Brandon “The Truth” Vera is the epitome of a true martial artist. Born in Virginia to a Filipino father and Italian mother, Vera endured adversity in the form of prejudice and racism, including an encounter with Ku Klux Klan members at the age of just 8.
However, none of that stopped Brandon from becoming the man he is today. A decorated wrestler who also wrestled for the United States Air Force, “The Truth” has a martial arts pedigree that anyone would be proud of.
Several of his accolades including winning the WEC 13 Heavyweight Tournament; fighting legends such as Frank Mir, Randy Couture, Jon Jones and Tim Sylvia; and becoming the reigning and defending ONE Heavyweight Champion of the world. Kung Fu Kingdom had the recent opportunity to sit down with the American-born Filipino superstar.
As well as diving deep into Brandon’s formative influences, early challenges, lifestyle, and mindset, we also reveal his views on the comparison between fighting under the UFC and under ONE, and much more…So without further ado, let’s get the truth from “The Truth”, in our exclusive interview with Brandon Vera!
First off, it’s great to connect with you, and we hope you’re doing well? Welcome to Kung-Fu Kingdom!
Thank you for having me on Kung-Fu Kingdom Jeffrey, I appreciate it! How’s it going man?
All is going great, how about you?
I can’t complain, even with the world going on the way it is. I still feel blessed to split my time between my family, training and doing interviews like this!
Very cool! What do you think of our mission which is to inspire 100 million people around the globe to get into martial arts?
This is a mission that I can definitely get behind. I think it’s a big deal that everyone should be into martial arts, especially with how the world is going right now. And I don’t say that from a political or religious standpoint or anything like that.
Just that people should be physically capable of taking care of themselves and understand how to take stress out of stressful situations, and I would say that martial arts gives you all of that. It’s the only thing in the world that would give you all of the above.
There’s no degree you could pay for, there’s no school you could attend, or a secret magic pill that you could take to achieve this type of knowledge. You have to be into the martial arts lifestyle, of course it doesn’t have to be as focused on it as we are! You have Kung-Fu Kingdom, and I’m living and training this lifestyle 24/7.
People could just train one hour a day. I’m a huge fan of that and I promise you from this day forward, I’m down to help with KFK’s goal. That’s an amazing mission statement to have.
Thanks Brandon, we really appreciate that. I get what you’re saying about the pandemic and how it ‘preys’ on the weak of mind and body. It can really seem like a matter of survival of the fittest. What do you think of the name Kung-Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
I think it’s a really awesome name. When I was typing it, I was like “Man, why didn’t anyone ever think of that name before?” So I’m an anime fan, and I’ve been watching this anime called Dr. Stone. It’s a new series and it’s way different from any other previous anime.
So, this character goes through some trials and comes back to life and they call him Dr. Stone, and he figures out how to bring civilization back through science. So, his kingdom is called the scientific kingdom. There’s another one with all these muscleheads who want to rule the world by force. They’re like the barbarian kingdom, but man, a kung-fu kingdom would fit right in there!
Totally! Now let’s start off with the basics, when and where were you born?
I was born on October 10, 1977 in Portsmouth, VA Naval Hospital.
What is your height and weight, including your walkaround weight?
Right now, 6’3” (1.90m) and 254lb (115kg) as of this morning.
Brandon’s Main Influences
Thanks. So, which 5 figures have inspired you the most on your martial arts journey?
Number one would be Bruce Lee. Two, Chuck Norris. He had a huge influence on my life, I didn’t train under him, I wasn’t a huge fan of his style of karate. But he was everywhere and he was a true martial artist. So man, I knew of Chuck Norris.
Number three, and four I would say Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Five would be Saturday afternoon Kung Fu Theater on USA Network, as they would show every single title you’d never heard of, you know the really bad kung fu flicks. For instance, there would be a hit and the sound effect would be super delayed. The language and voiceovers were so bad, but the action was so awesome!
Some really interesting choices there. Okay, so you have an extensive background in wrestling. You wrestled collegiately for Old Dominion, obtaining an athletic scholarship, as well as for the Air Force. You also did Taekwondo when you were a kid. You picked up BJJ when you trained with Lloyd Irvin and then you transitioned into MMA and you clearly have a Muay Thai background.
Brandon’s Martial Arts Disciplines
What got you into Taekwondo and wrestling and did you practice any other disciplines growing up?
Both of those styles, I got bullied into doing. I didn’t want to take Taekwondo, but growing up, that’s what all the Asian kids were doing. Either Taekwondo at Mr. Park’s karate dojo or a Chuck Norris school. That’s kinda how it was. I guess today Chuck Norris would be like Cobra Kai.
A Penchant for Big Macs & French Fries…
As for wrestling, my eldest cousin actually told me that if I didn’t go wrestling he was going to beat me up. But I ended up going to wrestling practice, just because I didn’t want to get beaten up and I was fat. I was super-obese, I would eat four Big Macs, plus four portions of French fries, then I would eat everybody else’s food that was left over.
I’m glad I got bullied in a way that my cousin forced me to get into wrestling practice, fast forward to today, I’m a world champion. But those two things, I got bullied into and I’m very glad I got bullied into them!
Wrestling, Muay Thai & Boxing…
Boxing, I started a little bit later on. I started with Muay Thai which I fell in love with because of the violence aspect of it, even though it was pretty basic. If somebody hits you, you hit them back, times two, and harder. I fell in love with Muay Thai, I started after wrestling. Actually, I wrestled my entire life since sixth grade until college, and up until today.
So first wrestling, then Muay Thai, then boxing because I started to appreciate the sweet science aspect of it. You listen to Bruce Lee when he talks about the ‘art of fighting without fighting’. The more you could hit and not get hit, the better it is for you. I try to incorporate all of that.
Handling Racism while Growing Up
Of course! So you talked about dealing with racism growing up and your encounter with KKK members. You also talked about getting bullied into martial arts just now. Was that the bullying you were talking about, and were there other ways you handled racism growing up?
I dealt with racism intermittently. You walk down the street and someone will call you something racist or you would ask someone what this says and they’d say “Why? Your eyes don’t work chink?!” When I say racism, there was real racism back in the day.
Now all of a sudden someone hears a word they don’t like, they’re screaming to the rafters that it’s racism all of a sudden. No man, racism is different when you live through it, when you have people taunting you or mocking you, not for fun, but with malicious intent.
I remember going to places, driving to places and not stopping there because we didn’t know if it was an okay town to stop in. You don’t know if you would get strung up, you know?
There’s No Racism on the West Coast!
So when I talk about racism, it’s real. I grew up on the east coast in a Confederate state. There’s Confederate flags everywhere. I’m from the south, and people say that the Confederate flag is racism? No man, that’s your personal opinion. Everyone has their own personal opinion about the Confederate flag. I’m a fan of the Confederate flag. I think it shows that you’re past the Mason-Dixon line.
I understand, though. I’m a man of duality, so I understand all of it, racism man, growing up there – there are just too many instances to relate.
I think it would take the entire interview to talk about things I put up with, things I said, things I heard, things I had to deal with just to talk about racism. That’s why I laugh at everybody when they talk about racism, especially racism on the west coast. Like, what the hell? There’s no racism on the west coast!
College & Joining the Air Force
Sorry that you had to endure all that. Moving onto your college and Air Force career, you spent a year at Old Dominion before joining the Air Force. What are your most memorable stories about your college and Air Force wrestling careers?
I remember getting beat up everyday at wrestling practice! Some of the best times of my life have been representing the United States of America on the Air Force wrestling team and trying to make the Olympic team at the Olympic Training Center. Those experiences made me grow up and understand a lot. I saw a lot, I understood a lot, and I started to become a man of duality by then.
Brandon’s Elbow Injury & Recovery Story
Interesting. You injured your right elbow which got you medically discharged from the Air Force. You took some time off to recover from the injury and competed in Grapplers Quests competitions on your own. What steps did you take to recover, can you tell us a standout story or two around this period of your life?
To recover, the doctor told me bluntly, “Brandon if you ever hope to use your arm again, if you ever hope to wipe your a** again, you need to start using it all the time.” At the time, it was hard for me to even pick up a spoon with my pinky and thumb. It was hard for me to even extend my arm, grab a spoon, put food on it and put it into my mouth. It would take at least 4-5 minutes to get one bite in! So I had to deal with that in public everyday.
One of my standout stories was eating with my family at a restaurant. I remembered struggling to eat and my hand was shaking. I felt my sister looking at me and I looked up thinking “What the hell?” Right when I looked at her, she started screaming, “What the f*** are you looking at?!” But it wasn’t towards me. It was to the people sitting next to me. It didn’t escalate past that, I guess the people got embarrassed. I finished eating, but I remember thinking; “Screw them, screw everybody, I need to make sure my arm starts working again.”
“From that day, I stopped thinking of my arm as broken. I just thought of it as getting better.”
I remembered that mind switch that day, it made my arm issue somehow easier. I didn’t care anymore I started using my arm more and more, no matter where I was at, and finally it started getting better. The muscle started growing back, my skin used to sag like a t-shirt but soon my skin wasn’t sagging like a t-shirt any more. There used to be no muscle and you could see the bones. There was no nerve so it couldn’t work. From there, my arm started getting better. It started coming back.
Working as a Personal Trainer
I got a job as a personal trainer, because I was always working on myself, trying to work on my body. And the gym asked if I could work there. So I started working there. I did really, really well there. I won so many awards, corporate awards, for being the best person up and down the east coast. It was just some crazy stuff, and I started excelling. They said “Brandon what are you going to do with yourself?” I said, “Man, I’m not sure.” Then one day I was watching Randy Couture fight. I thought to myself, “That’s what I’m going to do.”
Brandon’s Martial Arts Dreams, Fulfilled
From that moment on, everything started shifting in that direction. Since I could use my arm again, it became a dream worth having again. It became a dream that I could actually do martial arts again, and start competing over and above just hoping to wipe my butt.
Most definitely! And of course, you fought Randy Couture along the way. At some point, you met Lloyd Irvin as mentioned before, you trained with him for a while and that’s when you were introduced to MMA. How was it training with Lloyd? How was your first professional MMA bout and amateur career (if you have one)?
I don’t really remember my amateur career. I remember doing some events in some town where no one would show up, or there would be only 10 people there. When I met Master Lloyd, my life changed again. That guy taught me, I would say, 75% of everything I do now is because of him. Mentally, emotionally, business-wise, a lot is due to him. He was more than a coach, he was like a super-mentor for me.
One of my favorite things he ever told me was, “Listen shawty, if they’re not helping you move forward, then they’re literally holding you back. Screw them, let them go. You got to keep on moving.” I remember thinking “Yeah, exactly! Man, I got stuff to do! Everyone else is messing around, I gotta get going!” From then on, I’m here in the Philippines as the One Heavyweight World Champion. I live here, I live in Guam. I’ve lived all over the world based off that one single lesson he gave me back then, I’ve taken that idea with me all across the world now.
Master Lloyd was like, “Brandon you’re going to the Philippines, you’re going to Asia! Are you crazy?!” It’s the home of martial arts, it’s where martial arts started. I was like, “I gotta go, bye!” I learned so much from him. Master Lloyd has taught me a lot, about being a man, being responsible.
My Muay Thai coach is the same way. He’s not just coaching me on how I pick my shots. He’s coaching me on life because he thinks that however I handle myself in life is going to be how I handle myself in the fight game.
That’s a good coach Jeffrey.
Winning the WEC Heavyweight Tournament
Alright, so before you signed with the UFC you won the WEC Heavyweight tournament back in 2005 at WEC 13. What’s your most memorable highlight from those fights?
That was a really good one. I think I kicked one guy’s leg until he didn’t want to fight anymore. As for the guy I fought in the finals, I broke his nose, but he wouldn’t stop fighting. He put me against the cage. I’m not a fan of blood, but he was leaning on me against the cage and I could feel his blood gushing out and down my thigh and leg. And when I looked, I almost threw up in the middle of the cage. I don’t know what happened, but I remember going “Ughh” and right after I did that, I sprawled and I grabbed his nose and turned so that it would bleed more. And he stopped fighting after I did that. So the fight was over but I almost threw up because he was bleeding on me.
Fighting Under the UFC
Quite a story! Now, when you signed with the UFC, you fought with some of the best such as Randy Couture, Jon Jones, Frank Mir and Tim Sylvia. What are a couple of the most memorable fights or moments from your time with the UFC?
I would say Randy Couture and Shogun Rua. Randy Couture since I thought that I’d beat him and that was a match they took away from me. I think it was a business decision and that’s why I was salty about that because I remembered telling Dana that I need a million dollar bonus right when I beat this guy. I was up to sign a contract right after this fight. So I really think it was a business decision.
As for Shogun Rua, that fight was at the L.A. Staples Center. That was one of the most banging fights in the history of this sport. We were just banging and beating on each other and just gave it to one another. Shogun was jumping out of the way of my leg kicks. Are you kidding me? Yeah, we just gave it to one another.
That was one of the best fights that I ever watched, that I was ever a part of. It was also so good that Shogun and I were in the back laughing, crying and hugging each other. It was ridiculous. We were all laughing and crying and being like “What the hell?” That was amazing, that was a good one!
Fighting Under ONE Championship
Awesome memories, thanks for sharing. So, after you left the UFC, you signed with ONE Championship, where you are of course, currently the heavyweight champion. Around last year, there was at least talk about you defending your title against Arjan Bhullar, the Kushti wrestler, who went 3-1 in the UFC and beat Mauro Cerilli who you also defeated. What do you think of Arjan as an opponent?
Arjan is an excellent opponent actually. He’s got great boxing skills that no one ever talks about, and he’s a legacy wrestler. His father was a wrestler, he’s a wrestler. He’s been through the Olympics. So he knows that even if he’s not the greatest wrestler in the world, he’s got great basics, great fundamentals.
It’s not like you could take him down. As for his boxing, he’s got some sick, mean-looking uppercuts. He hit Cerilli with a couple of good uppercuts when Cerilli stepped in. He’s an amazing opponent we are slated to meet each other. I recently signed a contract. Listen, One Championship is not messing around. They’ve been coming out the gate into 2021 busting doors down man!
Right. Now out of those you’ve fought, who do you consider to be your most challenging opponents?
Well, I would say my losses. All my losses were my most challenging opponents, because I didn’t win. So I would always cherish and relish the chance to do any of those fights again. But those would be my hardest opponents because I lost to them.
Solid answer! So you talked about making MMA the national sport of the Philippines. Do you have any other plans for your MMA future?
I would compete until I decide that I don’t want to compete anymore and retire with the heavyweight belt from One Championship. Aspirations, hopes and dreams would be to be able to represent One Championship in a superfight against someone from a different organization, but other than that, I’m enjoying this.
My body still feels good, it doesn’t hurt too bad. It’s always felt like this. So, my aspirations are to show the world that you can be what you want, who you want, how you want, if you’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to get there.
You don’t have to be the smartest kid, you don’t have to be the most gifted kid, you don’t have to be the strongest, biggest or the most well-built person. I was a fat kid, and I made this happen. So I just hope to inspire people to get better all the time.
Brilliant aspirations! So how does fighting for ONE compare to fighting for the UFC?
One Championship is like Marvel, the UFC is like DC
I’m trying to say this in the most PG-13 way possible, so that everyone can understand. One Championship is like Marvel. UFC is like DC. Which would you choose?
At One, the Emphasis is on Honor, Respect, Discipline & Integrity
See, for One, it’s not just production. It’s the way they treat people, the respect that’s given. This whole lifestyle and martial arts process that’s put behind it, you know. One Championship’s seven values of martial arts like honor, respect, discipline, integrity, etc. Those things permeate throughout the company. It’s not just talking points or what athletes say. Every athlete, if you follow them around and what they’re doing, that’s what they do in their daily life.
Chatri Sityodtong & Everyone at One has the Same Mindset
One Championship employees from Mr. Chatri to Victor Cui down to anybody working in the office; everyone is doing the exact same thing. I never met anybody that worked at One Championship that is not of this same mind. If they’re not, they’re usually gone.
They just make sure that people are taken care of, and I could tell you more, but there are inside situations that happen in this business, where it’s usually the athlete that ends up eating or having to grunt the wear of the bear, if you know what I mean? If things are going to go bad, then usually it’s the athlete that ends up taking it. But that’s not the case at One Championship.
Taking Care of Business means Taking Care of the Fighters
They make sure the athlete never has to take it, and if something is wrong, then it’s always fixed immediately. I don’t know how to explain it without getting into specifics, but put it like this. Say you’re showing up at your hotel, but it’s not going to be ready until 2pm the next day due to check-in policies or whatever, but you show up at 3am and your hotel is not ready until 2pm. In some organizations, you would just be asked out.
At One, Everything Just Works
That’s never going to happen at One Championship. You’ll have your hotel room the day before, and that’s like a really basic example. Simple, yet practical things like that, all the way up to the most extensive problem you could have. They fix it all the time. They make everything work out.
Training: Camp & Home
That’s really cool to see positive politics at work like that. Alrighty, walk us through a day in the life of Brandon Vera – both when you’re in training and when you’re at home.
So when I’m training, I usually get up first before anybody. That could be anywhere from 4 to 7am. I’ll try to get a workout in, either rope work or bike work. That’ll be my first morning ride, so 25-30 minutes of that. Then I’ll have coffee, and hang out with my family.
Next training session is usually around 10 or 10:30am. Then it’s usually mitt work, lifting weights, or rolling, and then the evening session would start at around 5:30 to 7:30pm, for about one to two hours. It could consist of jiu-jitsu, wrestling or pad work. Mitt work is just hands, pad work is usually Thai pads. So it’s a huge difference for me. And that’s my day, over and over again. When I’m in camp, I watch videos of our opponents and play video games.
When I’m not in camp, I still wake up early. Every other morning I get on the bike, hang out with my family, then I lift maybe at 11am or 12pm. Then in the afternoon I would do some light mitts and some bag work just to stay in shape, keep the head moving, to keep all my basics and fundamental movements up and ready to go.
Stretching: Brandon’s Secret Key to Longevity
You’re in your 40’s and obviously you have a belt. So what is your secret to staying in the game for so long and not deteriorating physically?
I would honestly say, it’s physical therapy and stretching all day, every day. So once I’m done training I would sit there and stretch every 5 to 10 minutes. Doesn’t seem like a long time, but then I shower, hang out and do something. And when I’m watching TV, I’ll stretch for another 5 to 10 minutes.
As I’m doing the interview with you right now I’m stretching so that’s why I’ve been moving around. I’m a fan of moving and stretching and I learned that from my brothers, who are not big workout people like we are. They don’t work out all day long, but they’re still in great shape, and I was wondering how they manage to do that. The thing is, they work out every day but they don’t work out hard every day. They work out more consistently to maintain good shape and that’s something I’ve learned because I never had that kind of life habit before.
When I’m training, when I’m hitting the bag – even though it’s an easy day, I’m still banging on the bag. I have always trained with a purpose such as competing, being better, or faster. So even now at this age I’m still learning that you can do things to prolong your longevity.
Recovery & Nutrition
I see. So as you get older, you put a lot more emphasis on recovery.
Well, when I was growing up, in college, there were people doing this recovery stuff every day. And I was like, “What’s wrong? Why are you here? You’re wasting time. Nothing’s wrong with you, why are you doing this?” I didn’t know. They were doing then what I should’ve done back then. Icing, rehabbing, getting massages, I should have been doing all that!
I see. So what is your diet like leading up to fights, how do you stay strong and energetic for training and life?
I would say it’s 60% veggies, 40% meat. Sometimes I go 80% veg, and 20% meat.
Brandon Vera’s Top 3 Favourite Martial-Arts Movies
Okay. As we wrap, can you tell us your top 3 favourite martial-arts movies of all time?
Number one would have to be all the Bruce Lee films, number two, the original “Drunken Master” with Jackie Chan, and number three, the one where Jet Li fights starting off in a classroom, “Fist of Legend”.
Any fights that stand out from movies for you?
One in particular, “Tai Chi Master” starring Jet Li, where he was wearing a man (or top) bun and everyone was wearing that blue kung-fu uniform.
It was one of those movies featured on Kung Fu Theater – part of the Wu-Tang Clan collection. They had their own favourite list of kung fu hits that they paid rights for, packaged together.
Well thanks Brandon – it’s been an honour and a real pleasure to interview you and we wish you all the best of success with your upcoming fight on May 29.
Thanks Jeff, and all of you. Thanks for having me on Kung-Fu Kingdom.