Bostonian Joe Lauzon (21-7) is a computer nerd turned killer. His pro-fighting debut unfolded with 5 consecutive 1st-round submission victories followed by 3-straight in the 3rd round. No longer an unknown lurker, Lauzon then took an upgrade in competition and dropped 3 of his next 5 to reputable talent in Jorge Masvidal, Ivan Menjivar and Raphael Assuncao, but immediately regained his swagger by crushing a trio of opponents in a same-night tournament, again proving his finishing ability by decimating each in the 1st round (2 subs and a slam-KO).
The sequence was convincing enough to warrant a run in the UFC, and Lauzon cemented his top-level potential by throttling former champion Jens Pulver with a ruthless 1st-round TKO. He was then inserted on TUF 5 where he was decisioned by eventual finalist Manny Gamburyan in the semis. Lauzon would go on to station himself on the bubble of elite lightweights with a series of 1-1 and 2-1 streaks; submission wins over Jeremy Stephens and Melvin Guillard signify his highest achievements.
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Jamie Varner (20-6) is a former top-contender in the UFC and WEC lightweight champion. He's been phenomenal throughout the bulk of his career, but dropped off the radar screen after reigning lightweight kingpin Ben Henderson dethroned him in the WEC, which was the first of a 4-fight clip that resulted in 3 losses, a draw and parting ways with the promotion.
Varner rebounded by notching wins in 4 of his next 5, the last of which was a revitalizing upset over Muay Thai phenom Edson Barboza as a short-notice replacement at UFC 146. For this match, Varner has courageously filled in for Terry Etim, who withdrew with an injury on June 28th.
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Varner is a classic wrestle-boxer, having earned runner-up status as a JuCo All-American, later wrestling at the D1-caliber Lock Haven University while simultaneously accruing a NCBA (National Collegiate Boxing Association) championship. At a glance, his overall fight record seems commonplace, but 4 of his 6 defeats came against elite opposition in Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Shane Roller and Hermes Franca.
A few disclaimers for those losses: Varner had previously beaten Cerrone in a contentious split-decision and was trampling Franca -- who went on to finish Nate Diaz (in the WEC) and Spencer Fisher to get a crack at Sean Sherk's UFC title -- before eating a Hail Mary knee that set up the late 3rd-round submission. Varner's only sketchy defeats are decisions to former TUFer Dakoda Cochrane and Jesse Moreng in Varner's 2nd professional turn.
The point is that, though Lauzon has been a staple in the Octagon, Varner is far from devoid of top-shelf experience. Additionally, while Varner might be in over his head in a straight grappling match, his dual-pronged foundation of technical wrestling and boxing is ideal for the sprawl-and-brawl strategy he'll likely enforce against Lauzon.
"J-Lau" is distinguished by his fearless aggression, both in his whirlwind of haymakers on the feet and ruthless appetite for power-snatching submissions. In the gi, Lauzon is rated as a purple belt but pretty much performs at the black-belt level in MMA. He is also the polar opposite of a finesse-type grappler, as Lauzon doesn't fluidly coax his submission attempts but devours opportunities with a ferocious virility that's more akin to a catch-wrestler.
His stand up follows suit: eye-pleasing artistry takes a back seat to the basic but effective haymakers he slings with reckless power. His savage striking also compensates for his mediocre wrestling as a tool to set up takedowns -- Lauzon's specialty is on the mat but he brings the fight there by drenching his opponent with heavy leather and then pouncing when they're vulnerable just as often as he grounds them through traditional wrestling.
Though he's capable on the canvas, 3 of Varner's 6 defeats are via submission and Lauzon's best chance is to disguise a takedown amidst a typhoon of wild punches to get Varner down. Conversely, Varner will be on his bicycle to maintain a sizable cushion of space while drilling home timely and straight punches. Varner keeps his balance well, has an excellent 1-2 and overhand right and, despite being an inch shorter, will have 2" of reach on Lauzon (72" vs. 70").
If employed with unwavering determination, I think Varner's tight and precise punching can find holes in Lauzon's wide and loose striking and that his wrestling will keep him afoot in the majority of clinch and takedown encounters. Lauzon, being a wily ol' devil, will likely be creative in his intentions, such as with tactics like dropping back for guillotines from the standing position and then maneuvering sweeps once he's on his back. Varner's no slouch with defensive grappling but just has to avoid lengthy entanglements on the mat with an escape-at-all-costs mentality and his impact-resistant chin should give him confidence when Lauzon's unloading.
My Prediction: Jamie Varner by decision.