The UFC on Fox 4 main card is filled with former champions and veterans of The Ultimate Fighter. While casual fans will be drawn to names like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua or Ryan Bader, those with an intimate knowledge of the sport realize that the lightweight match-up between Jamie Varner and Joe Lauzon has “Fight of the Night” written all over it.
Ironically, this wasn’t the fight the UFC originally intended for this card. Lauzon was slated to face Terry Etim, but the British fighter was forced off due to injury. Varner will step up on late notice and look to propel himself further up the 155-pound ladder, much like he did at UFC 146 earlier this year. The former WEC champion upended the previously undefeated Edson Barboza and proved that his career has come full circle.
For Lauzon, the fight will be the first step back toward contention after having his title hopes dashed by Anthony Pettis in February. The Boston native has been a part of seven straight fights that received an “of the Night” bonus from the UFC.
Let’s take a deeper look at the fight. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another.
Varner’s game plan in this fight should be simple: keep it standing. After a rough stretch in which he went just 1-4-1 and contemplated retirement, Varner has now won three consecutive fights thanks to the power of his hands. In his UFC return against Barboza, he faced the most technical striker in the division and managed to walk away with a TKO win. That speaks volumes about his focus and his chin. In nearly 30 career bouts, he’s never been knocked out and his boxing is much more crisp and fluid than Lauzon’s.
Although Lauzon is known for being a grappler, his striking is vastly underrated. Nearly every fan remembers his knockout of former UFC champion Jens Pulver in his promotional debut, but more recently his upset of Melvin Guillard speaks volumes about his counterstriking ability. Guillard barreled forward recklessly, and Lauzon dropped him with a left hand and ultimately submitted him. This is something that Varner will need to be wary of on Aug. 4. However, Lauzon has been knocked out three times and will need to avoid Varner’s power.
Of the pair’s 41 combined wins, 28 have come by submission. Even more impressive is the fact that 17 of those are possessed by Lauzon in his 21 career victories.
Varner is no slouch on the mat himself, but against Lauzon, he’ll be in over his head. Three of his six career losses have come by submission, including losing his WEC belt to current UFC champ Benson Henderson by guillotine choke. The majority of his wins by tapout came prior to his UFC and WEC days, and it’s unlikely that he would take the risk of grappling with Lauzon.
It’s hard to fathom that Lauzon is only a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Six of his eight career UFC wins have come by submission, including his last four straight. What makes his submission attack so dangerous is that he is comfortable both on top and from his back. Although he has worked to get his striking more on par with his ground game, it’s no secret that he wants this fight on the mat. If he gets it there, don’t be surprised if he picks up yet another “Submission of the Night” bonus.
Neither of these fighters is known for being a dominant wrestler, but Varner has a definitive edge in this department. He spent time at Lock Haven University, which is known for having a top-notch wrestling program. As stated previously, it’s unlikely that he’ll look to bring this fight to the mat, but where his wrestling skills may be a factor is in keeping Lauzon from doing so.
To date, Lauzon has yet to face the division’s elite wrestlers. As such, his wrestling has been adequate against the likes of Curt Warburton, Gabe Ruediger and Jason Reinhardt—each of whom he submitted. However, if Lauzon wants to implement his lethal ground game, he’ll have to show off skills that he’s yet to exhibit before in his career.
The deciding factor in this fight may be where Varner’s head is. Over his last three fights, he’s looked like the fighter that earned and defended the WEC belt. So long as he doesn’t regress and fall back into the place he was at when he almost retired, the sky is the limit for Varner.
The question for Lauzon will be how he responds to his first knockout loss. Yes, he was defeated by Kenny Florian and Jorge Masvidal by TKO, but the Pettis fight was the first time the lights had been turned out completely.
Verdict: While Lauzon is the more decisive finisher, it is Varner that has the better tools in this match-up. Varner’s wrestling will prevent Lauzon from getting this fight to the ground, and his striking will prove to be too much for Lauzon. Varner by third-round TKO.
Top Photo: Jamie Varner (James Law/Heavy MMA)