Favored UFC champ Mauricio Rua faces Brandon Vera in LA

Jul 31, 2012 3:06 AM

Unlike boxing where countless contenders pad their records with confidence-building bouts and are protected for the purpose of procuring a marketable record to ensure bigger paydays, MMA fighters almost never enjoy that luxury.

Instead they are expected to increase their level of competition with almost each victory and matchmakers are all too eager to ensure they’re being challenged when entering the cage.

This exercise results in momentum being even more important for MMA fighters than it is in other sports, where it’s undoubtedly paramount for success. We’ve all seen it time and again, when an athlete or team appear to be on a roll, making them extremely difficult to beat.

When momentum is said to be on one’s side, it’s difficult to argue who holds the advantage. Therefore, when certain that a fighter has it, we must decide to weigh it into the handicapping process to assist in projecting the winner.

Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles it’s UFC on FOX 4. The main event consists of two fighters who both lack momentum when they invade the octagon. Yet a victory that evening in front of millions of viewers on a national stage will undeniably ensure one exits with momentum.

Former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6, 17 KO’s & 1 Submission) faces Brandon “The Truth” Vera (12-5, 7 KO’s & 1 Submission) in a clash at 205 lbs.

According to odds makers the former title holder and Pride Middleweight Grand Prix winner Rua is the overwhelming betting favorite at -350, while the take-back on past WEC Heavyweight Tournament winner Vera is a generous +290.

Rua 30, fights out of Brazil and will make his way to the octagon having lost three of his last five bouts, including his first title defense against current 205 lb. strap holder Jon Jones. His most recent bout took place in last November against Dan Henderson, who secured a title shot vs. Jones by winning a unanimous decision over Rua in a five-round classic.

The Brazilian is primarily a striker with vicious muay thai and his knockout percentage (85%) reflects fight ending power with both punches and kicks. Rua is extremely dangerous in the clinch and his knees to the body have slowed down the sport’s toughest competitors.

On the ground he’s got above average jiu jitsu, but employs it more for submission defense than to finish fights. Rua’s wrestling has improved greatly from his Pride days but with 49% take-down accuracy and only 42% take-down defense, he’s vulnerable.

Though Rua’s got plenty of heart and the warrior spirit, his gas tank has shown to be a glaring weakness at times and a lack of conditioning can be exploited by opponents who push the pace.

Vera, 34, has won only once in his last four UFC appearances. So this is an overly critical bout towards his MMA career. After capturing victories in his first four UFC bouts including a first round KO of two-time heavyweight champion Frank Mir, a win over Rua can make it two in a row and regain some of that momentum.

Vera has fought as a heavyweight and light heavyweight during his stay with the UFC, and he’s faced some of the sport’s best in Fabricio Werdum, Randy Couture, and Jon Jones. He too is a muay thai fighter who is very technical with his striking.

Although his KO percentage is much lower than Rua’s, we can’t forget that much of his resume is the result of fighting against bigger opponents than he’s facing at 205 lbs. So don’t allow his record to mistakenly have you believe Vera lacks power.

More importantly for this bout, Vera is an accomplished wrestler who was offered an athletic scholarship to Old Dominion and also trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center during his time on the Air Force wrestling team. The experience gained is reflected in his 62% take-down defense and 58% take-down accuracy figures, that when coupled with an efficient jiu jitsu game make Vera a highly skilled grappler.

I have to give a substantial “motivation” edge to Vera because not much will be gained by Rua with a win and he knows it. In fact, when offered a bout against one of MMA’s fastest rising stars Glover Texiera, “Shogun” balked. He appeared to imply his intentions no longer include recapturing the light heavyweight gold.

So it looks to me like we have one of the most successful and exciting MMA practitioners in history simply riding out his career and securing a few more checks.

On the flip side, Vera should be as motivated as one can get for a showdown that will ultimately determine his fate within the division and more importantly, the UFC. Pick: Vera +290.

With a striking skill set that can hang with Rua and a wrestling game that’s proven to present problems for him in the past, I’m backing the taller and longer Vera in what should be a vastly entertaining bout.

Bonus value Lean: Nam Pham over Cole Miller

UFC Gossip

Although it appears we will eventually get to see current interim UFC welterweight champion Carlos Condit face off with the true welterweight title holder and top pound for pound great George St. Pierre, there is talk that Nick Diaz has refocused his energy on fighting again.

Diaz is in the process of serving out his suspension for testing positive for marijuana, something he does not deny using regularly. His handlers are attempting to get the ruling overturned so he can get back into the cage before the scheduled November end date.

With the Condit vs. GSP drama still needing to play out, Diaz has made it clear that the opponent he’s interested in is current UFC middleweight champion, Anderson Silva. In fact, Diaz has gone as far as stating he is willing to move up to 185 lbs. for the privilege of facing the future Hall of Famer if Silva is unwilling to meet at a catch-weight.

I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about now that Diaz has recaptured the passion to train rather than retire like he claimed he would after a controversial decision loss to Condit this past year.

RECORD: 66-39 (63%)

Vegas-Runner, a professional sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow VR on Twitter @vegasrunner and at Pregame.com.