Brandon Vera is the ONE Championship heavyweight champion but he hasn’t defended his title since 2018. So the 43 year old feels he has to make a statement when he faces Arjan Bhullar.

The heavyweight title fight between the two UFC veterans headlines ONE: ‘Dangal’ which is being broadcast this Saturday. It has been in the works since 2019 and Vera has had his sights set on the challenger for ‘a long time’,

“I’m excited and I’m nervous. I’ve been thinking about Arjan Bhullar for a long time. I’m excited to finally be able to have our contest,” he said.

Taking it home

Vera has successfully defended the belt on two occasions with the most recent bout coming in 2019. Fighting so infrequently makes him feel he needs to make a statement every time he steps into the ONE Championship circle,

“My goal never changes. I make sure that I make a statement of who I am, why I’m the champion and (I) take that belt home with me every single time.”

He has trained for this fight alongside former foe Aung La Nsang at Sanford MMA in Florida. It has been a while since Vera last prepared for a fight at a world renowned camp and he thinks it will have a positive impact on his performance at ONE: ‘Dangal’,

“Making this move to Sanford MMA and making this commitment, it’s taken a lot of stress away from me as an athlete. I can just concentrate on being a student of the game and trying to catch up to everyone else in the room. I don’t have to worry about anything. I just have to make sure that I can finish practice and that I’m being a good training partner.”

Ground game

Vera hasn’t won a fight by submission since 2006. But his roots are in wrestling and the 43 year old says he has been working on this aspect of his game,

“I have not trained as much wrestling or as much groundwork as I have since I’ve been here, so if we end up on the ground, then my ground game is there. It’s not something that everyone talks about, but I’ve trained with the best people in the entire world. From Dean Lister to the Ribeiro brothers, to Lloyd Irvin to Mike Fowler to Renzo Gracie, too. The list goes on and on.”

As a fighter he has become more known for his striking than his submissions but Vera would like to roll back the years by finishing the fight on the ground,

“My jiu-jitsu is underrated because I don’t really like to be on the ground or looking for submissions. I’d much rather be on my feet trying to finish it, but if it goes to the ground, let’s see. Maybe I’ll pull it out. Maybe I’ll just get back to my feet. I don’t know. We’ll find out when we get there.”

Well rounded

Bhullar also excelled as a wrestler and represented Canada at the Olympic Games in 2012. But Vera sees much more to his opponent’s game than just takedowns,

“He’s a very, very well-rounded opponent, and most people only talk about his wrestling. They don’t talk about boxing or his head movement, which is crazy to me, so that’s why I’m talking about it,” he said.

Vera is very impressed with his opponent’s boxing ability,

“His boxing is ridiculous, man. He put hands on Mauro Cerilli in their last outing. He has very good hands, very good head movement, and he doesn’t mind staying inside the pocket.”

Extensive experience

In Vera’s experience, which after 19 years and 25 fights could only be described as ‘extensive’, opponents prefer to fight at range. He thinks Bhullar represents a unique challenge in this respect,

“As a heavyweight, that’s very abnormal. You don’t have many guys who will stay in the pocket at heavyweight because that’s where all the heavyweights get knocked out (but) I’m a lot faster than him and I want to see if he can move with me.”

Having held the heavyweight belt since its inception Vera has seen several opponents come and go. He has come in for some criticism for taking such long layoffs between title defences but the champion puts his long reign down to a work ethic that is unrivalled,

“Everybody wants to be the champ, but nobody will do the things that you have to do as a champion.”