Brandon Vera (L) needs to look impressive Saturday to earn a title shot. (AP)UFC president Dana White made a shockingly bad decision during a conference call Monday with mixed martial arts reporters when he said that the winner of Saturday's UFC on Fox 4 main event between Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Brandon Vera would get the next title shot.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who defends his belt on Sept. 1 against former Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson, has already crushed all four fighters who are competing on Saturday's card at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Ryan Bader meets ex-champion Lyoto Machida in the co-main event.
But it was Vera's so-so record that prompted outrage among media and fans. Vera enters Saturday's bout at the Staples Center 1-2 with a no contest in his last four fights. His best win at light heavyweight was over Krzysztof Soszynski.
Jon Jones defends his title on Sept. 1 at UFC 151. (AP)When Jones was told on Twitter the Rua-Vera winner would get a title shot, he wrote, "Scratching my head." He wasn't alone in being perplexed by White's call.
So, late Monday, White changed his mind and opened the picture up. He said the fighter who looks the best on Saturday will get the title shot against the Jones-Henderson winner, giving Bader and Machida a chance, as well.
"When the fans speak, we listen," White said in a news release. "So whoever scores the best win, whoever gets the fans excited by going out there on Saturday and looking the most impressive, he will get the winner of Jones vs. Henderson. It is down to what these four guys do Saturday night in the Octagon. Winning isn't enough, they've got to win impressively. Any one of these four fighters can take things into their own hands and make a title shot happen."
Rua lost his title to Jones at UFC 128. Before the fight that day, Jones broke up a mugging, then went out and stopped Rua at 2:37 of the third in a stunningly one-sided performance.
Rua has gone 1-1 since, beating Forrest Griffin and losing to Henderson in what has been called the best fight in UFC history.
"I want the winner of Jones vs. Henderson," Rua said. "The fight I had with Henderson was a great fight, the fight of the year, and it was a very close fight. I am OK with that. It was a great fight. But the loss to Jones, I can't live with. I could have done so much better and I want to fight him again. First, though, I have to beat Brandon Vera and winning isn't good enough. I have to be very impressive, but that it what I have trained to do."
Vera took the change in stride. He has been upbeat and confident despite the naysayers who roared when he was put into a main event. White's announcement doesn't change much for him, because Vera has been saying all along he plans to win impressively.
If he does that, he'll make a very strong case for himself.
"Beating Shogun, and beating him the way I want, corrects all the mistakes I've made and wipes away all the bad performances," Vera said. "Beating Frank Mir is probably my best performance, but people don't realize that was nothing compared to what I do all the time in the gym. I'm going to show off what 'The Truth' really is on Fox."