by Mitch Gobetz – MMAWeekly.com
Jamie Varner was relatively unknown until he stepped into the Octagon at UFC 62 against Hermes Franca. He dominated Franca throughout the majority of the fight, until he gassed out. Franca ended up finishing him towards the end of the third round.

Even though Varner lost that fight, he opened a lot of eyes. He had a subsequent victory over Jason Gilliam at UFC 68. After his victory, he was moved to the World Extreme Cagefighting organization. It was there that he rose to championship form.

He defeated Sherron Leggett in the first round of their bout, earning a title shot against then-champion “Razor” Rob McCullough. Varner shocked fans by knocking out McCullough and gaining the WEC lightweight champion.

Varner will now be defending his title for the first time against the undefeated Marcus Hicks. MMAWeekly Radio caught up with the champ prior to his upcoming preparation for the fight. “I’m ready for this fight,” stated an emphatic Varner.

Training out of Arizona Combat Sports, he feels that his camp has prepared him perfectly for this fight. “This camp has been pretty good. It was really hard for me to find sparring, so I couldn’t get up to high altitude. (Hicks) doesn’t train high altitude. We’re going to be on the same playing field for that. This camp has been awesome,” said the WEC lightweight titleholder.

“I’ve had great grapplers, great strikers and I’ve gone to a couple pro boxing gyms so I could find some good southpaw sparring. This camp has actually been awesome. It was definitely better than my last camp for the Rob fight. Everything was timed perfectly. I took all the right breaks when I needed to. I’m 100% injury free. You can’t ask for more than that.”

This fight is a little atypical for Varner because it is lacking the smack talk that he is accustomed to in his last few fights. That doesn’t change his demeanor. “It’s just a fight to me,” he explained. “It’s always just a fight. I train the same way whether the guy is nice to me or if he’s a jerk-off. I treat them all the same way. I train hard. I train to go out there and win the fight. He’s in my way. I have to win this fight to show the world that I’m a deserving champion. It’s a shame it has to be him.”

Not only is there a lack of smack talk in this fight, but Varner was very complimentary of Hicks’ past performances, especially over Ed Radcliffe. “I think Marcus gave a dominating performance. He’s a very, very tough opponent. He’s probably one of the most dangerous opponents that I’ve ever fought. I have a ton of respect for the guy. I know what he’s capable of.

“He’s definitely deserving of his spot. He’s run over everybody that has been put in front of him. He’s a very tough guy. He has a great guillotine. He’s heavy handed. I’m really excited about being the taller fight. I’m never the taller fighter. I trained for a tough fight. I trained for a 25 minute war.”

Even though Marcus Hicks has been very successful, he hasn’t had to go to those fourth and fifth rounds that he may have to in his fight with Varner. Varner has worked hard to improve his conditioning and believes that that may be his key to victory in this fight.

“I think that’s going to be my key to victory,” stated the champion. “I have to take him out to deep waters. He’s never known what it’s like to go the distance. I train for 25 minutes. I have a strength and conditioning coach. I train for a 25-minute war. My chances of winning increase with every minute and every round.”

Arizona Combat Sports is home to some very tough fighters like Drew Fickett, CB Dollaway, and Ryan Bader. It’s becoming a more popular gym and Varner believes they really deserve the notoriety that they are starting to receive. “I think my trainers deserve it. They really put a lot of work into us. I was made at this gym. I had good wrestling before I came here. I had okay boxing before I came here. They really built me here and I’ve never seen any other camp do what they did with me and CB Dolloway. It’s crazy what they’re able to do.”

The WEC has gained popularity immensely since Zuffa has acquired it. The TV deal they have with Versus has injected new life into the organization. They have instantly become the premier American organization for the lighter weight classes. Varner believes they are on the right track and will continue to grow.

“I just think the WEC has such great fights. They have so much talent in their light divisions: 135, 145, 155. All of us could go into the UFC lightweight rankings right now and make an impact on the rankings. I just think it’ll take time for the WEC to get a little more notoriety outside.”