Is there ever a good time to be fighting Brandon Vera? The answer is probably ‘no’ but the 41 year old is coming off a two year layoff and the man who challenges him for the ONE heavyweight title tomorrow night senses opportunity.

“Brandon is a great champion, but he’s lost his edge. I am here to claim the ONE heavyweight world championship (and) I think now is the moment for me to challenge a high-level competitor like Brandon,” Mauro Cerilli told the press in Manila this week.

Cerilli brings a record of 12-2 into ONE: ‘Conquest of Champions’ at the MOA Arena in Manila. He’s 3-0 in title matches, holds the Cage Warriors heavyweight strap but has never competed on an event of this scale or faced an opponent of Vera’s caliber.

“It (is) the fulfillment of a dream. If I look back a few years ago, I could never imagine I could be here. I feel very blessed. I know Vera very well, I know his accomplishments. Who does not know him about (in) this sport?” he asked.

Strategic approach

Italy is not known for producing mixed martial artists. But Cerilli says he has had a very good training camp in the city where gladiators once did battle in The Colosseum.

“I trained at the Gloria Fight Center in Rome with head coach Lorenzo Borgomeo helped by the best strikers and grapplers that I could ask for. Every training camp is actually different, and the different things I’ve done have been related to adapting to my adversary. Change the opponent, change the strategy.”

Mauro Cerilli and Brandon Vera face off

Vera holds a BJJ black belt but hasn’t won by submission since 2006. The Fil-Am heavyweight is better known as a kickboxer.

“It is evident that he has very dangerous striking, and my strategy is precisely to stop that aspect of his game,” Cerilli says.

Cerilli hasn’t finished an opponent with a submission since his pro debut, which perhaps gives an indication of the way this fight might go. The Italian also seems determined to make an impression with his performance.

“I will be in the best shape of my career and I’m looking to score the upset. No matter how this fight goes, I will gain the respect of ONE and the Filipino people,” he said.

ONE Championship has been slowly building its heavyweight roster. Alexandre Machado faces Hideki Sekine on this card and, while there’s been much more focus on the lower weight classes, the division is starting to take shape.

No predictions

Cerilli has an opportunity to immediately establish himself as the division’s top dog. He isn’t promising to beat Vera but the Italian has a fairly specific idea of how the fight will finish.

“I do not make any predictions, I only know that every match of mine is a show. This match will end in the most spectacular way.”
Mauro Cerilli poses

While the Italian isn’t making predictions he will be ready for anything. It promises to be an intimidating atmosphere at the MOA Arena with 15,000 or more fervent Filipino fans cheering for the heavyweight champion.

A lot of fighters would be intimidated but Cerilli is confident that he will not be found wanting, at least in terms of character.

“I can say that my strength is my heart,” he said.

With two Filipinos fighting for titles in Manila, the crowd is expected to be partisan. But this Italian heavyweight is determined to silence the fans by ripping the belt away from the hometown hero.