Red ink: Couture versus Vera
The truth is, we don't know what to make of Brandon Vera. He looked good against opponents who largely have faded into obscurity. Then he took a year off while management tried to siphon more money from the UFC. When he came back, he was dialed down, hesitant and easy to underestimate (3-3 since 2007, with no knockout in years). Not a guy a gambler would try to even up his MLB season losses on.
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But when Vera chooses to commit, imposing a formidable kickboxing game, he looks like a guy who might one day make good on the boasts early in his career. Whether he keeps it holstered or not against Randy Couture will probably be decided by how Couture fares in the opening moments. If he's in Vera's face, making Vera nervous about a clinch, it won't be a good night. If Couture lets on that he's not seeing what's coming and his nervous system shuts down as easily as it did in the first round against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in August, then Vera can join Manny Pacquiao in giving the Philippines something to cheer about.
Might look like: The closest Vera has come to thwarting world-class wrestling in his career was against Mike Whitehead, and that's not too close. Couture hasn't had to deal with fast, skilled hands since Chuck Liddell in 2006 -- but Liddell's takedown defense forced him. Vera doesn't have the same core.
X factor: Trainer Shawn Tompkins, in Couture's corner for the Nogueira fight, has since set up shop down the street and away from Xtreme Couture. Will his brain be missed?
Who wins: Vera is talented, but he has shown an overwhelming propensity to sit back and wait for the fight to come to him. If he does that against Couture, it'll be a long, grinding night and another 15 minutes of unfulfilled promises by Vera. Couture via decision.