Jamie Varner was once a champion. While fighting for World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), "C-4" won the lightweight strap and defended it twice in a row. Everything was going great, until he ran into Ben Henderson.
"Smooth" dealt Varner a devastating third round submission (guillotine) loss, when the two went head to head at WEC 46 in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2010. It was the beginning of a downward spiral that Varner has been coming back from ever since.
Varner settled for a draw in his next fight to Kamal Shalorus (a fight marred by groin kicks from Shalorus). He lost the following two bouts, causing him to be cut from the promotion.
Since that point, Varner has vacillated between several regional mixed martial arts (MMA) organizations. He had to work some through obstacles in order to find his groove again (notably a very one-sided loss to Dakota Cochrane in the Titan Fighting Championships promotion), but after two straight wins, he's found himself with a new and exciting opportunity.
Due to an injury to Evan Dunham, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was in need of a replacement opponent for Edson Barboza at UFC 146, in "Sin City," on May 26, 2012. Varner talked to HDNet's "Inside MMA" about his road back to the top promotion in all of MMA:
"I had heard rumors that I was gonna have to get a couple more wins. That's why I got that fight with Legacy, cuz I was just trying to string wins together. The ultimate goal for any fighter is to end up in the UFC. Especially a guy who had been there before. We were talking about this earlier. I had to eat a little crow. I started training at The Lab with Ben Henderson, the current UFC Lightweight Champion. I still had my old trainers, the Lally brothers, over at Arizona Combat. They got me ready. I got two wins in a row, in under two minutes. Next thing ya know, Edson Barboza's out an opponent, hey...Jamie Varner."
This won't be Varner's first stint with the UFC. When Varner was 21 years old, he fought Hermes Franca at UFC 62 in Las Vegas, Nevada on Aug. 26, 2006. He also fought at UFC 68, opposite Jason Gilliam, in Columbus, Ohio, on Mar. 3, 2007.
For Varner, it's "deja vu" all over again:
"At UFC 62, I was 21 years old and fought Hermes Franca. I took that fight on three or four weeks notice. This whole situation is kinda reminding me of UFC 62. I'm fighting another tough Brazilian, short notice, and I'm the underdog. I have nowhere to go but up from here. I'm just excited to be back with the UFC. All the organizations like Legacy and XFC, who have given me the opportunity to fight and work my way back to the UFC, I'm grateful for every opportunity I've had."
Hopefully, this time around will be different. When the younger and less experienced Varner fought Franca, he fell victim to a third round armbar submission. He feels confident that Varner 2.0 will handle the pressure differently:
"Yeah, it was what, 2007? It's been a long time. It's crazy. I was 21 years old then. Now I'm 27. I'm a little more grown up, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity. It's awesome."
Varner spent a few minutes discussing his upcoming opponent, Barboza, as well as what he's going to have to do to be successful in this fight.
"This guy, he's fast, he's athletic, he's strong. Look like he hits pretty hard. His goal is to win, and my job is to try and make that as difficult for him as possible. I think the leg kick are a big part of his arsenal. There's three ways I can win this fight: I gotta hit him hard, I gotta hit him fast, and I gotta hit him continuously. That's how I'm gonna win this fight."
Even if he wins, Varner expects an intense fight. He also expects a trip to the nearest hospital as soon as its done. He's just hoping that he'll be doing so after a victory:
"You know, it's gonna be a dogfight, and I expect to end up in the hospital after this fight. After I get my hand raised, I expect to have a room saved for me in that hospital. But, I know what I'm getting into. I know this fight's gonna be painful, but I'm just trying to make it as painful on him as well."
One thing is for sure, the UFC is certainly doing Varner no favors with the match up for his re-entrance to the Octagon. But that's what you get when you fight in the most exciting and stacked division in all of MMA.
How do you Maniacs see this fight going down? Does Varner have a chance, or is he being fed to wolves?