If there was anyone your typical MMA follower was predisposed to write off in 2012, it was Jamie Varner. The man who once ruled the roost of the WEC, Varner had endured the worst two years of his near-decade long career in 2010 and 2011.
In the aforementioned 24-month stretch, Varner notched two victories. He also dropped four bouts and walked away with a rare draw on his ledger after tangling with Kamal Shalorus at WEC 49. The slide marked a clear career-low for the MMA Lab standout and seemed to signal—if not give birth to many an internet rumor—an early exit from the sport.
But last year something changed in Varner’s life. The man transitioned from a visibly shaky competitor with an obvious lack of confidence to a matured, stable dude willing to engage in supreme physical warfare. Gone are the self-signaled timeouts and exaggeration of perceived illegal blows (Varner’s bout with Donald Cerrone at WEC 38 comes to mind). Having arrived in place is a man who’s displayed a respectable measure of gall and determination.
I’d bet even former rival Donald Cerrone would praise Varner’s ability to turn the corner as he managed last year. I’m not confident many felt such a feat possible for the polarizing Arizonian.
Varner’s become a man who looks more intent on working to be the best that he can possibly be than being the “superstar” that his public persona once suggested he aspired to be. That’s a commendable shift in personality. It’s a sign of maturation, and as effective as Varner’s has sometimes been in the past, mental development has always seemed his most glaring fault.
Well, faults be cast aside. We’re eyeing a new “C-4,” version 2.0 if you will. This kid comes to swing hard, work hard and push himself to the brink of disaster, and he does so for the victory as well as the fans. Jamie’s always yearned for positive reception, but that old brash demeanor had previously held him back, hampering the embrace of the crowd.
Jamie has battled to win the crowd over, and he’s done a fantastic job of it.
Varner logged three victories against a lone defeat in 2012. That single defeat was dealt by the fists of Joe Lauzon in what was, in my personal opinion, the greatest fight of 2012. Varner was stopped midway through the third round when Lauzon managed to secure a tight triangle choke, but he was competitive and gutsy up until the final moment. Rocked on numerous occasions, offensively effective on numerous occasions, Varner was in that fight—one he took on short notice—until the end. It was in no way a loss to incite shame.
As for the three victories “C-4” snagged in 2012, those too were relatively impressive.
Varner kicked off the year by disposing of the inconsistent but highly experienced Drew Fickett at Xtreme Fighting Championships 16. He put the veteran away in 40 seconds and earned another chance with the UFC. It was a second lease on career life that he refused to mismanage.
Highly touted knockout artist Edson Barboza welcomed Varner back into the UFC (he’d been distanced from the promotion since UFC 68) fold at UFC 146. Fans, pundits and likely even UFC brass viewed Varner as little more than a lamb led to slaughter, but Varner believed in his abilities, and if anyone wasn’t counting the man out (other than bold betters) of the fight, it was he himself.
Varner rendered Barboza helpless, teetering on the brink of consciousness in just over three minutes.
The fight marked the rebirth of a fighter with an affluence of potential.
Since UFC 146, Jamie’s looked like a man fit to fill a slot on any Pay-Per-View the promotion can assemble. The fight with Lauzon far exceeded any simple gratification; it was absolutely enthralling. His subsequent showdown with Melvin Guillard at UFC 155 offered plenty of scintillating moments, and reminded fans that Varner’s a legitimately well-rounded fighter.
Again, Jamie defied odds as he outworked and outmuscled the dangerous Guillard en route to a clear unanimous verdict. There was one judge, Adalaide Byrd, who mysteriously scored the bout in Melvin’s favor, three rounds to nill.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Varner’s, but as he himself told Bleacher Report months ago, “I’m not trying to live my life looking in the rearview mirror.” Varner’s okay in my book and his newfound willingness to dump every ounce of his being into the combat that transpires in the cage is enough to keep me excited to see him fight.
If Varner showcased an ability to lose fans, he utilized 2012 to his greatest abilities and proved that the best way to regain some of those departed fans in the world of MMA is to fight your ass off.
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