The end is in sight for former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner, but before he leaves the sport of mixed martial arts he wants to make a run at UFC gold. In order to take the next step toward that goal he will have to get past Abel Trujillo on Saturday at UFC 169.
Varner (21-8-1-2) is the favorite to win the fight, but to hear the veteran fighter tell it, the odds don't tell the entire story. Varner last fought at UFC 164, dropping a split decision to Gleison Tibau. That fight took place on the last day of August, 2013. Fast forward a few months and Varner gets the call that he may be asked to step in to face Trujillo (11-5-0-1) at UFC 169 at the lightweight limit of 155 pounds.
Varner, speaking to MMAJunkie radio, relayed the tale of how he came to replace Bobby Green on the February 1 fight card, "I got the call on New Year's Eve that I may be fighting. On New Year's Day I found out that I got the fight, and I weighed 189 on New Year's Day."
With that call, Varner had one month to get ready to face a fighter that was coming off a December 14 second round TKO victory over Roger Bowling, and who had been in camp preparing to fight at UFC 169. Oh, and he had to shed a lot of weight as well as evidenced in the photos Varner posted to Instagram:
In addition to the short preparation time, Varner only fought once in 2013 while Trujillo fought three times during the year. Varner said of his opponent, "You can't overlook Abel. From the first time he fought Roger to the second time he fought Roger it was a completely different cat out there, he looked like a beast. He's growing, he's getting better, he's with a great camp. I'm not underestimating him."
Varner's goal for 2014 is to increase the number of fights he takes from the one he had in 2013 to three or four. He would like to follow that up with the same number of fights in 2015. His hope is that he can make a run toward the UFC lightweight title over the course of those six to eight fights. The reason for that is because Varner doesn't plan on being in the fight game past 2016 when he hits 32 years of age.
Some, including UFC president Dana White would say that once the thought or retirement begins creeping into a fighter's head they should hang up the gloves sooner rather than later. Varner doesn't see it that way, he's much more pragmatic about the topic, "This March will be my 11th year being a mixed martial artist," Varner said. "That's a long time to be taking beatings."
Besides, Varner knows that three years is a very long time in the world of MMA. He used his past as an example of what can happen over that time, "A lot can happen," said Varner. "You saw (me go) from being a newbie in the UFC, to a rising star to a champion, to a two-time defending champion to a guy that doesn't have a home and lost his job with Zuffa in three years."
Varner's first run with Zuffa lasted from August 2006 to December 2010. During that time, Varner went 5-4-1. He won the WEC lightweight title with a third round TKO win over Rob McCullough and defended that belt twice, defeating Marcus Hicks and Donald Cerrone. Varner's title run ended with a loss to Benson Henderson. Following that loss he fought to a draw with Kamal Shalorus and lost to Cerrone and Shane Roller before being released from the organization.
Varner fought four times outside the UFC before getting the call to replace an injured Evan Dunham against Edson Barboza at UFC 146. Varner was a huge underdog in that fight, but he came out on top, earning a first round knockout, and putting the first blemish on Barboza's professional record.
As for Trujillo, Varner sees a hungry fighter standing in his way to his run toward another title, "It's a tough fight. Abel's a very fast, explosive, athletic dude. He's a lot like Melvin Guillard. I would say that he's a little bit hungrier than the Melvin that I fought."
Varner and Trujillo will open the pay-per-view portion of Saturday's UFC 169 from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
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