It’s good to be king.
And right now, Jamie Varner
(Pictures) is the king of the WEC
lightweight division. Even though he’s the champion, it’s not hard
to stay motivated. The hunter is now the hunted. Yet the
always-ravenous underdog is now the heavy favorite, too.
How can those labels not change a fighter’s mindset?
In Varner’s case, after he climbs one mountain, he looks for a
taller peak to scale.
Fighting exclusively in the WEC 155-pound division while trying to
crack the lightweight top 10 has not been easy. Instead of
naysayers questioning his credentials, they are now questioning his
Since the WEC found a home under the Zuffa umbrella, the company
has crowned six champions in six separate weight classes. Although
fighters such as Carlos
Condit (Pictures) and Miguel
Torres (Pictures) have been awarded with top 10
accolades across numerous polls, the WEC’s 155-pound class has yet
to have a fighter even sniff the top 10 since the company’s
Varner is out to prove that he is more than just a big fish in a
“I still got all the doubters out there, and that’s motivation to
me,” Varner said. “All the people out there saying this guy in the
UFC would beat you or this guy in Dream would kill you. I want to
beat everyone that Zuffa puts in front of me and hopefully one day
get my opportunity to fight a B.J. Penn
(Pictures) and show the world what I’m made
The next showcase for Varner is his first title defense Sunday
Hicks. Unlike his last opponent, former champ Rob
McCullough, Hicks is a fighter who has the ability to knock you
out on the feet just as easily as he could lock on a guillotine
For the past two years, Varner has been training out of Arizona
Combat Sports. Todd and Trevor Lally
(Pictures) founded the gym located in Tempe,
Ariz. Trevor will be in Varner’s corner Sunday and knows it won’t
be long before his fighter has a permanent home in the 155-pound
“The only thing Varner has to worry about is believing that he is
the guy other fighters should be worried about,” Lally said. “When
he believes that, I don’t think there are very many people other
than a B.J. Penn who can hang with the kid. Varner is the complete
package. The only thing is that he still is young in the game, and
his mind is a little young.
“Before he beat Razor Rob at his own game, he still had doubts. The
kid was 23 years old and he still wasn’t sure if he belonged there.
I think now he feels that belt is earned. He is a lot more
Still months away from his 24th birthday, Varner is the youngest
champion in any of the major MMA promotions. His youthful
anticipation nearly cost him his title victory, though, as Varner
suffered from what he and his camp called a case of
For this training camp, Varner has been forced by his coaches to
pull back the reins on his iron man work ethic. Lally has reminded
him daily that overtraining can be worse than not training at
Even when Varner is not training, he’s in the gym. Between
answering questions about the Hicks fight, he’s coaching the AZCS
amateur MMA team through warm-ups. Varner loves to fight, but he
also has a passion to teach the sport. He is quick to put on his
coaching hat when asked how he would corner one of his students
versus Marcus Hicks.
“Circle to his outside foot, throw straight punches because he
likes to throw looping overhands and hooks,” Varner said. “Circle
to left while throwing straight punches, and if we are going to go
for that takedown, take him down from the clinch.”
According to Lally, the game plan for Hicks is to “just let Varner
Varner might sleep in the gym if you let him.
The former D-1 wrestler at Lock Haven University has all the
physical gifts necessary to succeed at the highest level.
Overcoming the mental roadblocks will come with time and maturity.
Yet, in reality, Varner is the more seasoned fighter than Hicks,
having double the number of professional MMA bouts to his
Varner’s camp would like to project the pressure on the 32-year-old
Hicks' shoulders and allow the champ to be loose come fight
“I do have something to lose now, but the pressure really isn’t off
anymore. I’m still a hungry wolf, and Marcus Hicks is in my way,”
Varner said. “Keeping the WEC title is very important to me, but I
want to be recognized as the best lightweight fighter in the world.
Until that happens, I’m not going to be satisfied.”
The only feeling sweeter than victory for Varner may be proving the
“I’m not a one hit wonder,” he said. “I want to show the world that
I’m a deserving champion. What makes me a good fighter is that I
can adapt. The biggest thing I’m trying to show the world is that I
can evolve, and no matter where the fight goes, I can compete with
the best. I’m not just a wrestler, I’m not just a boxer, I’m not
just a jiu-jitsu guy. And I think with this fight with Hicks, I’ll
be able to open my game up even more.”
Last time in the cage, Varner showed a striking game that few
outside of AZCS knew he had. After repeated shot attempts on
McCullough produced little to no results, Varner went back to his
corner searching for answers. He was told to out-strike the
five-time world muay Thai champion, and that’s what he did on his
way to scoring a dramatic TKO win.
The victory didn’t propel Varner into the top 10, but he has a plan
to climb the rankings.
“I don’t know what it’s really going to take to crack the top 10,”
he said. “I see me doing the same thing Carlos Condit did -- fight
everybody. Beat everybody they put in front of me and do it
decisively -- knockouts and submissions. That’s how I’m going to
get myself in the top 10.”
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