Referee Steve Mazzagatti raises the hand of Jaime Varner in victory at UFC 146. Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting.
As a heavy underdog stepping in on short notice, Jaime Varner was predicted to lose by nearly everyone. The crowd gave a much bigger pop to Edson Barboza during the walkouts and seemed ready to see yet another highlight reel KO.
Barboza was coming from one of the very best kick knockouts in MMA history with his spinning kick KO of Terry Etim down in Brazil and his initial opponent, Evan Dunham, had to drop out due to injury. Varner volunteered to go in there and fight the feared striker.
In the match, Barboza started tenderizing Vaner's lead left leg with inside and outside leg kicks. Each slapping impact was met with noises from the crowd, but Varner stayed patient and led several combinations with body shots.
The combinations and the particular attention paid to the body shots befuddled Barboza. Enough of the combinations were landing and Varner was driving through the stinging leg kicks like few other opponents had before. Eventually, Varner landed a gigantic series of punches, put Barboza down and started hammerfisting and punching away before the referee stopped the bout.
What was the high spot of this fight?
Esther Lin of MMA Fighting capturing a strong contender for Punchface of the Year, after Varner absolutely decked Barbosa with a right hand.
Such a beautifully timed shot. Anyways, Varner's upset is one of the more shocking in recent memory and the live crowd gave him a standing ovation after initially being strongly in favor of Barboza.
Where do these guys go from here?
In a world that serviced the most dedicated fans, Varner would jump right into a third bout with Donald Cerrone to revitalize the WEC talk and get everyone reminiscing about the old days. However, we do not live in that world. A match-up with the winner of Joe Lauzon and Terry Etim makes some sense, but the matchmakers could decide to set up Paul Sass and Varner together to see who gets to get in that Top 20 list.
For Barboza, some time off to improve his recognition of body-lead combinations and to work even more on his defensive grappling would be nice. However, I suspect he will demand to jump right back in the cage and fighting a TUF contestant like Daron Cruickshank would be the perfect striker/striker match-up.
Watch it now, later or never?
Oh, watch it now. This was one of the better examples of a brilliant, gutsy performance by an underdog and Varner yelling "I'm back" to the cameras was a nice moment.
After the jump, all the related UFC 146 links you could want.