by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
It’s still a little strange for Jamie Varner to hear his name followed by the words “former WEC lightweight champion.” The Arizona fighter lost by submission to Ben Henderson in January, which cost him the title, but he says he’s back, positive about everything that’s happened, and on a mission to get the belt back.

The first step to the title is his fight this Sunday night as he faces undefeated prospect Kamal Shalorus in Edmonton, and Varner knows that while not everyone is familiar with his opponent, he’s looking at him as the best fighter he’s ever faced.

One of the highest level wrestlers to ever compete in the WEC, Shalorus also packs a heavy punch, and stylistically presents some interesting scenarios that Varner is looking forward to facing.

“This is a really crazy fight because we’re both wrestler/boxers, and I feel like where I lack, he exceeds, and where he lacks, I exceed,” Varner told MMAWeekly Radio. “I feel like I’m definitely the better boxer and technical striker, but he hits really, really hard, but yet he’s a better wrestler. He’s nationally decorated, he’s an Olympic alternate for Britain; I mean, he’s no joke.”

The biggest mistake Varner says people have about this fight is overlooking Kamal Shalorus, because he knows just how good his opponent will be when they square off at WEC 49 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on Sunday night.

“Kamal Shalorus is the toughest guy you’ve never heard of,” said Varner.

To get ready for Shalorus, Varner worked with his team and trainers at Arizona Combat Sports, but part of the way through camp he lost some of the mainstays from the gym that he’s called home for several years. Carlos Condit moved back to New Mexico to be with his family and new baby, and teammates Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, C.B. Dollaway, and others are on a venture to open their own gym.

Varner says in the early stages of his camp the coaching of people like Aaron Simpson came in very useful, and while he misses having the guys around the gym, at the end of the day size did matter.

“I liked having that team atmosphere, but realistically those guys didn’t benefit me at all as far as direct training partners. All of those guys were 185-pounders and 205-pounders, and so I couldn’t really do too much with them without taking the risk of getting hurt,” Varner said. “They’re tough guys, they were great training partners to have, and God knows I’m gonna miss them, but they’re on to other things.”

Varner hit the gym with other top-level wrestlers closer to his weight, and worked with Trevor and Todd Lally to get him ready for the fight with Shalorus. The problem with Varner has never been dedication to training, but he says there were mistakes he’s made and they came to fruition in his title fight with Ben Henderson.

After winning the first two rounds, Varner decided to rush in and shoot for a takedown. The result was Henderson locking on a vice grip like guillotine choke, forcing the then champion to tap out. Varner looks back on the fight and says it was the harshest learning lesson he’s ever received.

“I felt like I grew a lot in that fight. One thing I learned from that is I’ve got to be more patient, listen to my corner better than I already do. Sometimes people don’t want to fight your fight, so you’ve got to be able to adapt out there, that’s what I took away from that,” Varner commented.

The other thing Varner took away from the fight is how much he wants to be champion.

“This teaches me a lesson,” Varner said about the Henderson fight. “Don’t take it for granted, and (I’ve) got to work hard to get that belt back.”

Varner could earn a shot at Ben Henderson if he can get past Kamal Shalorus, and he’ll test himself this Sunday night in Edmonton at WEC 49.