LAS VEGAS – Brandon Vera never imagined a day would come that he would think such dark thoughts. He never believed he could be so filled with rage, with hate, for one human being.
He was proud of the fact that he could face the toughest challenges in a fight and remain in control of his emotions, but just the sight of his manager across a table is enough to make him consider an untold act.
Vera's career as a mixed martial artist flourished under the management of Mark Dion. It reached its zenith on Nov. 18, when he needed just 69 seconds to stop ex-heavyweight champion Frank Mir at UFC 65 in Sacramento, Calif.
UFC president Dana White was effusive in his praise of Vera, who was on the fast track to the title.
White had been telling the media prior to UFC 65 that the winner of the Vera-Mir fight would face the winner of the Tim Sylvia-Jeff Monson fight, which was also being held that night, for the championship.
But nine months after that epic win, Vera is farther away from the UFC heavyweight title than he ever could have imagined. He's split with Dion and is embroiled in a nasty dispute, which will be settled by an arbiter for the California Athletic Commission on Sept. 17.
Dion chose not to speak about what led to his problems with Vera until after the hearing. "If you care about the truth, call me after the 17th and I'll be happy to tell you the full story," Dion said. "But it's not in my interests to say anything right now. If you want to listen to Brandon, that's fine. But if you want the truth, come to me after the 17th." Vera, 29, laughs and says he should have declined to speak, as well. But he said he is so enraged by the harm Dion has done to his career that he says he can't help himself. Vera hasn't fought since that first-round destruction of Mir, which he thought would land him a title shot.
He instead slithered into anonymity as his contract talks with the UFC went seemingly nowhere and his relationship with Dion completely deteriorated.
Not long after his win over Mir, Vera attended a news conference to support his friend, K.J. Noons, who was competing on the first card for a new promotional company, Elite XC.
Vera's appearance at the news conference led to much speculation about his future. Many took it as a sign that Elite XC was about to sign him. Certainly, Elite XC president Gary Shaw had no problem having his fledgling company’s name associated with the rising heavyweight star’s.
But Vera said there was nothing going on between them.
"We had opened negotiations with UFC, but I was just there to support K.J.," Vera said. Vera said he later learned that Dion wanted him to hold out for a big deal and apparently wanted to use Elite XC's presence as leverage against the UFC.
Vera was initially patient and willing to wait for Dion to do his job.
"But I started hearing more and more rumors and I had to do something myself," Vera said. "Everybody has an inside guy. I have mine and I had him checking up on these rumors. I wanted him to find out what the offer (from the UFC) was without my manager knowing about it."
What he heard horrified him. He said he was given terms of a contract that he would have gladly accepted. Instead, he was sitting on the sidelines, losing time and marketability. His title shot instead went to Randy Couture, who upset Sylvia to win the championship. The UFC signed a series of top heavyweights, loading a division which was once perhaps its weakest.
Vera finally got in touch with Joe Silva, the UFC's matchmaker, to learn the Zuffa’s side of the story. He said that's when he realized Dion was being less than forthright with him.
"Long story short, he told me the UFC said one thing and I found out that the UFC had said something else," Vera said of Dion. "That's when my problems really started."
Vera said he had been naïve about business and said he felt maybe he wasn't understanding things. He said he asked Silva to fill him in on the talks and about the offers which were made.
"I told him I was confused and that I was new to the sport and that I didn't know the games that go on in these things, but I just wanted to know what they offered me," Vera said. "And Joe told me, 'Here's what we offered you.' And when I saw that, and I have to tell you, I was as angry and upset as I have ever been."
After that meeting with Silva, Vera said he had to leave San Diego, where he lives and operates a gym, because he was so angry with Dion. He said he didn't want to take a chance of bumping into Dion because he didn't know what he might say or do.
And so he left town, running to prevent a problem from occurring.
"I had thoughts in my head," he said, bowing his head. "I had thoughts in my head you shouldn't be having about another person. I had to leave. It was no good. There was no way I could talk to him. There was no way I could see him."
His wife, Kerry, is a professional boxer and Muay Thai fighter who was in Las Vegas and then Thailand filming a reality series for the Oxygen network, “Fight Girls.”
She said she heard the struggles in her husband's voice when they would speak on the phone.
"He was so stressed, he was having trouble talking," she said. "He was obviously very troubled. I hadn't really heard him like that before."
At a mediation session, Vera said he nearly twice leaped over the table to confront Dion and Dion's attorney.
After learning the truth, Vera said he tried to fill his days so he wouldn't have free time and let thoughts of Dion wander into his mind.
"I just wanted to keep my mind right and not think about shooting somebody," he said. He signed a new multi-fight contract with the UFC earlier this month – "The same one I could have had a long time ago," he says – and is excited to be back in the mix. These days, he's not thinking of shooting anyone so much as he is of cracking them in the chops. He's set to fight Sylvia on Oct. 20 at UFC 77 in Cincinnati and he spends most of his time occupying his thoughts about winning that fight.
The irony of his first fight back being against Sylvia is not lost on him, though.
"I was going to be fighting Tim for the title and now I'm going to be fighting Tim just to fight Tim," Vera said. "That's the biggest thing. If I'd have fought him before, I'd be the champ. When I fight Tim now, I'm just somebody who fought Tim.
"There's a monetary value that comes with (fighting for the title), but man, it was a title shot. I was on the fast track to where I wanted to be. Now I have to get over the ring rust and the nerves and right out of the box, I'm back fighting a (top) guy in the UFC."
But he smiled that smile that made him so popular among UFC fans and shook his head. At least, he said, he's fighting again. And though it will have been nearly a year, he said he's not worried that he'll have lost anything or that anyone will have forgotten him. "It's like reading a good book, but you get distracted and you have to put it on the shelf for a while," Vera said. "But when you get back to it, you open to the page where you left off. You don't start over.
"I plan to start right where I folded the page and put the book on the shelf. I'm coming back right at that same point, just when the book is getting really good."
- Brandon Vera