It wasn’t long ago that Jamie Varner was in the midst of a two-year reign as the WEC lightweight champion. Even more recently however, the Phoenix native had all but given up on fighting and was in school studying pre-med. Just a few days ago, one may have been considered crazy if they genuinely thought Varner had a legitimate chance at beating Edson Barboza—who is considered by many to be the best striker in the talent-rich lightweight division—at UFC 146.

Not only did Varner beat the previously unbeaten Brazilian, he was dominant in doing so, needing less than one full round to knock the contender out.

Known mostly for his two epic battles with Donald Cerrone in the WEC, Varner was released from the Zuffa banner after losing his belt via third-round submission to now training partner and UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson and going 0-3-1 in his final four appearances with the promotion.

It was a long road back to the top for the 27-year-old fighter who hit rock bottom after dropping a lopsided decision to a relatively unknown Dakota Cochrane at Titan Fighting Championships in September of 2011.

The loss to Cochrane left Varner contemplating retirement, issuing a tweet stating that we’d never see him fight again. The tweet was taken down almost as fast as it went up, but in the 17 months he was away from Zuffa he left his long-time home in Arizona to take a temporary residence training alongside Jim Miller at AMA Fight Club in New Jersey, went back to school in pursuit of a medical degree and battled his own self doubt.

Less than a month after his tweet in which he also claimed that he just didn’t have it anymore, the heavy-handed fighter was back in the cage in XFC, an East Coast promotion based out of Tampa, Fla., and needed only one minute and 49 seconds combined to register two knockout victories and ultimately earn his way back into the UFC.

Added to the Memorial Day weekend card as a late replacement for Evan Dunham—who was forced to withdraw due to an undisclosed injury—Varner made his return on less than one month’s notice.

A massive underdog heading into the fight, not many gave him a chance to escape the first round with the likes of Barboza—a top 10 lightweight on many rankings lists. Seemingly destined to be picked apart by his opponent, Varner did prove many of his critics right when they predicted the fight wouldn’t make it out of the first round, only it was he who came out on top.

Fighting with all the heart in the world, Varner created his own Rocky moment and reveled in his triumphant return to the Octagon. Arms spread wide open, eyes closed with his head tilted back, and it was clear that the retirement was talk of the past. His move to the MMALab, training alongside Henderson, has given him a new lease on an already impressive career, and any talk of Dr. Varner will have to wait for a while as all of his hard work and struggle has finally paid off.

After a roller coaster ride that took him from WEC stardom to the depths of his soul, and with five years, two months, and 23 days between Octagon appearances, Jamie Varner is back and ready to dance under the bright lights once again.

Photo: Jamie Varner celebrates his UFC 146 victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Paige Berger

Relatively new to the sport of MMA, Paige is a life long athlete. She attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she was a pioneer member of the women's ice hockey program. She also excelled in softball and soccer before deciding to focus on hockey. Born and raised in New York, she is an avid Yankees fan. Currently residing in Las Vegas, a move she made after falling in love with MMA while training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., she is currently studying public relations and advertising at UNLV.

  • Great article, Paige! Have you the chance 2 meet Mr. Varner? My #1 favorite fighter…

  • NovaScotia

    I had seen his last 2 fights.
    I was not surprised to see him win.
    I am a big XFC as well. I was hoping to see him wear
    the belt there.
    I am still happy to see him in the UFC