Often times when an athlete, no matter what the sport, has earned the right to be called a Champion, it comes with a much deserved sense of fulfillment.
Such is not the case when it comes to WEC Lightweight Champion Jamie "C-4" Varner.
As he readies to defend his title, against interim Champion Ben "Smooth" Henderson this Sunday at ARCO Arena, he feels he has much to prove.
It has been nearly a year since Varner has seen any action inside a WEC Cage. His last bout was a technical split decision win over Donald Cerrone that ended in the middle of the fourth round. Cerrone landed a glancing knee while Varner was down, which rendered the champion unable to continue.
Despite outperforming Cerrone for most of the night, in the end, the crowd questioned the heart of Varner. As he conducted his post fight interview the fans in attendance showered him with boos and, during a lapse in judgement, Varner chose to curse them in return. He immediately attempted to apologize to all but the damage was already done.
He might have left the San Diego Sports Arena that night with the belt, but his body and reputation had taken a major hit.
It's something that isn't lost on Varner.
"With the way everything went down, I’m a very emotional person as you can tell by my outburst after my last fight. And you know I have a tendency to let my mouth just kind of run rampant. And that’s one thing with growing up and through maturity that I’ve been able to work on. But it's still—I still have a lot of work to do." Varner states.
Varner had plenty of time to work on it this past year as he nursed a broken finger on his right hand as well as a fractured left foot.
He partially credits his ADHD for the extended layoff, as he opted not to take it easy and further injured his hand, forcing doctors to re-break his finger for a second time.
In the meantime, the WEC elected to have Cerrone take on Henderson for the interim Lightweight Championship. Henderson took a hard fought split decision, which brings us to Sunday's event to crown the true Lightweight Champion.
Even though he has the interim title, Henderson made it clear that Varner is the champion entering this bout.
"Jamie and I we both know—I have an interim belt, but we both know, Jamie has the belt. He has it. I want to go get it. So you know like we both understand that. We both know like among ourselves we know what the real deal is," the interim champion stated.
As Varner continued to be sidlelined, his former opponent Cerrone remained in the spotlight, most recently defeating Ed Ratcliff, while making it clear that he had his sights set on Varner, and not always in such a flattering manner.
"The Cowboy’s done a good job of kind of badmouthing me on every open forum that he’s ever had. And I haven’t really had much opportunity to kind of rebuttal," claims Varner.
He would go on to add that, "I think ultimately it makes the Cowboy look worse as an individual and it shows his lack of class and intelligence. So you know what, I’m just going to try and take the high road. And I know after this fight, this is my opportunity to shut up all of the naysayers and to open up a lot of eyes and shut some mouths. So that’s my motivation to win this fight."
The naysayers, as well as his injuries, have led Varner to switch up his training a bit while he waited to get back into the cage.
To stay in shape and prevent further injury to himself, Varner, a former standout swimmer in high school, turned to the Arizona State swim team, which he feels has been a major asset, "I would say swimming has been the biggest change something that I added into this training camp unlike any other training camp."
Swimming might have been able to heal his body, but no pool in the world will help repair the beating his reputation took.
Only an impressive win over Henderson in the cage can give him back that respect.
Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org