Donald Cerrone has Jamie Varner on his mind. Since the two went toe-to-toe at WEC 39 in January 2009, Varner has been Cerrone's constant mental companion. When I talked to Cerrone before his first fight with Ben Henderson last October, the Greg Jackson fighter could talk about little besides Varner:
"I just keep going and going trying to line that fight up," Cerrone said. "That’s the one that gets me up in the morning. I know I’ve got my takedown defense where I want it to be now and I can knock that little bastard out."
It’s not that Cerrone is completely dismissing Henderson. The two know each other from their time in Colorado, and he’s willing to concede that the former NAIA wrestling champion is a solid opponent and a good guy. "I grew up with Ben," Cerrone said. "He’s a real dark horse, an good man and an awesome fighter." He doesn’t mean to let Varner overshadow this fight. It’s just that he hates him that much.
"As a fighter, he’s awesome," Cerrone said. "But as a person he’s a punk bitch. That’s really what it is. I’ve got nothing good to say about him."
The vitriol between the two men has expanded from the cage and threatened to explode into real life violence. Cerrone and his friend Leonard Garcia allegedly confronted Varner in the locker room at UFC 100. Cerrone, still upset that Varner canceled a title rematch tentatively scheduled for this very show, did everything he could to start a fight-short of physical violence.
"We were at UFC 100 in a little back area," Cerrone said. "It was me, Leonard Garcia and Varner. I said things to him you wouldn’t normally say to another person. And that as a man you would never let someone say. I was kind of out of line to be honest with you. I’m kind of glad it didn’t happen."
Since then, things have only gotten worse between the two. Most fighters will tell you the fight isn't personal. They don't hate their opponent. They don't want to hurt him at all - it's just a friendly competition. Cerrone is not that fighter. Talking to MMAFighting this week, the words coming out of his mouth were the same ones he spoke to me a year earlier. The rage hasn't gone cold with age. Apparently time doesn't heal all wounds:
"...I should probably not let my emotions take over," Cerrone said. "But I'm going to. And I'm going to try to do a lot of damage to him. That's my game plan. I'm taking a lot of heat for things I've been saying, but I'm in that mindset. I don't like him. I'm planning on doing everything I say I'm gonna do."
For his part, Varner is trying to stay above the fray. He won the first fight between the two, unable to continue after an illegal knee by Cerrone rocked him in the fifth round. He's looking for another shot at the WEC title, but those close to the Arizona based fighter say he's more than happy to take Cerrone's measure again first:
"That kind of stuff, I don't get involved in it," Varner said. "I've been fired up for this fight since the last one. Beating him again will secure my position in the WEC and in the lightweight division. It will also prove that I deserve another title shot.
"This rematch has been a long time coming, believe me. A lot of people thought that fight ended too abruptly and everyone has an opinion on it. I am confident going into this fight. I know I can beat him in any position. Right now, it's all about myself. I just have to fight smart."
This is the kind of fight I love. The legitimate grudge match. Neither of these guys will ever be the UFC lightweight champion. Both have fallen short against current WEC kingpin Ben Henderson. But none of that matters. This is going to be a great fight, somehow standing out on a night of great fights. Don't miss it. WEC 51 airs tomorrow at 9 PM EST on VERSUS/
After the break: WEC promo video for Cerrone-Varner.