When the UFC announced that former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner was coming back on short notice to face knockout artist Edson Barboza at UFC 146, nobody expected him to win.
Okay maybe not nobody, but outside of Varner's closest friends, family, management team and sponsors, he didn't seem to have much of a chance in most people's eyes against one of the top up and coming talents in the UFC.
It all changed when Varner flattened the young Brazilian with strikes in the first round, and pulled probably the biggest upset thus far of 2012.
The one person not shocked by what happened that night was Varner himself because he knew that his passion for fighting had returned and the fighter that lost four out of six fights between 2010 and 2011 was gone.
“I have love for this sport again and that was one thing I was missing for a long time,” Varner told MMAWeekly Radio. “If you love something, you don't want to just do it once a month. If you love golf, you don't golf once a month or like twice a year, you try to golf as much as possible. I love to fight, I love to compete, so I want to try to compete as much as possible.”
Competing as much as possible is one of the reasons Varner stepped in on short notice for his next fight coming up this weekend at UFC on Fox 4 when he faces Joe Lauzon. There are more than a few fighters that don't like short notice bouts because they don't have time to prepare properly, cardio can be an issue, and after the fight nobody wants to hear about how they lost because they took the fight on short notice.
Varner subscribes to a different philosophy when it comes to short notice fights because for him it always comes down to risk vs. reward.
“The thing is for me, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose, just like in the last fight with Edson Barboza. I was like a 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 underdog going into that fight, and if I lose to Edson Barboza, I'm supposed to lose to Edson Barboza, but if I beat him it catapults me in my career,” said Varner.
“The same thing goes with the Joe Lauzon fight. I lose to a guy like Joe Lauzon, I'm supposed to lose to a guy like Joe Lauzon. He's a great fighter, he's got a lot of wins in the UFC, he's a stud, a very well known, well liked fighter.”
As stacked as the UFC lightweight division has been over the last few years, the time it takes to get to the top of the rankings isn't actually all that hard. It's hard in terms of getting the wins, but rarely does any fighter at 155 pounds put together a huge winning streak of more than three or four victories just because the weight class is so impossibly stacked.
Look at current top contender Nate Diaz and just his fights at lightweight over the last few years.
Diaz was 1-3 at lightweight before a short stint at welterweight, but since returning to 155 pounds, he's put together three wins in a row and he's now awaiting the next title shot in the division. Technically, Diaz is 4-4 at lightweight in his last eight fights, but it's those three wins recently that put him near the top of the division.
Varner seems himself traveling a similar path because beating one of the top rising prospects in Edson Barboza, and then beating a real Octagon veteran like Joe Lauzon puts him right in the dead center of the contender's race in the UFC.
“The win over Barboza definitely gave me the recognition that I deserve and shows that I belong, but the true test is Joe Lauzon. That guy is battle-tested; that guy has only lost to the best. He's only lost to the best in the world. So if I can go out there and I can beat him, that just goes to say that I'm one of the best in the world and my next fight will be a top contender,” Varner stated.
That's the key to Varner when facing a guy like Lauzon on short notice. The Massachusetts native has fought in the UFC 12 times and has just four losses on that record. Lauzon doesn't lose to guys he's supposed to beat, and has competed with some of the best lightweights in the world over the years.
Varner believes beating Lauzon is the perfect addition to his resume to catch the eye of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and putting him on the 155-pound title fast track.
“Those are the only guys he's really lost to are top ten guys,” Varner said about Lauzon. “So if I was to go out there and beat him. I would be in the running for maybe a No. 1 contender fight.”