EDMONTON, Alberta – All week long, Jamie Varner told anyone who would listen that Kamal Shalorus was the toughest fighter no one had ever heard of.
After the two met in the main event of World Extreme Cagefighting's Canadian debut at Rexall Place on Sunday night, Varner had the battle scars to prove it. Varner showed up to the WEC 49 post-fight news conference with bruises on his face, a cast covering a broken right hand and untold pain from three direct low blows.
And he didn't even lose the fight.
Varner, the former WEC lightweight champion, took Shalorus to a draw after a raucous, foul-filled brawl. Nelson Hamilton scored the fight 29-27 for Varner; Cameron Quwek 29-27 for Shalorus; and Cecil Peoples scored it 28-28. Yahoo! Sports also had it 28-28.
"I'll tell you what, he's a tough dude," said Varner (16-3-1, two no-contests). "The way he hits, I feel like I'm lucky to be here. I'm lucky I didn't come away with more injuries."
In Shalorus (6-0-2), Varner was fighting an accomplished wrestler who was looking to make an impression in his biggest career spotlight.
In the eyes of most observers, Varner won the first round by fighting with a smart game plan: Moving side to side, sticking and moving with two-punch combos, and allowing Shalorus neither the range nor the momentum to score a takedown.
Midway through the second round, though, Varner winced and pulled back his right hand after connecting with a punch. After his hand broke, Varner was less active with his standup, and soon enough, his woes mounted.
Low kicks comprised the bulk of Shalorus' offense, and Varner's lead leg was beaten raw from the onslaught. But Shalorus was also less-than-pinpoint with his kicking, and he twice struck Varner directly in the groin in the second round with left kicks. Shalorus was deducted a point by referee Josh Rosenthal for the second kick.
"When he kicks, I've got a cup, but it pinches stuff to the side," Varner said. "Look at the guy's legs. He's got tree trunks for legs. Whether he grazes me or hits me direct, that's a tough kick. It doesn't matter if it was my legs, my nuts – everything hurts."
Shalorus connected with a third direct shot to the groin early in the third round. Varner, who has history with drama (think Varner getting docked a point for running at UFC 62 against Hermes Franca, or not continuing after a foul in his match with Donald Cerrone last year) took nearly the full five minutes of injury time allowed after a foul. This time, Rosenthal didn't deduct a point.
Shalorus said the strikes were unintentional, and they didn't detract from his game plan, as he continued with low kicks even after the fouls piled up.
"I am a warrior," said Shalorus, a native of Northern Iran who now lives in Austin, Texas. "I do not cheat. It was not intentional."
The battered Varner continued on. But Shalorus managed a takedown and kept Varner on the ground for much of the remainder of the fight. When the bout was announced a draw, Varner didn't hesitate to share his thoughts on the decision.
"Minus the low blows, I feel like I won that fight," Varner said. "I hit harder, I hit more often. I got taken down once and I got back up and hit harder and stronger than ever. Even without the docked point, I feel like I won that fight."
Shalorus, who for his part sported a cast on his right leg at the post-fight presser, didn't argue with the decision.
"It was a great fight," he said. "The judges know what they are watching and they know what they see."
It is unclear whether the result will get in the way of a title rematch between Varner and Ben Henderson, the man who defeated Varner for the title in January. WEC promoter Reed Harris indicated no decision has been made, but Varner still wants his crack at the gold.
"That's the most disappointing part," he said. "I had that belt for almost two years, and I trained so hard for this. I feel like I won the fight, and I hope I get the opportunity."
In the other bout of note Sunday evening, Josh Grispi stated his case for a future featherweight title shot with a quick victory over L.C. Davis. The 22-year old Bostonian, nicknamed "The Fluke," was on the sideline for a year after undergoing surgery to repair a nagging ankle injury. But Grispi picked up where he left off, submitting Davis with a rear-naked choke in two minutes, 33 seconds.
Davis went for a takedown and took Grispi for a ride, but Grispi appeared to anticipate what was about to happen and stayed patient. As soon as they hit the mat, Grispi applied the choke. Davis held on, but finally tapped.
"I knew once we hit the ground I'd have an opening," Grispi said. " … I felt him go limp, and I told the ref 'I think he's out,' but he didn't hear me, so I shook [Davis'] arm so the ref would see it."
Grispi is now 4-0 in the WEC and 14-1 overall. All four of his WEC victories were finished before the three-minute mark. The win puts Grispi on the short list of top contenders, along with Manny Gamburyan, for the next shot at Jose Aldo's featherweight title.
"I'm ready to fight anyone," Grispi said. "Win or lose, I want to fight the best."