Brandon Vera’s UFC comeback at a crossroads

On a November 2006 evening in Sacramento, two young fighters shared in victory inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon.

One was Georges St-Pierre, the now veteran welterweight champion who used his breakthrough win over Matt Hughes as a career-defining springboard to become the face of the UFC.

The other was Brandon Vera, who that night defeated former heavyweight champion Frank Mir by first-round technical knockout, and then fell victim to the trap of youthful success.

“Overconfidence, lack of experience, new to money, new to fame,” Vera recalled this week of his career stumbles.

Vera, now 34, has mounted a career-reclamation project, but he needs another victory over a name fighter, an event he hopes occurs Saturday when he faces former UFC light-heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a UFC show on Fox at Staples Center.

“This can erase all the wrongs I’ve done and put me right back where I want to be,” Vera (12-5) said.

The main event Saturday involves another light-heavyweight bout between former champion Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader. UFC President Dana White said this week that the most impressive fighter among Machida-Bader and Vera-Rua will get a title shot at the winner of the Sept. 1 fight between light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones and Dan Henderson.

The lessons Vera learned in his extended time between major UFC fights could serve him well in fighting Rua (20-6) and gaining a title shot, Vera said. Rua is more than a 3-to-1 favorite, according to MGM Resorts Race and Sports Book.

“There’s nothing in my heart that I want to do anything more than this,” Vera said. “Being more mature, smarter, looking to the future with excitement — being aged. I can be that guy.”

White said he relishes bouts like this.

“This guy has been publicly trashed by fans and the media that he doesn’t deserve this fight,” White said. “That stuff motivates a guy. Life is all about opportunity. It’s true he’s made mistakes. Now his entire career comes down to these 15 minutes Saturday.”

Vera blames his big ego for poor decisions early in his career, such as when he appeared at a Los Angeles news conference promoting a rival (and now-defunct) Elite XC fight card after his Mir victory. “I was told my career was taking off, that I was worth way more money than the UFC was paying me,” Vera said. “We waited for my UFC contract to expire.”

The UFC, meanwhile, bypassed Vera in favor of Randy Couture for a 2007 heavyweight title shot. Vera then suffered his first loss by decision to the man Couture beat, Tim Sylvia.

Vera’s troubles included a dispute over finances with his manager, Mark Dion.

Vera said the arbitration settlement forbids him from publicly discussing specifics but cautions other fighters: “When a deal is getting narrowed down, make sure you’re at all of those final meetings to know exactly who’s getting paid exactly what.”

Dion countered in an email that Vera’s “greed” and inability to remain “loyal” sabotaged efforts to strike a potential $9-million deal with the UFC.

In October 2008, Vera lost for the third time in four fights when he was defeated via split-decision by Keith Jardine.

“Brandon thought cutting out his manager and not paying for trainers would make him more money,” Dion wrote. “But cutting them corners made him less money and his skills never got any better.”

After losing to Couture by a controversial decision and to Jones by a first-round TKO five months later in 2010, Vera embarked on an 8,500-mile car trip across the U.S., using the time for reflection.

“Before, I figured I was talented enough to do anything, thinking I didn’t have to train as hard as everyone else,” he said. “I’ve never been able to learn lessons the easy way. Whether it was going through the courts, getting my face broken … it’s always something stupendous for me to learn.”

In October, Vera defeated UFC veteran Eliot Marshall by decision, and was awarded the Rua fight.

Rua was asked whether he believes Vera has the heart to win the fight.

“You must respect this guy,” Rua said. “He has a long background in the business of MMA. He deserves my respect.”