three, two, one. Give up? She was the very first person ever voted off the most well-known reality show in existence, "Survivor." Apart from being the answer to an insanely difficult trivia question, Ms. Christopher didn't even get a chance to soak up 10, or even five minutes of her requisite 15 minutes of fame. Will the same fate, a meager ration of the requisite Warholian time in the spotlight, befall Brian Vera, the first fighter to get kicked off Contender Island? The Austin, Texas-based fighter got KO'd by New York's Jaidon Codrington on the second episode of season three of "The Contender." Vera had lost to Codrington before, in the amateur ranks, and he'd hoped that his skills had evolved since that first clash, which came relatively soon after he first started boxing, in 2002. Vera, 25, knew the competition in vying for the "Contender" title, and a $750,000 winner's check, would be fierce. He recognized some of the cast members, including Aussie Sam Solimon (who's fought top-tier scrappers Winky Wright and Anthony Mundine) and Cameroonian Sakio Bika (who gave Joe Calzaghe a solid test last October). Vera certainly recognized that he didn't come into the "Contender" house as a finished product. "I knew the competition would be stiff," Vera told ESPN.com. "And I could tell on the first day everyone was in shape." One lingering question mark in Vera's mind when he accepted the offer to enter the tourney: Would the super middleweight class be right for him? At 5-10, many in that weight bracket would have a couple of inches on the Texan. He thought he could compensate with other attributes, chief among them his punching power. His trash talking, as shown on Tuesday's episode, certainly wasn't going to buy him an extra sliver in the mental gamesmanship component of the tourney. Codrington, in verbal skirmishes, bettered Vera with finely honed putdowns. "Get your bags packed, right now pack your bags," Codrington commanded during one of the verbal tiffs between the two in the "Contender" crib. "You're going home, son," he snarled. Vera tried to fire back, but the New Yorker's delivery was clearly sharper and snappier. Other Contenders stepped in between the squabbling housemates before an unsanctioned brawl broke out. Shortly after that sorority-house-squabble-on-steroids ended, Sugar Ray Leonard sent the Gold team and the Blue team to deliberate and choose whom they wanted to represent in the first loser-leaves-the-show beef. It was a no-brainer. Vera told his crew, led by trainer Pepe Correa, that he wanted a piece of Codrington. The Don told his crew, helmed by Buddy McGirt, that he wanted to send Vera home to the Lone Star state. During the official choosing ceremony, Codrington got off another snappy verbal jab when he announced, "After evaluating the situation, we've chosen Brian to go home today. Got your bags packed, homie?" Come fight time, Vera looked like he'd make Codrington pay for the amateur conquest and the verbal whuppings. In the first round, he was doubling up on the jab, popping one-twos, and scoring nicely with uppercuts. Vera was busier than Codrington, but he lost some steam late in the round. That was a dark portent of the second frame. In the second, Vera started loading up, and Codrington picked up on the shift in strategy. "In the second round, I dropped my hands," Vera said to ESPN.com. "I was throwing wild punches." Codrington, a Queens, N.Y., resident, turned the tide with a knockdown in the middle of the round. It came via a left hook, which wobbled the Texan. Two rights followed, and Vera found himself on the deck. It was the first time, Vera said, that he'd been dropped as an amateur or as a pro. "I didn't think I was in deep trouble at the time," he said. "But I didn't know how to react, and I should have been grabbing, or moving." Vera rose at the count of five from referee Pat Russell, but Codrington went into finishing mode. Calmly composed, he went back to the left hook well, and tore off three nasty tosses, with a few rights for good measure. The barrage sent Vera back into the ropes, and Russell stepped in to prevent further damage. The official time: 1:32 of the second. Vera, now back in Texas, and back in the gym trying to patch the holes in his game, isn't moaning about the stop. "I got away from my jab," he said, analyzing his effort. "I was on the ropes and the ref felt like I was taking too many shots. I thought I could have gotten out of it, but I have to respect what the ref does." After the bout, Vera got some words of wisdom from Sugar Ray Leonard, who counseled him to learn from the loss. "He said to go back to the drawing board and to watch the fight on TV and learn from it," Vera said. The fighter's gal pal watched the fight live, as did his mother, and both have encouraged Vera to shake off the defeat, and plug away. Vera leaves the program with a sore jaw, some painful game film to dissect and, still, a dislike for Codrington. "He has a big mouth," Vera said. "But I do respect him as a boxer, just not as a person." Vera's coach on the show was veteran corner sage Correa, who trained Leonard after Angelo Dundee, and Lennox Lewis, before Manny Steward took over. Correa doesn't pull any verbal punches when he assesses Vera prospects post-Contender. "He's a good puncher," Correa said. "The problem Brian has is a lapse in learning. He has to learn to stay behind the jab. He's strong, but you can't go in there thinking about a fight you had with a guy in the amateurs." Vera can't pull straight back when he is looking to get some distance between himself and foe, Correa said, and he hurt himself by focusing on his prior loss to the victor. Bottom line, Pepe, can Vera shrug this off, and still get his 15 minutes of fame as a pro? Or will he suffer the same fate as Sonja Christopher? "I've seen guys lose and come back," he said. "But he has a tendency to load up, and he throws looping punches. If he stops throwing looping punches, he can be a good fighter. But as long as he throws looping punches, I don't expect him to go anywhere. If he throws looping punches, he'll just be a good club fighter."
Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.