Jamie Varner Counted Benson Henderson as a Foe, Now Proud to Call Him Friend
Fighters will routinely seek out the coaches and training partners who will help them get better and ultimately achieve the best possible results in the cage.
There are literally dozens of stories every year about a fighter moving from one training camp to another, hoping to find the right kind of chemistry to turn into a championship contender or even one day grasp that elusive gold belt.
In the case of UFC lightweight Jamie Varner, he was not only willing to move to a new training camp to find the right people to work with, but he's also now training alongside the man who just a few years ago took the WEC belt from around his waist.
Back when the WEC was running as the sister organization to the UFC, Varner served as lightweight champion until January 2010, when he lost the belt to a rising contender named Benson Henderson. At the time, both Varner and Henderson were training out of Arizona under different coaches and out of different camps.
Fast forward three years later, and Henderson now sits on top of the world as UFC lightweight champion, and Varner is back in the Octagon feeling a career rejuvenation after winning his return fight by knockout as well as picking up another win over veteran competitor Melvin Guillard.
Some of the biggest differences in Varner's performances of late have been due to his new team and training camp at the MMA Lab in Arizona, which is headed up by coach John Crouch and his prized pupil: Henderson.
Varner said about training with Henderson every day:
Benson's a different kind of animal. The guy is kind of a freak. He never gets tired, his pace is always pretty constant, pretty consistent. The intensity is always the same in the gym. When me and Ben go, because we know each other pretty well, we're both pretty competitive, so we're both looking for the other to make a mistake. Both of us are always are so calculated when we go with each other.
Varner has become a valuable part of Henderson's camps as well. It's not easy to find top-notch fighters in a similar weight class to help with all the different facets necessary to get ready for a fight, but Varner and Henderson have been pushing each other to get better since the day they started working together.
The natural question then arises: What happens if the UFC positions Varner in a fight against his new found friend and teammate?
Varner hasn't been quiet about his desire to one day reach the top of the mountain and compete for a UFC title, and of course there's always that deep down need to avenge a loss, and Henderson currently has one over on him in that category.
"I'm a prideful man, and if you're in the UFC and I've lost to you, I want to avenge every loss I've ever had in the UFC," Varner said. "There are a couple losses out there that I can never get back, I can never avenge. If I've lost to you, I want to avenge my loss."
That said, Varner stops the conversation a bit when it comes to addressing a potential fight against Henderson. The two lightweights aren't matched up now, and it may never happen, but there is no denying so long as Henderson stays champion and Varner is gunning for the belt they will always be in the same stratosphere.
Varner is quick to point out that Henderson welcomed him to his home gym when he needed a place to train, and despite the fact that they were once competitors, there's no one who's been there for him more than the man currently holding the UFC lightweight belt.
It's those moments where Henderson has been the training partner and friend to Varner that would make a fight between the two lightweights a very strenuous situation.
Before the Edson Barboza fight, there was a Sunday night about two weeks out from the fight, and I was just sitting in my house, I was kind of going crazy thinking about the fight, thinking about things I wanted to work on, and I called John Crouch over at the Lab, and I tell him I'm really restless, and I really want to work on some of the defenses and go over some of the game plan tonight, do you think it would be possible to get some guys in there and go tonight? He said, "Sure, let's meet there in an hour." The first person there that showed up, he was actually there waiting for me, was Ben Henderson. It was a Sunday night, just on a whim, I wanted to come in and really work on my game plan for Edson, and Ben was the first guy there. That speaks volumes about his character and our friendship.
Crouch remembers that night vividly and said there will probably be more just like it when Henderson will step up and help Varner with a tough situation, and the same can be said for Varner, who has been a major part of Henderson's training camps since becoming champion.
Ben, as good as he is as a fighter, he's a better human being. We've committed to the idea that we want to create a team that's a family. Jamie came on board to help, and he really needed that around him—a family. If Ben and Jamie fight one day, that will figure itself out, but we're just going to keep doing things like that. We'll take the bumps as they come.
Varner knows that he's not one fight away from a potential title shot, and there's no guarantee that if he gets there that Henderson would still be champion. He does believe, however, that if he gets to the top of the mountain and Henderson is still there as champion, that's not the worst situation in the world they could face together as teammates.
In reality, if the two best lightweights in the world are coming from the same gym, that's actually a testament to the kind of hard work they put in together every day.
"Ben is a good friend of mine, and I hope to have that problem where he's the champion and I'm the No. 1 contender," Varner said. "That's a good problem to have, and I'll cross that bridge when I get there."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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