by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly
Through four rounds, WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner and No. 1 contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone went to war, just like everyone in attendance in San Diego and everyone watching at home expected out of the two 155-pound warriors.
Unfortunately, it was an accidental knee strike in the fifth round that brought about the end of the fight. Varner kept his title via split decision, and both competitors promised another go round if the WEC would make it happen.
The early going saw Varner get the advantage first, working hard to get Cerrone to the ground, and unloading a vicious attack on the top lightweight contender. The defending champion opened up a barrage of elbows and punches while Cerrone tried to keep his guard strong, fending Varner off long enough to regain position.
In the second round, Cerrone marched forward in methodical style, stalking the champion around the cage. Varner was content to counter punch, and land a couple of good takedowns in the five-minute session. With time running out, Varner got another takedown, but Cerrone countered with a triangle choke just as the round expired.
Varner picked up the pace in the third round with a strong stand-up attack, landing good combinations and actually opening two cuts on Cerrone’s head that saw him favoring his eyes, and wiping the blood away. The champion did manage to get the fight to the ground at one point and lock on a guillotine, but Cerrone fought out of the position and kept the round going.
After a furious pace in the first three rounds, both Varner and Cerrone slowed in the fourth as they stalk each other around the cage. The lightweight titleholder eventually scored a takedown and worked a ground attack. After a stand-up and some loose striking between the two, Varner again took Cerrone down, and landed a few elbows before the round finished.
It was the fifth and final round that saw an ending to the war between Varner and Cerrone, but not the finish that fans were hoping for. As they scrambled on the ground, Cerrone pulled away and tried to time a knee strike to Varner, as he also started to get up from the ground, but unfortunately the champion’s knees were still on the mat.
A grazing knee strike flew across Varner’s head. The champion fell to his face on the canvas and referee Josh Rosenthal stepped in to pause the action for the illegal strike to a downed opponent. The Arizona native struggled to gain any stability while lying on the mat, Cerrone pacing on the other side of the cage dealing with the angst of the situation.
With Varner having vision problems after the knee strike, the referee called a stop to the fight. Under California State Athletic Commission rules, due to the illegal knee being declared unintentional, the judges’ scorecards were called into play.
Two judges saw the fight 49-46 for the lightweight champion, while judge Alejandro Rochin scored the bout 48-47 for Cerrone. The split decision went to the reigning and defending champion, Jamie Varner.
With the decision rendered, the crowd in San Diego quickly turned against the champion when he took to the microphone, obviously disappointed with the stoppage after an absolute war between two great fighters.
“I’m better than that guys, I’m really sorry,” Varner said with emotion to the crowd after the fight. “I broke my hand in the second or third round, and I took a knee or a kick to the head on the ground. Boo me, go ahead and (expletive) boo me.”
At the post-fight press conference, MMAWeekly.com learned that Varner had actually broken both his hand and his foot.
“Donald, I’m sorry,” he continued. “I’m better than that, you’ve seen me fight before. I’m better than that.”
While obviously not happy with the loss, Cerrone said that after the third round and the aforementioned strikes that cut him open near his eyes, he experienced double vision and actually had to close his eye to keep going at points.
“I wish I could have gone harder, but my hat’s off to the guy,” Cerrone said after the scorecards were read. “Hopefully he’ll give me another shot, if not I’ll go to the end and work my way back up.”
After four hard fought rounds on their way through a fifth, the lightweight champion graciously took to the mic again proclaiming that the “Cowboy” has already earned another shot at his 155-pound crown.
“We’re going to do this again,” Varner promised Cerrone as the show ended.