THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT FIGHTING that is so incredibly raw and honest. It exposes the weaker and uglier side of us that we spend so much effort trying to cover up. We try so hard to hide every sign of physical weakness, of losing, of injured pride. And when we see someone that is full of weakness and injury, we shake our heads and call them failures, saying to ourselves, I never want to be like that. But when these characters come back from their lows, when they spend every ounce of power in their being to come back, we can’t help but applaud them, whether they are successful or not.
Jamie Varner was the former lightweight champion of the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting).
The top spot in an MMA promotion known for its impressive stable of lightweight and featherweight fighters. He has defeated dangerous opponents including Rob McCullough, Marcus Hicks, and Donald Cerrone. But as they say, the most difficult part of being the champion is not becoming the champion, but staying the champion. In January 2010, Jamie Varner was defeated by Benson Henderson via guillotine. Losing is one of the most difficult things to deal with. Losing after being champion of the entire weight division for two years is even more difficult to swallow. The reality that you are now at the bottom of the pile and you’re going to have to fight your way back up to the top. Knowing that you were once the best of the best, but something happened along the way. Did you get caught? Were you too proud? Did you think you were invincible? Did you get lazy? Or is the other guy just plain better than you, in which case you will never be champ as long as he is champ. Then what’s the point of going on?
There are difficult times. Things don’t go your way. No matter how much you wish to do good, good just doesn’t happen. 2010 was probably the worst year of Jamie’s career… life. Following his loss to Benson Henderson in January, Jamie fought to a draw against Kamal Shalarous. He then lost the rematch against Donald Cerrone and closed the year being submitted via rear naked choke by Shane Roller in the first round in his home state of Arizona. Four fights, no wins. To add insult to injury, Jamie was released from the Zuffa owned promotion. Being at the bottom of the hill in the WEC is bad enough, but at least you’re still part of an elite promotion, you still have a name, you are still regarded as a top fighter, you can still get sponsors. Jamie went into 2011 knowing that he lost all of that and will have to scrounge for cash in sub-elite promotions. He will need to claw his way back to the top. A long, long, uphill battle full of younger, hungrier opponents. Inches my friend, inches.
Jamie’s toughness has been called into question multiple times before. As a fighter, being tough is not just a job requirement. It’s a way of life. 2010 did something to Jamie. When most of us would have hung up our gloves and turned to a life of self-medication, Jamie woke up in the morning, put on his running shoes and did road work. He laced up his boxing boots and sparred. He put on his wrestling shoes and grappled. One moment at a time, one day at a time, one fight at a time. He spent 2011 rehabilitating in XFO (Xtreme Fighting Organization), Titan, and XFC (Xtreme Fighting Championships). He won his first fight via north-south choke in the first round. One moment at a time. He lost his next fight to Dakota Chocrane in a three round grind. One fight at a time. Then he closed out 2011 knocking out Nate Jolly. Outside the WEC, Jamie Varner went 3-1. He finished all his opponents in under 2 minutes of the very first round. Some may argue that Jamie was fighting better than he ever did. 2010 did something to Jamie, and he’s trying everything he can to come back.
While Jamie was carefully putting together a career come-back, the WEC with its elite lighter weight fighters was merged into the UFC. Now the UFC had one of the strongest and most complete range of current and up-and-coming fighters. In May 2012, the UFC called Jamie to fight against the undefeated Edson Barboza. Barboza was the former Renaissance MMA lightweight champion, the former Ring of Combat lightweight champion, and one of the young elite killers that the UFC was grooming for stardom. Going into this fight, Barboza was coming off a wheel kick knock out win over the dangerous Muay Thai specialist Terry Etim. Was the UFC bringing in a former lightweight champion to further pad Barboza’s career? Jamie finished Barboza via TKO in the first round and won the 2012 Upset of the Year award.
2010 did something to Jamie. He’s back at the show.
Jamie Varner is fighting in the UFC, the premier MMA promotion in the world. But following his incredible win over Edson Barboza, he lost a “Fight of the Night”-winning battle against Joe Lauzon. Then he won a split decision over the brutally ferocious Melvin Guillard and lost a split decision against perennial lightweight powerhouse Gleison Tibau. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride but Jamie Varner has seen tougher times. One day at a time, one fight at a time.
UFC 169: Barao vs Faber. 1st of February 2014. Jamie Varner vs Abel Trujillo. Jamie is 2-2 in the UFC and if he is to ever attach greatness to his name, Jamie Varner needs to win. 29 years old. This is the time when most fighters are considered to be getting too old for the sport. Then again, this is also the time when most fighters reach their career prime. 29 years old, 11 years as a pro-fighter, Jamie Varner has been through some wars and shook any perceptions of him not being a tough fighter…person. The Saturday night lights are up, the crowd is amped, the smell of sweat smothers the cold February night, “I’m Shipping Out To Boston” starts to play. Jamie Varner steps out of the locker rooms into the roar of cheering fans. His opponent Abel Trujillo circling the cage.
Abel Trujillo, a powerful fighter training out of the ferocious Blackzilians camp. Although his fight record isn’t especially outstanding, he has proven his knockout power in spectacular finishes of Roger Bowling and Marcus LeVesseur, living up to his name “The Killah”. The one thing that stands out about Trujillo is that he trains out of Team Blackzilians located in Boca Raton, Florida. This camp is a pit of deadly strikers and unforgiving submission specialists. Legends Ernesto Hoost and Kenny Monday are striking and wrestling coaches. The fighting stable is a who’s who in the UFC and kickboxing world, including Alistair Overeem, Vitor Belfort, Rashad Evans, Tyrone Sponge and more. Going by the old adage “iron sharpens iron”, there are few places that can compete with the elite level of training and sparring available at the Blackzilians Gym. It is this background that makes Trujillo a skilled fighter and a dangerous individual.
The fighters burst out of their corners, completely disregarding the “feeling out” process. Jamie Varner holding the centre of the cage but Abel swinging with heavy punches and mean but sloppy take down attempts. Jamie delivers solid swings of his own connecting on a few. A blood thirsty back and forth. Abel locks a body clinch and goes to pin Jamie against the fence but the crafty veteran knows to keep the right under-hook and takes Abel to the ground. Jamie has Abel’s back but with awkward positioning. Varner then executes a slick roll to get a better back-mount position. Trujillo trying to power out of it and get to his feet but Varner grabs Abel’s foot and trips him to the ground. Varner showing absolute control and superior technique on the ground. Jamie switches to a North-South choke. The same choke he used against Tyler Combs in his first win outside the WEC. Jamie almost has the blood choke. He needs to drop his hips down to the mat a little more and get his right lat farther across Abel’s face. But who am I kidding, that’s Jamie Varner in there. He knows what he’s doing. Varner by submission in the first? Varner lets go, Abel gets out. Hats off to Abel for his patience in riding out the choke. The fighters stand. Less than 1 minute left in the first round. Varner’s arm must be tired. Ferocious lunging left swings from Trujillo. Varner standing his ground and delivering right back. Jamie looks tired. Abel bouncing light on his feet. Trujillo chasing Jamie. Ten second clap. Trujillo rushes Varner and ends the round with a solid knee to the body.
Both fighters rush straight to the centre of the cage. Aggressive Abel putting together some mean combinations. Varner circling out of the way. Abel marches back in, trying to walk his opponent down. Abel goes for a right kick and Varner catches him with a counter left. Varner to the body. Trujillo answering with mean left swings of his own. Varner goes for the take-down but ends up pinning Abel to the fence. Hard swings to the head from Varner. Trujillo covering up. One of Varner’s punches catches Abel causing him to lose his legs. Abel is kneeling on the the ground defending. Varner swarming with hammer fists and elbows. Trying his best to finish the fight. Trujillo surviving by holding on to Varner’s left leg. Back up to the feet, Varner continues the barrage, with Trujillo swinging back. Trujillo up against the fence, another solid left to the head landed by Varner. a second hard left followed by a solid Right. Trujillo in trouble. Varner throws a knee, Trujilllo defending and circling away from the fence. Jamie Varner following him, smelling blood and trying to finish the fight. Trujillo slipping Varners punches. Both fighters must be exhausted as they are visibly slowed. Varner with a lunging right. Trujillo with a counter right. Varner with a lunging left and Varner goes down! Down goes Varner! Trujillo with a counter right from no where! The crowd is going wild, not a single person is in their seat.
Jamie Varner sits on the red stool, the ring-side doctor flashes a light into his eyes. His elbows on his knees, his head is drooped, his body is slumped forward. Jamie Varner was winning the fight, but he got caught. He gets up and walks across the octagon to shake Abel Trujillo’s hand, gives him a hug and tells him “great fight”. Since 2010, has Jamie Varner come back? Is Jamie Varner still an elite lightweight fighter? Will Jamie Varner ever be champion again? If Jamie Varner is released from the UFC, where will the next pay check come from? There are some things that are just so incredibly honest about fighting. In a world where you’re only as good as your last fight, every loss is a pride crippling, career ending blow. Jamie Varner has had five fights in the UFC. One of them an Upset of the Year and two of them (including this one) are Fight of The Nights. But He’s now 2-3 in the UFC with two losses in a row. He’s not getting any younger and every fight seems to be a war. If Jamie Varner wants to be champion again, the road will not be easy. But then again, Jamie Varner has seen tougher times before.