EXCLUSIVE | Brandon Vera chasing long-time dream into title bout with Aung La N Sang

Brandon Vera

Shortly after Aung La N Sang defended his ONE Championship Middleweight World Title with a knockout of Ken Hasegawa at ONE: A New Era in March, he was joined in the cage by ONE Heavyweight Champion Brandon Vera and ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong.

It was announced right then and there, in front of throngs of Japanese fans, that Aung La would defend his other World Title — the ONE light heavyweight belt — against the heavyweight champ Vera.

The bout is expected to occur at ONE: Greatness Unleashed in Tokyo, Japan on October 13.

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While this Champion versus Champion matchup had been discussed for some time previously, the choice to have Brandon Vera join Aung La N Sang in the cage was made off-the-cuff. Vera suggested it to Sityodtong, Sityodtong was on board, and the rest is history.

“It was a spur of the moment type thing,” Vera told BJPenn.com from Manila, Philippines. “It all just rolled into one, and the next thing I knew I was up in the cage. Thinking about it I was like ‘ah maybe we shouldn’t, maybe we should,’ but I’m glad now we did. I’m glad we got it done. Everyone knows. It’s on.”

If you’re a long-time Brandon Vera follower, you’ll remember that he previously aspired to become a two-division champion in the UFC. Unfortunately, he was never able to realize that dream, but he’s now got another chance with ONE Championship. To say he’s excited to make this dream a reality would be an understatement.

“I’ve always wanted to be a double-champ,” he said. “Heavyweight and light heavyweight. This is the continuation of a dream that’s been ongoing.

“Don’t give up on your dreams and just keep shooting forward no matter what,” he added.

When Vera meets Aung La in the ONE Championship light heavyweight division, it’ll be the lightest he’s fought in quite a while. As luck would have it, he’s already begun slimming down for some acting roles in The Philippines, so he’s not terribly concerned with his ability to make weight. That being said, he is taking every precaution to ensure he’s able to perform once the weight has been made.

“Making weight has never ever been a problem for me, ever,” he said. “The biggest thing that’s going to bother me is being able to perform at this weight. We’ll start training next week or this week coming up. We’ll start training at this lighter weight, and see how it goes, and see what’s affected because of how we’re eating and our nutrition now.

“It’s probably going to suck for the first week or two, maybe a month,” Vera added with a laugh.

Brandon Vera

For Brandon Vera, this fight with Aung La N Sang is the next item on the agenda. He does not plan on defending his heavyweight title between now and then. Aung La, however, has said that he hopes to defend his light heavyweight title in the interim. Ever the picture of class, Vera has no problem with that.

“He’s the champ,” Vera said of Aung La. “That’s Aung La’s M.O. He fights two or three times a year, that’s what he does. That’s why, when I got into the cage, I made sure to ask ‘if we’re both healthy.’ I know he’s an active athlete. If he wants to go again, who am I to stop him from doing it? I’m the one coming down to challenge. If that’s what he wants to do, I’m supportive of it.”

If Aung La ends up fighting at light heavyweight between now and October, there’s a possibility he will lose his title. This is not something Vera is concerned about. If anything, that would mean he doesn’t have to fight a man he has great respect for.

“If he happens to lose the World Championship belt, then I don’t have to have a match with Aung La,” he said. “We can just challenge whoever the champ is. I’m just taking it in stride, and staying focused on the prize.”

If Brandon Vera and Aung La N Sang do end up fighting in October as planned, the expectation is that the former will be the bigger, stronger man in the cage. Yet Vera doesn’t expect this advantage to be as pronounced as many fans might expect.

“It’s easy to say from the outside looking in ‘oh I’m going to be taller,’ but Aung La’s legs are probably thicker than mine, and he’s kicking now,” he said. “I might have some inches on him, but Aung La is a gamer. He’ll stand in the pocket and swing and trade with me. He’s done it before, he’s done it in the past, and he comes out of nowhere with the takedowns.

“He’s a dangerous opponent,” Vera continued. “I’m very much looking forward to it. I’m not even worried about the size, I’m just looking at him as an overall athlete.”

Looking at Aung La N Sang as an “overall athlete,” Brandon Vera sees a versatile and dangerous foe. He believes that skill-wise, they’re quite similar, but that his own experience will be a key difference-maker.

“I think on a technical level, we’re very even,” Vera said. “The biggest difference is going to be the experience. We’ll see if I can make things happen in there due to his lack of experience. I believe Aung La will be looking for the early KO, or he’ll look to try to drag me into deeper waters.”

Brandon Vera, Aung La N Sang
Image: Tom Taylor

Given the way Brandon Vera talks about Aung La N Sang, it should come as no surprise that they have immense respect for one another. When the cage door closes, however, Vera will put it all on the line. He expects the result to be an instant classic.

“I envision that this will be one of the matches you’re not going to want to miss in the history of MMA,” he said. “This is going to be a really good one.”

Should Vera topple Aung La in Tokyo, and realize his long-term goal, he plans on actively defending both the ONE light heavyweight and heavyweight belts until he decides to call it a career. At the moment, he’s not sure when that might be.

“It would mean I have to start defending two belts a year,” he said of a potential victory. “That would be the plan, to actively defend both until I just wake up one morning and decide I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t know when that might be.

“Everyone keeps asking [when I’ll retire]. I keep saying ‘three years,’ but I’ve been saying three years for the past six years,” Vera added with a laugh. “I don’t want to be the guy that retires and comes back. When I’m done with the sport, I want to make sure I’m done.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/16/2019.