A year after claiming the inaugural ONE Heavyweight World Championship, Brandon “The Truth” Vera finally has his first title defense scheduled, and it is a clash of titans.
The champion will defend the belt against undefeated challenger Hideki “Shrek” Sekine at ONE: AGE OF DOMINATION, which broadcasts live on Friday Night, 2 December, from the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
“This is my first title defense, and I am fighting one of Japan’s living legends,” the 39-year-old Filipino-American says. “Everybody calls him ‘Shrek’. Not just because he looks like ‘Shrek’, but because he is built like ‘Shrek’. He is a giant ogre.”
Armed with a judo black belt, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, and evident knockout power, Sekine is a physical specimen who owns a spotless 7-0 record, with three victories coming by TKO and another three by submission. The Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu rep has obliterated DEEP’s megaton division over the course of his career.
“I would say his weakness is going to be his size,” says Vera of his opponent. “He is a huge dude. If we go past the first and second round, I am going to expect his mouth to be open and his heart to be beating through his eyes.
“Through my experience, I am looking for those little key factors that most guys do not even know that they are doing.
“I am looking forward to all the little things he is going to mess up on and I hope to pressure him into making a mistake.”
Perhaps Vera’s biggest strength is his experience. After all, he has been going 14 years strong in the MMA game, and only plans to get stronger.
A former collegiate wrestler at Virginia’s Old Dominion University, and later a member of the United States Air Force’s Greco-Roman team, Vera began shaping his MMA game under the careful eye of fourth-degree BJJ black belt, Lloyd Irvin, in the early 2000s.
In 2002, “The Truth” made his professional debut as a heavyweight and went on a massive hot streak. He won eight straight contests before dropping a decision to Tim Sylvia in 2007. Vera bounced between the heavyweight and light heavyweight classes in the years to follow, and had a mixed bag of victories and losses.
Mentally recovering from a defeat, let alone multiple defeats, was a challenge within itself.
“Any loss is a huge valley,” he admits. “In our minds, we are the unbeatable force. We are the class five typhoon. Nobody is supposed to be able to stop us.
“When you do run into a loss or run into a wall, something that takes the wind out of your sails, it is a big thing to have to pick yourself back up and make it happen again. It is hard. Really hard.”
However, the Filipino-American recreated himself in 2014. He signed with ONE Championship, started preparing to relocate to the Philippines, and made his promotional debut as a powerful heavyweight later that December against Igor Subora at ONE: WARRIOR’S WAY in Pasay City.
“I was super nervous,” he recalls. “Nervous was not even cutting it. It felt like if I did not win this fight, I was going to die. It was life and death. Even the walkout was life and death.
“It was not just the fight I was fighting. I was fighting everything else. I was fighting personal issues at home, dealing with injuries I did not let anyone know about.
“The whole fight was an uphill battle. It felt like I had to climb Mount Everest, get to Igor, fight him, and make a statement, all at the same time.”
A statement he made indeed. He immediately rocked Subora with a switch kick and clinched him against the cage. Though his opponent recovered, “The Truth” dodged most of Subora’s strikes and cleverly picked his spots, dropped him with a straight punch and TKO victory in the first round.
For his encore, he was matched up against Paul “The Typhoon” Cheng a year later at ONE: SPIRIT OF CHAMPIONS for the inaugural ONE Heavyweight World Championship. At the time, the Taiwanese fighter was riding an impressive four-fight win streak, including back-to-back TKOs.
“The Truth,” however, proved to be far more impressive. Vera dodged Cheng’s right cross and dropped him with a left hook. When he stood back up, the Filipino-American blasted him with a head kick and threw two hammer fists, causing the ref to call the fight. It lasted only 26 seconds. Vera, finally, was a world champion.
“When I won the belt, the first feeling I had was a giant sigh of relief. It felt like this huge weight had been lifted off of me,” he says. “That for sure was one of the highest peaks I have ever had [in my career].
“I do not even know if the word ‘amazing’ even covers the feeling I had. There are no words I could put together to express how I felt.”
Though it has taken a full year before getting another fight, Vera, who owns a 14-7 record, is proving that December is his lucky month. In preparation for his title defense against Sekine, he is working at Alliance Training Center in California, and even spent some with Manny Pacquiao’s coaches in the Philippines.
Being the champ is important to Vera. In fact, it is what defines him now, and he will do whatever it takes to retain the belt.
“A champion never ever quits. Ever. A champion is somebody who gets caught in an armbar and will let that thing break, pull it out, and hit the opponent in the face with it,” he says.
“A champion is somebody who is willing to make sacrifices mentally, physically, or emotionally to the tee just for that goal that they have in mind.
“I am the guy who will let the arm break and hit somebody in the face with it so I can win the fight.”