MMA love rediscovered, Jamie Varner interested in UFC bout with Diego Sanchez
by Matt Erickson on Apr 08, 2013 at 8:30 pm ET
Give Jamie Varner three weeks' notice. That's what he needs, and he'll be there.
Varner is caught in what he calls "purgatory" right now. He's ready for a fight, and he's training for a fight, but he's got nothing booked, largely because many of the fighters in the UFC's lightweight division already have dance dates lined up in the next couple months.
But Varner (21-7-1 MMA, 3-2 UFC), who most recently won a split call against Melvin Guillard at UFC 155 in December, is staying in shape just in case someone gets hurt and he can step in as a late replacement. The three weeks he needs would be to get down to the lightweight max of 156 pounds.
"I was hoping to get something lined up for the end of May, but all the guys I want to fight are pretty much booked," Varner recently told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "Jim Miller, T.J. Grant, Rafael dos Anjos – not that I have anything against these guys, but all the guys in the Top 10 are pretty much booked. Even a rematch with Donald (Cerrone) or Joe Lauzon, Donald's already got a fight with K.J. Noons. Joe Lauzon's not going to fight until June or July. Realistically, I need to be fighting guys coming off a win. All the guys coming off a win that are in the Top 10 already have fights lined up. I'm kind of caught in purgatory right now."
Varner is 1-1 against Cerrone, who could be considered nothing less than his biggest rival. The two fought for Varner's WEC lightweight title in January 2009 and a Cerrone illegal knee left Varner unable to continue – the doctor and referee's choice, he said, not his. He took a technical split decision that night when the fight had to go to the scorecards. But Cerrone swept the judges' scorecards at WEC 51 for a unanimous nod – and a "Fight of the Night" bonus.
And against Lauzon this past August, he won not just "Fight of the Night" at UFC on FOX 4, but "Fight of the Year" at the World MMA Awards. After two rounds of war, Lauzon finally was able to choke Varner out midway through the third.
Varner also said he'd be interested in a bout with another regular on the "Fight of the Night" bonus scene.
"There's only a couple fights that kind of make sense, and one is Diego Sanchez," Varner said. "But he just recently fought and I actually like Diego. I've been a big fan of his. If that fight came up, that would be a great fight for me, as well. I don't know if May would be too quick of a turnaround. Not that I'm trying to call him out, but he's the only fight outside of the guys in the Top 10 that makes sense for me."
Sanchez this past month beat Takanori Gomi in Japan in his return to the lightweight division. He has "Fight of the Night" bonuses in three of his past four fights.
But Varner knows one thing about a potential fight with any of those three. While he may reap the benefits in his pocketbook, and while the fans may approve, he knows where he's likely to be after the fight's over.
"Donald, Joe Lauzon and Diego Sanchez, I know no matter what happens, I'm probably going to walk away with a bonus – so that's great," he said. "My biggest fear is, I know any one of those guys, I'm probably going to end up going to the hospital. Whether I win or I lose, those are just such tough guys that can take intense amounts of punishment that it's a win-lose situation no matter what. I may win the fight, but I'll end up in the hospital with some sort of broken something."
At this point in his career, even that may not be such a bad thing for Varner. He'd almost certainly take that over where he was a couple years ago.
After his win over Cerrone at WEC 38, he missed nearly a year with a broken hand. He returned and lost his lightweight title to Benson Henderson. Then he had a draw with Kamal Shalorus – a fight he'd have lost by split decision had Shalorus not lost a point for low kicks. He lost his rematch with Cerrone, and then he was choked out by Shane Roller at the WEC's finale – in front of his home fans in Phoenix.
He had a four-fight run without a win, and when the WEC merged with the UFC, he wasn't invited along for the ride.
Varner packed on a few pounds and moved up to welterweight and took a fight for Jeff Curran's XFO promotion near Chicago against a mostly unknown local fighter, and he won quickly. But then he lost to Dakota Cochrane for Titan FC, and the doubts kept creeping in.
What was he doing? Why was he still fighting?
"After the Donald Cerrone fight, it left a bad taste in my mouth," Varner said. "The fans kind of turned on me, I feel like the organization kind of turned on me. I was just angry. And I just played the victim role. I started getting caught up in this downward spiral with all the antics from Donald, the fans. ... I lost motivation and lost the love for the sport. I just didn't care. I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. I was fighting out of anger and I was fighting to collect a paycheck. It was because I thought it was what people wanted me to do, not what I wanted to do anymore."
The loss to Cochrane, who would go on to a shot at "The Ultimate Fighter" a year later, forced Varner to take a deeper look at what was going on.
And what he came up with – along with some training shifts that included a move to The MMA Lab alongside John Crouch, initially to help train former opponent Henderson for his first title fight against Frankie Edgar – paid dividends in a big way.
Knockout wins over Nate Jolly and Drew Fickett in regional events were fine. But then Varner got a late-notice call in 2012 to fight unbeaten Edson Barboza on short notice at UFC 146. He knocked him out in one of the bigger upsets in UFC history. He had regained a love for the sport, and now it was pretty evident to anyone watching.
"After I lost my job and went into some of those regional shows, and losing in one of those regional shows, I really had to just sit back and reflect on who I am and what I wanted out of life," he said. "I think that last loss, I wanted to retire. But I was like, 'Ya know what? I'm going to prove all these people wrong.'
"I just fell in love with the sport again. I want to fight. That was the thing before – I didn't want to fight. They'd tell me I had a fight lined up and I was like, 'F---. I've got to fight.' Now I can't wait to fight. I'm training right now to get in shape just in case someone gets hurt so I can step in and fight. That's the biggest difference – the love that I had lost, but now have re-found.