MANCHESTER, England – Brandon Vera went through a gamut of emotions leading into and coming out of UFC 105. Heading into the fight, he had to get over the mental roadblock of having to fight his idol, UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture.
He developed a game plan to counter Couture's Greco-Roman wrestling game, knocked him down in the second round with a knee and said everything was going as he visualized it many times in the past few weeks.
But the ends didn't justify the means as the 46-year-old Couture, the five-time former UFC champion, won by unanimous decision Saturday night in the main event at the Manchester Evening News Arena.
The crowd reaction was mixed when the decision was read aloud. The majority of the press cageside had it 29-28 for Vera, including Yahoo! Sports. But it was clearly a decision that could have gone either way.
“I wanted to show Randy that I’m not the same little kid I was at the Olympic training center (when the two trained together years ago in Greco-Roman wrestling)," said Vera (11-4). "I hurt him a few times. I took him down once. I learned a lot tonight. I’m only at 70 percent of my full potential. I’m going back in the gym in five days and destroy some people.”
Couture (17-10) controlled the octagon, as much of the fight was fought in the clinch against the cage with Couture imposing his will and Vera not cracking. Vera did more physical damage and won the second round, the only round that was clear-cut.
The first and third rounds were close enough that they could have gone either way, and by no means was the decision outrageous, even though announcer Joe Rogan was strong in his interview with the belief Vera won and that it was part of a string of bad decisions in the sport.
It was not a crowd-pleasing main event after one of the company’s best undercards of late. The UFC's European record-setting sellout crowd of 16,693, drawing approximately $2 million, booed the fight several times when the action stalled.
Couture worked the first part of his game plan, which was to tie up Vera in a Greco-Roman clinch, tire him out, eventually take him down and finish him. He continually got the clinch during the fight, but he didn’t tire Vera out and wasn't able to throw him or get him off his feet except for one time in the first round. Vera was back up immediately without any damage.
The match came down to the third round, and Couture scored with his dirty boxing, largely punches off the clinch, and he was winning the early part of the round. But Vera (11-4) came back with strong body kicks late in the round and Vera actually took Couture down with 43 seconds left, which many cageside credited as the deciding move of the fight. Couture was up just before the finish and the two swung away for an exciting conclusion to an otherwise slow fight.
“I’m pissed, I’m really pissed,” said Vera. “In this sport, there is a saying, 'If you let it go to the judges, anything can happen.' I should have finished him. I had a great opportunity. I thought I won. But I’m really happy I got to face Randy Couture, my idol, the legend and to the next guy at 205 who faces me, I’m gonna whip your ass.”
“I was sitting with Brandon’s wife (Kerry Vera, a professional fighter who is fighting Couture's ex-wife, Kim, on a Strikeforce card next week) and said, 'Don’t let it go to the judges,'” said UFC president Dana White. “Couture’s the kind of guy who is in your face. If you want to beat Randy, finish him.”
Vera, who at 6-foot-2 was listed an inch taller than Couture but towered over him and was able to score often with body kicks when they were at a distance, stayed with Couture at Couture’s strong point and was quicker than Couture when out of the clinch. But Vera wasn’t able to keep Couture away from always getting the clinch. Most of the fight was almost a stalemate against the cage.
This was Couture’s first match back at light heavyweight after losing twice at heavyweight, as he lost the title to Brock Lesnar last November and then lost a decision to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in August. Couture is attempting to duplicate what happened in 2003, when he had lost twice as a heavyweight, moved down to light heavyweight and went on to capture the championship twice. But Saturday's win appeared to not be impressive enough by itself to vault Couture into title contention against Lyoto Machida, which would be his obvious goal.
“I felt really comfortable,” Couture said about moving down in weight. “The pounds came off fast. I lost 10 pounds in 70 minutes while on the treadmill (before weigh-ins on Friday). The weight came off quickly. I stayed at 215 to 217 pounds all through camp.”
Couture, 12 years older than Vera, said he felt his three good flurries early in the third round made the difference, conceding the second round to Vera.
“I was very impressed with Brandon,” Couture said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy fight.”