It has been some time since Brian Vera has been considered anything better than an even-money bet in a big fight. Although his new role might take some getting used to, it also means that he must be doing something right.
Vera, coming off three straight wins -- including a major statement in a TKO of former junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk -- is the undeniable favorite as he prepares to take on Donatas Bondorovas in this week's main event on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y.
It's a clear role reversal for Vera (22-6, 13 KOs), who has become known for playing the spoiler against favored fighters. But he says the expectations of others won't have an effect on his approach.
"Being the favorite is different, for sure," Vera said. "I just have to get ready more now and not take anybody lightly. Nothing changes for me. I just get ready 100 percent. It's a little different position, but I'm good. Everything is still the same. You've got to be ready."
Although Friday's fight doesn't necessarily represent a stepping stone to something bigger for Vera, it will help to affirm the resurrection of the 31-year-old Texan. Since dropping a unanimous decision to Andy Lee in 2011, Vera has picked off Taronze Washington, Sergio Mora and Dzinziruk, whom he sent to the canvas twice in the first round before eventually finishing him in the 10th in an FNF bout.
"I've been getting ready for this fight. I'm training at Ronnie Shields' Plex Performance gym." Vera said. "I just fought [Dzinziruk] on Jan. 25, so I didn't have too much of a layoff. It's not taking much for me to get in shape. Lately, I've been sparring with Edwin Rodriguez and Don Mouton a little bit -- mainly those two guys."
For his part, Bondorovas (17-3-1, 6 KOs) is promising a war. Born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and now living in Chicago, Bondorovas, 33, doesn't have many significant notches on his belt, but he's coming off five consecutive wins -- the past three by second-round knockouts. Perhaps just as significant, he has been stopped only once in his career.
"I've seen a little bit of Bondorovas. I know he's a tough kid," Vera said. "I don't put too much into him, but we're getting ready for him like we get ready for everybody. I've got to make sure he doesn't go in there and do what I did to some other people."
What Bondorovas lacks in technical skill he makes up for in savvy and resilience. He moves through the entire ring and has good speed on his punches. And much like Vera, Bondorovas loves to exchange punches and push his opponent against the ropes.
"I respect all opponents and think about them positive because they are fighters like me," Bondorovas said. "What about Brian Vera? I don't know him personally, never fought him, never sparred, never saw him live. I saw some videos of his fight. I think his style fits to me, so [I'll find out] in the fight."
Vera's strengths in this matchup are his great experience and high-volume punching. He throws a strong jab and is constantly moving, which often makes it difficult for opponents to execute their game plan. A left hook upstairs followed by a powerful right is his bread-and-butter weapon.
Due to the fighters' similar styles, it's hard to imagine this fight going the distance. Vera may be the favorite, but he will need to watch out for his opponent's solid right hand. In May, then-undefeated Ramon Valenzuela Jr. accepted an open exchange with Bondorovas and wound up being stopped by an impressive right hand.
With the career-rebuilding process well under way, Vera has been mentioned as a possible opponent for middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, but that matchup isn't likely to materialize if Vera comes up empty on Friday.
In the co-main event, light heavyweight Jackson Junior Dos Santos (14-0, 12 KOs) of Brazil will face Cuba's Umberto Savigne (10-1, 7 KOs). Junior Dos Santos is coming off an impressive U.S. debut in January, when he notched a first-round KO of former U.S. Olympian Dante Craig.
Savigne, who lives in Miami, is riding an eight-fight winning streak, including a sixth-round TKO of three-time former world champion Richard Hall in May.