Jamie Varner was winless in 2010 but bounced back in May. | Photo: Keith Mills
Rumors regarding the demise of Jamie Varner’s professional mixed martial arts career have been greatly exaggerated. However, the former WEC lightweight champion was not far from walking away from the sport in which he had competed in since March 2003.
A 0-3-1 run in four 2010 fights in the WEC led to his being cut by Ultimate Fighting Championship parent company Zuffa LLC in December 2010, and Varner’s professional future looked cloudy.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever fight again,” Varner told Sherdog.com, “but a lot of my friends and fans hit me up on Twitter and Facebook and got me thinking. One person said my ability to fight is a God-given gift and that I should take advantage of it.
“I’ve been boxing since I was 11, wrestling since I was 14 and started fighting when I was a senior in high school,” he added. “I was good but not great at wrestling and boxing, but I was great at fighting. I knew that if I wanted to get back to the UFC and win a title, I had to make a change.”
The change led Varner to leave the Arizona Combat Sports camp and move east to the AMA Fight Club in New Jersey. AMA’s roster features UFC mainstays Jim Miller, Dan Miller and Charlie Brenneman, as well as Amanda Nunes and Rafaello Oliveira.
“I was applying to several schools to become a physician’s assistant and got into Seton Hall University [in South Orange, N.J.],” said Varner. “I dropped out of college because I got a UFC contract [in 2006]. I wanted to have a Plan B, and it gives me something to fall back on. While I was checking out Seton Hall, I went to several gyms in New Jersey and really liked AMA. I drove 2,400 miles and have been [in New Jersey] for about three weeks now.”
Varner said training at AMA -- along with regular workouts at the Team Tiger Schulmann gym -- has enabled him to improve in areas of his game that had atrophied during his final days at Arizona Combat Sports.
“Things [at AMA] have been good,” said Varner. “I’m at AMA every morning, go to [Schulmann’s] a couple of days per week and spar with some pro boxers who are coached by my boxing coach. AMA is a good camp. It’s got some good grapplers and wrestlers, and that’s what I got away from. My striking was good, but my grappling and wrestling skills went downhill after some guys left [Arizona Combat Sports] and that’s something I’ve needed to get back to. Here, I’m not the best guy in the room, and that changed me emotionally and lit a fire underneath me. I knew I had a lot more fights left in me.”
Varner’s positive mindset regarding his fighting career and college education was something he was admittedly lacking during his 2010 slide.
“I didn’t leave [Zuffa] under bad terms,” said Varner, who has 15 finishes -- five knockouts and 10 submissions -- among his 17 professional victories. “After [losing to Shane Roller at WEC 53], I didn’t want to fight anymore. I made some emotional decisions and after [a split draw with Kamal Shalorus at WEC 49], I fought for the wrong reasons. I fought [Donald Cerrone at WEC 51] to hurt him, and I needed money when I fought [Roller]. Even if I hadn’t been cut, my heart wasn’t in it anymore and I’d have asked for my release.”
After taking time to evaluate his options, Varner returned to action in May and needed just 90 seconds to tap out Tyler Combs at Xtreme Fighting Organization 39. He fought at 170 pounds but plans on staying at lightweight. Varner was also rumored as an opponent for Shinya Aoki at Dream “Fight for Japan: 2011 Japan Bantamweight Tournament” at the end of May, but circumstances dictated that Varner not accept the fight. Aoki ended up submitting Rich Clementi in the second round with a neck crank.
“The biggest thing about me not taking the Aoki fight was the weight,” said Varner, who holds wins over former WEC champion “Razor” Rob McCullough and UFC veterans Cerrone, Jesse Bongfeldt and Kyle Bradley. “Dream wanted me to make 154 [pounds] on two weeks’ notice. A lot of the time, they’ll fight at 160, but this time they wanted me at 154 and I was walking around at 180-185 pounds and had just started training again. It wasn’t realistic for me to make 154 on such short notice.”
Moreover, the 26-year-old Varner claims he did not want to start taking fights on short notice and gain a reputation as being a journeyman in the sport.
“The money for the Aoki fight was fine and I didn’t have a lot to lose,” he said, “but I wanted to have a good camp and take my career seriously. I want to get back to the UFC and win another title. I don’t want to just take fights for the sake of taking fights.”
The move to AMA Fight Club from Arizona Combat Sports was completed in July, and AMA head trainer Mike Constantino believes Varner still has a lot of potential.
“We basically came to the decision that it’s in the best interest of Jamie to come here full-time, and I’m willing to take on Jamie as a manager and a trainer,” Constantino said in a recent interview with the Sherdog Radio Network. “I think he’s extremely talented. The kid’s [only] 26 years old, and you already know what he’s accomplished. By having him full-time training with all my fighters and all our trainers here at AMA and doing everything right, I truly believe that not only could he be back in the UFC shortly [but] he could go straight to the top and win a championship.”
Varner, who is taking a full course load along with training, credited the AMA Fight Club and his management team at KO Reps for reviving his professional MMA career.
“Without them, I don’t know that I’d ever have fought again,” said Varner. “I had no interest in fighting again, but [they], along with the people from Facebook and Twitter, motivated me to fight again.
“I’m currently looking at offers,” he added. “I just want to get back to the UFC, so I’m looking at guys who have been there or have a name. I want to get one or two wins and get back.”