by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
With a history of champions that includes Gilbert Melendez
and Hermes Franca, the WEC lightweight division has shared a rich tradition of
top fighters making their way through the ranks by way of the promotion’s
155-pound weight class. The latest
edition to the list is current champion Jamie "C-4" Varner, who will
make his second title defense Sunday night, as he takes on still undefeated pro
fighter Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone.
While Varner is no stranger to top competition, the match-up
against Cerrone could be his toughest yet. Training out of Greg Jackson’s team, and working alongside
Georges St. Pierre as he prepared for his upcoming UFC 94 fight against B.J.
Penn, Cerrone presents a new breed of fighter that Varner will face when the
two competitors square off for the WEC lightweight title.
This category could end up being the most dynamic part of
the fight between Varner and Cerrone. Before his bout with "Razor"
Rob McCullough, Varner was somehow categorized primarily as a wrestler with
decent striking that would want no part of his opponent’s stand-up
background. What ended up
happening was Varner out-striking the striker for the biggest part of the
fight, which led to a third round knockout of the former champ.
Varner showed his commitment to striking once again in his
last fight, as he took out previously unbeaten contender Marcus Hicks with a
series of devastating punches that ended the fight early in the first
round. The Arizona native has
proven that he takes his stand-up training seriously. With a background in
boxing as well, Varner has become of the most well rounded fighters in the game
with punching power that he can draw on at will.
Looking at Donald Cerrone’s record, one could believe that
he is a ground fighter, ending his first nine fights with submissions, but the
truth is not just in his record.
The fact is Cerrone’s background is actually in kickboxing, and as a
professional he amassed an impressive 28-0 record, winning multiple titles
along the way. His adaptation to the
MMA world is what led to his well rounded skills on the ground, but make no
mistake that he is every bit as lethal on his feet.
Cerrone’s kickboxing makes his stand-up a little more
deceiving than Varner, who prefers to stay in the boxing realm and concentrate
mostly on his hands. Look for
Cerrone to have a more disciplined style, but Varner to pack more power in his
The ground game is another toss-up when looking at both
Jamie Varner and Donald Cerrone.
From the wrestling standpoint, Varner has a clear advantage with years
of experience in his background.
The current WEC lightweight champ is not only a former college wrestler,
but working at Arizona Combat Sports, Varner works regularly with fighters such
as Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, and C.B. Dollaway, who have wrestling credentials
a mile long.
Varner’s wrestling should allow him to control where the
fight with Cerrone takes place, which gives him an advantage in that aspect, so
if he ever gets in trouble on the feet, he can dictate if the fight goes to the
ground or not. As for Cerrone, he
is very adept at submissions and has no problem working off his back.
Cerrone has a devastating triangle choke that he’s used to
submit a number of his opponents, and his height and length plays to his
advantage on the ground, as he’s usually able to lock onto his opponents and
work for submissions off his back.
Figuring in Varner’s wrestling, Cerrone will likely have to work off his
back if the action hits the mat, but make no mistake that he is comfortable in
Working with submission specialists like Nate Marquardt,
Cerrone is a dangerous fighter on the ground, but Varner can be just as
dangerous with his wrestling, which can score points in the eyes of the judges
if takedowns happen and a decision is rendered. Also, Varner is no slouch himself when it comes to the
submission game, but if he takes Cerrone down look for him to apply a ground
and pound offensive immediately, while his opponent searches for a submission.
A slight advantage goes to Varner with his wrestling and
takedown ability. As long as he can stave off submissions, he should be able to
control the ground action, but Cerrone is very dangerous off his back and the
champion has to be careful whenever dealing in the guard game.
This category again may give a slight advantage to Varner
based on his wrestling ability if he chooses to use it. His range and ground attack will score
points during the rounds if the judges come into play, and Varner is always
aggressive, which bodes well for him in that aspect, also.
The downside of that aggressive game is fighting an
experienced kickboxer like Cerrone, who will also have a reach advantage in the
fight. Cerrone can likely stand
back and jab at Varner to keep his striking at bay early. If the champion then
charges for a takedown, he needs to be ready for knee strikes early and
When Varner was a guest on MMAWeekly Radio recently, he
stated that outside of his loss to Hermes Franca in the UFC in 2006, he has
always used his cardio as a weapon during fights. The WEC champ keeps a relentless pace in all of his fights,
where he forces his opponents to be able to keep up with him. He has also spent time for two previous
fights preparing for the possibility of going for five rounds, and while
neither fight went that long, he was training for the distance just in case.
Cerrone’s record speaks for itself in the sense of a lot of
first round finishes, which doesn’t give a lot of insight to his overall cardio
and conditioning. In his last
fight, Cerrone went bell to bell with former champion Rob McCullough in an
absolute war for 15 minutes. While
not title fight time of five rounds, Cerrone was able to gut out a strong
performance in every round. The
other factor is Cerrone’s training with Team Jackson and cardio king Georges
St. Pierre, who pushes his sparring partners as hard as anybody in the
If there is an advantage to give in this area, it goes to
Varner, just based on his past experience of preparing for five round fights,
which this one is also. Overall
though, don’t expect either fighter to run out of gas in this one.
Training camps sometimes play the biggest part of what a
fighter is able to do before stepping into the cage for battle, and both of
these guys work with some of the best in the world. Varner trains at Arizona Combat Sports, while Cerrone works
alongside Greg Jackson and his team in New Mexico. Cerrone trains with some of the best wrestlers and stand-up
fighters in the world, which can help him get ready
for Varner. As for Varner’s side,
he has all the help he needs also, including new training partner Carlos
Condit, who is a similar size with a long body that can mimic Cerrone while
Up to this point in their careers, Varner has faced tougher
competition, having fought in the UFC and the WEC for the last two years. Fights against Hermes Franca, Rob
McCullough and Marcus Hicks proved that he belongs with the best in the world,
and he knows how to step up for stiff competition. The loss to Franca in the UFC also gave Varner the drive and
determination to push himself that much more going forward, and he hasn’t lost
since that time.
Mental preparation is important leading into this one. Varner has all the confidence in the
world and has defended his title, so he knows what this one means. Cerrone has
been working for the past few weeks in Montreal getting ready alongside UFC
welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre.
The training was surely intense and working with GSP and his camp could
only benefit Cerrone heading into the title bout.
Varner is the defending champion, so automatically he has
more experience in this type of fight, but Cerrone is no stranger to big bouts
and he’s certainly got one of the best minds in the business, Greg Jackson, in
his corner. The strategy of coaches like Jackson and Mike Winklejohn could give
Cerrone the edge.
The two fighters stepping into this title fight are so well
matched that the truth is either one could end it at any time, and in any
place. If Varner can establish his
jab early and often, while avoiding any leg kicks from Cerrone, he could punch
his way to a knockout or TKO. The
key to Varner’s stand-up is either using the jab effectively or getting inside
of Cerrone to stay away from his reach, and land good body shots combined with
uppercuts and hooks to do damage.
If he decides to take the fight to the ground, Varner should dominate
the wrestling, but he would probably be best served to posture up and look to
reign down shots on Cerrone as opposed to sitting in his very dangerous guard.
Cerrone can also gain a big advantage in this one if he can
establish a jab of his own. Given his reach advantage, he should be able to do
that. What he has to avoid is the
devastating one punch knockout power from Varner, so staying on the outside and
using kicks could be his biggest weapon. While he has no problem going to the
ground, Cerrone’s kickboxing could serve him well in this fight, using a
combination of punches, kicks and knees to keep the champion off balance.
This fight could go anywhere, and probably will, and both
Varner and Cerrone are well prepared for either contingency, which makes this
fight truly a toss up between two elite lightweights in the sport.