Jamie Varner file photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
For Jamie Varner, the road back to a shot at the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight title could be a short one.
Varner -- who lost the WEC's 155-pound title to Benson Henderson in January -- headlines WEC 49 on Sunday at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, against rising prospect Kamal Shalorus in what is being considered by many to be a title eliminator fight.
"That is the reason we put this together is that both of these guys have been at the top of the 155-pound division for us," said WEC General Manager Reed Harris in a recent conference call promoting the event. "I think both of these guys are in contention and winning could put them in that No. 1 contender's spot."
Varner's loss to Henderson, which came via a third-round guillotine choke at WEC 46, was his first fight in almost a year after being sidelined due to injuries suffered in his split decision win over Donald Cerrone at WEC 38 in January 2009. With Varner stuck on the sidelines, the division moved on without him and Henderson out-pointed Cerrone for the interim belt in October 2009, setting up the title unification bout earlier this year. The loss was Varner's first in five outings in the WEC and just his second setback in his last 19 bouts dating back to 2003.
However, one can argue Varner's mind wasn't 100 percent on the fight with Henderson. His mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer before the bout and Varner said he couldn't focus in training due to his mother's illness.
"I kind of went into that fight accepting the loss before I fought," said Varner.
Varner said he learned a lot from the loss and cut out all distractions for this next bout. However, he's not looking past Shalorus to another shot at the title he once held.
"Kamal is my No. 1 focus," said Varner. "I can't do what (Cerrone) did and overlook a guy like Kamal and have my eyes on the prize. The prize is fighting Kamal. What happens next, that's something I have to worry about after the fight. I said it before. Kamal's the toughest guy you never heard of and we're very alike in our skills."
Shalorus, who has only been a professional mixed martial artist a little more than two years, is 2-0 during his brief WEC stint. He took just 86 seconds to knock out Will Kerr at WEC 44 last November and notched a unanimous decision over Dave Jansen on the undercard of WEC 46 in January. The Austin, Texas, native -- who trains out of the American Combat Association -- has knocked out or submitted five of his six opponents and has three first-round finishes to his credit.
Varner, an Arizona Combat Sports veteran who has finished 14 opponents in his 16 wins, said Shalorus is the type of fighter who can expose mistakes and will be a tough matchup for him.
"I feel like this is my toughest fight, just because our styles are so similar," said Varner, who holds wins over Marcus Hicks, Rob McCullough and Sherron Leggett during his time in the WEC. "I've never fought a wrestler as good as Kamal."
During the conference call, Varner also had some thoughts on Henderson and his title reign, and it's safe to say that if the two rematch for the WEC title, there will be plenty of trash-talking to go around.
"(Henderson) is a good guy, but some of the things he says -- I think he thinks he's a little bit better than he thinks he is," said Varner. "I feel like that guy hit the lottery when he got me in that guillotine to be honest with you. He tries to claim that he's from my home state (Arizona) when the kid's from Washington."