Heavyweight comeback? ONE champ Brandon Vera tells Jon Jones to look at Mike Tyson: ‘What’s your excuse?’

Heavyweight comeback? ONE champ Brandon Vera tells Jon Jones to look at Mike Tyson: ‘What’s your excuse?’

If ONE Championship heavyweight champ Brandon Vera has any advice to pass along to his one-time opponent Jon Jones about chasing heavyweight ambitions, it’s this: always be humble.

That’s the phrase Vera has carried for the past decade of his career, through a tumultuous stretch of his career in the octagon, halfway around the world in the Asia-based ONE as he chased belts in two divisions. Jones taught him those words.

This year marked the 10-year anniversary of Vera’s loss to Jones in the UFC. Vera had been beaten before he met “Bones” in the main event of UFC on Versus 1 on March 21, 2010. But it was the way he lost, the way that his expectation of what was going to happen differed so severely from what actually did happen, that taught him a lesson he never forgot.

“We were on our feet,” remembers Vera, who expects to defend his heavyweight belt next against Arjan Bhullar, in an interview with What the Heck. “We were dancing. He couldn’t touch me on my feet. I remember moving stuff out of the way and parrying, and I remember the look of panic on his face.”

Vera, now 43, interrupts himself as if Jones, now considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, is about to correct him.

“I’m telling the interview, Jones, you can tell the story how you want – I remember your eyes,” he blurts. “I remember how you looked.”

“Then [Jones] shot in and took me down, and I was like, ‘Man, you’re supposed to be this amazing standup guy,’” he continues. “‘Why would you take me down?’ Man, this guy’s horrible. And I remember I just boot-kicked him off me and stood back up. I was like, ‘Man, you can’t even hold me on the ground.’

“So I started dancing even more. I’m going to start whooping this guy’s ass. I start feeling myself on the feet. This guy wants nothing to do with me. He’s just moving away. He’s supposed to be, what’d I say, the second coming of Jesus Christ? C’mon, man, let’s do this. And then he took me down again. Listen, while I’m on my back, this guy is trying to work on top of me, and I’m just pummeling with him. This guy. Everybody thinks this guy’s that good. He throws an elbow, I move out of the way. C’mon, man.

“And in my head, I said, ‘This guy f*cking…’ And right when I got the first s out, whack! That’s when he elbowed me in my face and broke my face. I remember thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’ I was sitting there holding my face. I’d never felt nothing like that before, even to this day, all the injuries and all the surgeries, I’d never had no pain like that before. It wasn’t an orbital fracture – it was a tripod fracture, so my face broke [in three places], like this whole bone caved in.

“And as I’m holding my face, I’m thinking, ‘What the hell was that?’ And my next thought was, ‘That’s what you get. That’s what you get, assh*le, for being so cocky. That’s what you get for talking sh*t during a fight. That’s what you get for thinking too much of yourself. So, thanks Mr. Jones, that’s something I’ve learned, and I’ve never forgotten to this day.”

If Jones is indeed moving up to the heavyweight division to challenge fighters like Francis Ngannou or Stipe Miocic, Vera can vouch for the shocking power behind the punches of the UFC’s biggest fighters. And that’s why Jones is going to need more than to simply lift a bunch of weights to be on somewhat equal ground with his new opponents. The way Vera sees it, Jones needs to make some serious changes in his life.

Vera was long gone from the UFC by the time Jones’ life really started to unravel outside the octagon. But like everyone else, he had a front-row seat for the accidents and arrests and test failures that turned Jones into a cautionary tale. If “Bones” is going to be at his best, Vera said, he can’t mess up any more.

“I think that if Jon Jones puts his mind together and gets his brain, really, gets his mind right, he could still be a force to reckon with,” Vera said. “He’s always dangerous inside of the octagon. But man, he just can’t stop being Jon Jones, and that’s the problem. He could do so much more for the world if he could figure that part out, and it makes me sad about him, because this kid, dude, he could do so much for the world if he would just stop being that guy. I don’t even know how to say it. He’s just being that guy.

“Him moving up to heavyweight is a cool, cool thing. I would absolutely love to do a superfight at heavyweight. I would absolutely love that. I welcome it. He’s faster than the guys at heavyweight, but heavyweights hit a little bit different. When they hit you, even if you block, even if you move out of the way, even if you take some off, it stings just a little bit more. ‘Oh, heavyweights are slow.’ OK. They’re slow until they touch you one time. Then you slow down. Then they touch you again. Oh, you slow down again.

“I think it’s going to be a good move for him. Entertaining for the fans, for sure, if he can keep it together.”

Jones might interrupt the interview at this point to argue he’s done everything he can to turn his life around. But no matter how many inspirational quotes he posts on social media, only those closest to him know whether he’s trending in the right direction. According to Vera, that might be part of the problem.

If the former UFC light heavyweight champ needs a good example, Vera points to Mike Tyson, who turned back the clock this past weekend with an impressive showing at 54 against Roy Jones Jr.

“It’s never, ever too late,” Vera said. “And man, what’s your excuse? It’s Mike Tyson, man. F*cking Mike Tyson. Your life was not as hard as this guy’s. You didn’t go through all the bullsh*t that he went through. You didn’t have somebody rob you at the peak of your career. You didn’t have people trying to fight you for lawsuits. Dude, your life is nowhere near as hard as what that guy went through. So man, it is possible. You can get it back together. You just need to want to get it together. Maybe it’s just too many yes-man around that guy. Maybe he needs a new group of friends. It happens.”

The timing of Jones’ heavyweight debut remains a question mark. The ex-champ even hinted he might like to stay at 205 pounds after Jan Blachowicz captured the belt he held so long with an iron grip. Whenever it does happen, Vera will be watching. And if Jones ever wants a rematch, only promotional paperwork separates them.

“Dude, I would love and welcome that,” he said. “He definitely taught me something that day. He taught me a lot about myself. I got goosebumps just thinking about that.”

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