The last time that Jamie Varner stepped foot in the Octagon, Hollywood couldn’t have scripted his return to the UFC any better if they tried. The scene was one of a feel-good story—that whether one is a sports fan or not, you couldn’t help but walk away with a smile for the guy who wasn’t given much of a chance.
The tale starts in December of 2010, when the former WEC champion wasn’t brought over to the UFC when the two promotions formally merged. He would spend the next couple of years contemplating retirement before registering a couple of knockout victories and getting the call from Joe Silva to replace Evan Dunham at UFC 146 in May of this year. It was a short-notice fight with barely a month to prepare. Varner would be fighting the unbeaten future of the lightweight division and was given next to no chance to win.
Somebody forgot to tell the 27-year-old that he was the underdog—maybe because he knew he wasn’t the underdog. There is no Cinderella in this story. He needed less than four minutes to end the highly-touted Brazilian’s night by way of TKO. It wasn’t a lucky punch, instead Varner dominated the fight. Those that follow him closely weren’t surprised—his camp knew it would be done, and Varner himself never doubted his ability.
“Words can’t really describe the feeling. It was amazing, but I didn’t do anything that I didn’t think I couldn’t do,” Varner told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I went out there and I beat a guy that I knew that I could beat, but whether I performed or not was a totally different story.”
What was his Hollywood return to the UFC has now led him to Hollywood. Well, down the street anyway, to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There, he’ll be fighting submission specialist Joe Lauzon on the main card of UFC on Fox 4. This time around, however, no one is underestimating the Phoenix native, as many are picking him as the favorite to win.
Seemingly the only similarity this time around is that he’ll be taking the fight on short notice, this time replacing Terry Etim.
“For me, there’s pros and cons of a long training camp,” said Varner. “I can definitely guarantee that I will be in shape and ready, and have more time to game plan for my opponent—that’s one of the pros. The cons to a long training camp are you’re more susceptible to injury, and you’ve got more restless nights just thinking about the fight, thinking about your opponent. When you get the fight just right around the corner, you don’t have much time to really dwell on it. You’re just so focused getting ready for the fight, you’re not worried so much about the fight.”
Saturday night, Varner will come to the cage with superior wrestling and a slight edge in the striking department. While Lauzon definitely has legitimate knockout power, he’s known for his submission skills—the one area that Lauzon will have an advantage in, at least if you believe what you read.
When a guy has a nickname referencing dynamite, it’s pretty clear that he’s packing serious power in his punches. Although Varner’s nickname is “C-4,” one may be surprised to find out he has more submission victories than he does knockouts. In his 20 wins as a professional, eleven have come by way of submission as opposed to seven by knockout. Basically, all that means is he’s an exceptionally well-rounded fighter, something that may be overlooked when talking about the former champ.
“Yeah, but it’s okay,” said Varner when asked if he felt his ground game was underrated. “They continue to underestimate me and they get beat. Continue to underestimate my striking. So, I’d rather them continue to underestimate my striking and keep getting those quick knockouts than having to go through those long, grueling fights hoping to get the submission.”
With a win Saturday night, Varner will take one step closer to title contention in the ridiculously talented lightweight division. He certainly won’t have to worry about being underrated anymore. The only thing left to worry about will be winning a few more fights, then dealing with the possibility of meeting his training partner, current UFC lightweight champ Ben Henderson, inside the Octagon.
“My job is to fight, and I work for the UFC. If they tell me that Ben Henderson is next, then I’ll fight Ben,” Varner said. “But that’s a long way down the road. I’ve probably got at least two more wins before that happens, and Ben would probably have to defend his belt two more times. I hope to have that problem, and I hope that we have that problem, because that means that Ben was the champ for a while and it also means that I’ve won enough fights to earn that shot, so that’s a win-win.”
First thing is first, and that’s his fight Saturday night. But if and when the stars align somewhere down the road, and the training partners finding themselves standing across from each other inside the Octagon with the UFC belt on the line, the comeback will be complete. After all, Henderson is the same guy who took Varner’s WEC belt from him. This is the stuff Hollywood stories are made of.
Top Photo: Jamie Varner (R), after landing the knockout blow, watches Edson Barboza fall (James Law/Heavy MMA)