WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner is nothing if not confident. He carries around a certain brashness that has allowed him to rise to the top of a stacked lightweight division.
Varner wants to be respected inside and outside of the cage and from fans, journalists and most importantly the organization he has gave his heart and soul to over the past two years.
Out of action for nearly a year, Varner returns this Sunday as he faces interim lightweight champion Ben Henderson in a bout that will crown a unified lightweight king.
While Varner says he likes to avoid the spotlight and stay out of the news, that has hardly been the case ever since he defeated Donald Cerrone last January.
The fight was ended two minutes prematurely due to an illegal knee strike from Cerrone. Many fans and fellow fighters questioned Varner's toughness and commitment after that incident.
A war of words quickly ensued between Cowboy and the man known as C-4. The heat was real, very personal and can only be squashed when they finally square off once again.
I had a chance to speak with Varner yesterday as he prepared to board a flight to Sacramento
Bryan Levick: How are you feeling as you prepare for your bout with Ben Henderson? Are your injuries completely healed?
Jamie Varner: Yeah everything is completely healed, there's nothing left for me to do now other than to cut some weight, the hay is in the barn. My training camp has been pretty long and I have had a few bumps along the way. I feel very good, very confident and I am ready to get in there and get it on.
Bryan Levick: What is your weight at now?
Jamie Varner: I was down to 166lbs last night, but I woke up this morning at 167lbs. I'll try and cut a few pounds each day and then, come fight night, I will weigh around 174lbs.
Bryan Levick: Did you have a preference in who you fought? Were you pulling for a rematch with Donald Cerrone or did you prefer to fight Ben Henderson?
Jamie Varner: I don't really give a f**k, dude, to be honest with you. The WEC wants to see me and Cerrone go at it again. More than likely, after I win on Sunday night, I will fight him next.
Bryan Levick: Can you tell me how the war of words started between you and Cerrone?
Jamie Varner: Once he got around all of his ghetto homies in New Mexico they somehow convinced him that the fight went differently than it really did. Shortly after the fight he did an interview on HDNET and said if we were ever to meet up again he would run through me. He said I don't have anything, I don't bring nothing and I gave him all I got.
He's right I did give him all I had with one hand and one foot. I broke my hand in the first round and broke my foot in the third or fourth round. If I had not broken my hand in the first round I would have finished him. If the fight didn't end with the illegal knee, if it went the extra two minutes he still would have lost. Even though he wasn't winning the fifth round I will give it to him. I won the first four rounds, the only round that was even close was the fourth round but I still managed to secure three or four takedowns in that round. I had 21 takedowns in that fight, I think you'd be hard pressed to find another fight where someone has 21 takedowns and loses.
Bryan Levick: Cerrone spoke of an incident that he said took place at UFC 101 in which he confronted you and you backed down from him. Is there any truth to that?
Jamie Varner: He is so full of s**t, I've heard that story too. Supposedly we were in the back in some room, it was me, Cerrone and Leonard Garicia. That never happened, he is just trying to stir up more s**t. He's such a hillbilly, I don't even know what else to say! To be honest with you, he doesn't deserve the attention that he is getting.
Bryan Levick: I had read something yesterday in which you stated that Cerrone is a better match-up for you. Can you explain why?
Jamie Varner: Cerrone is an easier fight. Don't get me wrong, they are both tough fighters, but they are tough in different ways. They are polar opposites. When I'm fighting Cerrone I know the fight is going to take place standing, I don't have to worry about him shooting in for a takedown. As far as Henderson is concerned, he is constantly looking for the takedown, so I have to look out for that at all times. It's easier not having to worry about someone shooting in and having a stand-up war. When I am in there with Cerrone I can dictate where the fight goes.
Bryan Levick: I also heard that Henderson was criticizing you for taking the easy way out of your battle with Cerrone. That you wanted the fight stopped. He also said when you are in the cage with him, there is no where to run and no where to hide, no timeouts, no breaks and no mouthpieces falling out. How do you respond to accusations like that?
Jamie Varner: I heard about that, I saw that on the WEC website. He can talk all the s**t that he wants on camera, but when we are face to face or on the conference call yesterday he has been nothing but respectful. He has to say what he has to say to promote the fight, he can do all the talking he wants, I will do all mine inside the cage.
Bryan Levick: What area do you feel Henderson is most dangerous in?
Jamie Varner: I would say his wrestling is his biggest strength.
Bryan Levick: You have been very vocal about the WEC's constant push of Urijah Faber and how they don't get behind any of the other fighters the way they do Faber. Are there any instances in particular of the WEC giving Faber more opportunities than they do other fighters.
Jamie Varner: It should be called The Urijah Faber Show instead of World Extreme Cagefighting. They keep giving Faber all of the big promotional deals, in fact they just hooked him up with Amp Energy Drink. Amp just became the official energy drink of the WEC. I called the WEC regarding Amp about two months ago because a buddy of mine who works with Pepsi told me about it. I asked the WEC to get me on board with them and they said they would see what they could do. Lo and behold, Faber got the deal.
Bryan Levick: I can almost understand getting behind Faber because he is so well known, but they are only hurting themselves as an organization when they put all their eggs in one basket, would you agree?
Jamie Varner: If you take a look at Mike Brown, he is a fighter, he's not a talker. He's not trying to be anything he's not and neither am I, but I want the respect for all the hard work I've put into the sport. I've put a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, hours and hours in the gym to help build this company up. When it's all said and done, it's for pennies, it would be nice to get some of those deals, to get some respect from the organization. They choose to constantly pump up Faber and they make it hard for any of the other guys to make a living. The only other guy that got a decent deal was Miguel Torres and that was with Bud Light, he got that because he is Mexican.
Bryan Levick: What do you think of Jose Aldo?
Jamie Varner: No one is going to beat him in the featherweight division for a long time, he is a stud. He is the Anderson Silva of the 145lb division. Eventually someone will come along and be able to figure him out. No one can match his athleticism in the WEC. From 135lbs to 155lbs, he is one of the most athletic fighters in the game. He fights to survive, he grew up in the jungles in Brazil. He lived in the gym at Pedro Rizzo's school, then he lived in the gym at Nova Uniao. He was so poor, he cleaned the mats just so he would have a roof over his head and get some food in his stomach. He fought for pennies just to survive. He is one of the most incredible success stories, and I couldn't be happier for the guy. He's the nicest guy on the planet.
Bryan Levick: Back to what matters most, how anxious are you to get back in the cage? Is this the longest you have ever had between fights?
Jamie Varner: The longest I had ever been out of action was about nine months. That was when I would only fight in the summers while I wrestled all year long. I feel really good, the year off is something that I really needed. I had begun to take fighting for granted, there was too much pressure and too much stress. I had so many things that I wanted to do. I started a gym in Centereach, NY called Varner's Combat Academy . I plan on opening two more Combat Academies in Arizona. It was some much needed time off, I only like to fight two to three times a year. I get so stressed out, it's so hard on my body and everyone around me. I'd like to fight every four to five months.
Bryan Levick: How is the Combat Academy doing? Are there any fighters there we should look out for?
Jamie Varner: It's going great. I partnered up with Frank Ruggiero, and he has seen an increase in memberships and interest in the gym. I plan on going out there for a few weeks after the fight and help guys train. I want to get the gym rolling and show my face around there. I've been thinking about relocating to New York for awhile now. I'd say within a year or two I'll split my time between the Combat Academy and Arizona Combat Sports. I want to build up the fight team there, the amount of talent in that gym is incredible. There are about ten amateur fighters, one in particular, Noah Faubce, is about to turn pro. Lennox Chance is already pro and is extremely talented. When I am out there I add a new element to the competitiveness in the gym. I think the guys get a chance to see how to really train and what it takes to make it to the next level.
Bryan Levick: How do you stack up against the lightweights in the UFC?
Jamie Varner: I'd say I am top three or four. There's some tough fights for me there. BJ Penn is ultimately the toughest fight for me. I'd say another tough fight for me would be with Grey Maynard. He's such a strong wrestler, I've been the dominant wrestler in all of my fights, Henderson will be the first fighter that I have faced that is as good a wrestler as I am. I'd have really good fights with Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez and Joe Stevenson. I think I match up really well with them. Frankie Edgar is a good fighter but he should be fighting at 145lbs, I am bigger and more athletic than him.
Bryan Levick: I interviewed Edgar and asked him about dropping down to the feather weight division, he had no desire to do so. Do you think it's because he makes more money fighting in the UFC?
Jamie Varner: No that can't be it, I make more money than Frankie Edgar does. My contract that I have now is pretty decent. He's probably happy not cutting weight and he's been pretty successful, the only guy he lost to is Grey Maynard. Once he starts fighting the upper-echelon fighters he won't have as much success.
Bryan Levick: What did you think about them bringing Takanori Gomi in to the UFC?
Jamie Varner: Gomi is not going to be the same animal fighting over here as he was in Japan. The one fight he had in the states he got destroyed by Nick Diaz. The Japanese fighters do too many drugs; they don't test for steroids over in Japan. The only fighter from Pride that has really been successful is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. There are all those Japanese nuthuggers giving these guys way too much respect. When a fighter is on steroids they are a completely different animal
Bryan Levick: How would you compare the WEC lightweights as a group to those in the UFC?
Jamie Varner: I think the WEC has all the best lightweights that you have never heard of. I believe there are five or six of us who could make an impact in the UFC. You have me, Donald Cerrone, Ben Henderson, Shane Roller, Anthony Njokuani, Dave Jansen, Richard Crunkilton and even Ed Ratcliff would make a direct impact over there.
Bryan Levick: Do you have a desire to compete in the UFC or are you happy in the WEC?
Jamie Varner : I just want to fight the best fighters in the world.I want to continously challenge myself.
Bryan Levick: On to a question I ask everyone. How do you feel about teammates fighting one another?
Jamie Varner: I actually trained with Henderson a few times, he helped me train for my bout with Marcus Hicks. That is one of the reasons I am so confident going into this bout with him, I had a lot of success against him. I was getting round robined by him and Efrain Escudero and I did really really well. I'd rather not fight him but business is business, it's not like I train with him every day. If it was someone I trained with all the time, I wouldn't do it.
Bryan Levick: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Jamie Varner: I'd like to thank ArizonaPain.com who helped me battle through all of my injuries. I'd like to thank my teammates at Arizona Combat Sports as well as the guys at Varner's Combat Academy . One sponsore I'd like to thank is Throwdown . I'd also like to thank you for the interview.