The ringing telephone roused Kerry Vera from a deep sleep. She was in her California home alone when her husband, UFC light heavyweight Brandon Vera, called. Something was up, she knew fairly quickly, for him to be calling so early. It was the middle of the night where she was and she knew he knew that.
But it was when she heard him speak that she knew something wasn't quite right.
"When he called, he was very calm and very quiet," she said. "He was like, 'Um, I just need to tell you what just happened and I need you to fly out here to be with me.' It was weird. It was really weird."
It got weirder when Brandon told Kerry what had just occurred. He'd been sleeping in the Maryland home of his coach, Lloyd Irvin, when he was awakened at 4:20 a.m. Someone was behind him and had stuck a gun to the back of his head.
It was a home invasion. Thanks to Irvin's martial arts training, bravery and quick thinking, Irvin disarmed one of the two men and the criminals raced out of the home. Later, when one of the men was arrested, it was discovered that he had been wanted for five murders.
As a professional fighter, Vera had always felt secure and in control. Suddenly, he realized how vulnerable he was and felt he'd made a mistake not being prepared for the possibility that a criminal with a weapon may invade his home in the middle of the night.
The events of Oct. 4, 2008, ended rather quickly, but the effects lasted far longer. Vera was suddenly no longer so committed to being the best fighter he could be. The little things which at the highest level of sport make the difference between winning and losing became just that to him, little things. He didn't care enough.
"Definitely, I would definitely, 100,000 percent, agree that security became my biggest priority, the most important thing to me," said Vera, who Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles will face former champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event of UFC on Fox 4 with a potential title shot at stake.
"I fought, but it was security that I really was concerned about. I started training my dog. I was just determined never to be caught out there slipping again, man. That was a really [expletive] feeling, man, to have somebody throw a gun at the back of your head when you're sleeping at 4:20 in the morning. I found out later they were mass murderers. I could have not been here, you know?"
That realization deeply changed Vera. He didn't have the same passion to learn, to improve, as he once had. Training was something that got in the way of his need to find a way to be as secure as he could be.
He was obsessed and it wasn't with pursuing a UFC title. He nearly tossed aside his fight career to take up the kind of training that Navy Seal Team 6 and Delta Force do. He wanted to become a Tier One operator, the highest level of elite military training.
"I wanted to go through all of the training and learn how to become a Tier One operator so that [expletive] would never happen again," Vera said.
"I was training with certain teams, with certain special forces guys. I went to North Carolina and got to train with some of those guys at the American Training Center. … That was more important to me than fighting at the time."
Just two days after the incident, several of Irvin's fighters had bouts scheduled. Vera trained with them and planned to attend their fight. But when he got to the arena filled with fight fans, he felt a sensation in his chest.
He realized that the man who had stuck a gun to his head had seen his face.
"I didn't see his face, but he saw mine," Vera said. "Let me tell you, that [expletive] did strange things to me."
He looked around the arena and eyed just about everyone, wondering, Is that him? Is that him? Or is it him?
He felt uneasy. He couldn't concentrate. He was a mess. Fans would approach, asking for a picture or an autograph, things that happen hundreds of times a night at a fight card.
As it happened on this night, though, Vera saw everyone as a threat, as if any person might be the one who had worn the mask and brandished that gun.
"We made sure all the guys were close to us, and even if a fan came up to us, my hand was out to stop them," Vera said. "I'd be like, 'Time out, man.' This was for real. It was like living a bad dream over and over again. I couldn't sleep. It took me a long time to be able to sleep. I was taking Niravam, an anxiety medication.
"I had to sleep with a gun. I slept with that gun for a long time. I'm not talking about a gun beside me, on a table or anything. I'm talking about a gun on my chest. It wasn't cool, man. It wasn't cool, and I got caught out there. That was the worst part. I was caught unprepared and it sucks so bad."
His fight career began to fall apart in the aftermath. He lost three of his next five fights and, in truth, four of his next six. He was thrashed badly by Thiago Silva, but the loss was changed to a no contest when Silva failed a post-fight drug test.
After that fight, Vera was cut by the UFC. When Silva's test came back positive, he got another opportunity.
And suddenly, some way, whether through the passage of time or a knowledge that he was prepared for any eventuality, he wasn't so haunted by the memories of the home invasion.
"Obviously, he was traumatized by what happened, but anyone would have been," Kerry Vera said. "But I could see signs that he was adjusting and getting back to being himself."
He beat Eliot Marshall at UFC 137. It wasn't a win over a title contender, but it was a win. More importantly, he'd cared deeply in training camp, paid attention to the details, focused on being the best he could be.
And after the Marshall fight, he couldn't wait to return to the gym. He was eager to fight again, to get better, feelings he hadn't known for nearly four years.
When he was offered the shot to fight Rua, he couldn't wait to say yes.
"I haven't seen him so excited like that in a long, long time," his wife said. "We were jumping up and down like crazy, celebrating."
This was a guy who had been battered by Jon Jones, now the UFC light heavyweight champion. It was a brutal, ugly beatdown that represented the low point of Vera's professional life.
But now, he is convinced the best days are ahead. Fans and media howled when he was put into a main event, given his recent record, and screamed even louder when UFC president Dana White suggested a Vera win would give him a title shot.
Vera understood the doubts, but he knew something they didn't, he says. He was training like he had never trained before. His best days, he swears, are ahead.
"I don't understand where this is coming from, I just don't understand it myself," Vera said of his newly found desire. "This want, this want and this great desire, I haven't had this in a long, long time. I don't know where this came from. I don't know where this shot out of, but it's here and it's translating into my training. I'm not giving up positions; I'm taking everything. Everything I want, I'm getting.
"For sure, had I had this [attitude], I don't think I would have lost any of my fights. I think for a long time, I just stopped caring. I figured people were supposed to lose [to me] because my name is Brandon 'The Truth' Vera. I acted like I should have been winning because of my name. I wasn't training as hard as I should have. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if I was training like this, there is no way in hell I would have ever lost."
Vera lost something on Oct. 4, 2008. On Saturday, nearly four years later, he may claim it back. A win over Rua would make him relevant again.
"Believe me when I tell you, I'm a different guy now," he said. "You're going to see a Brandon Vera than you have never seen before. Trust me."
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