There comes a time when every professional athlete must walk away from the sport they’ve dedicated their lives to. After an eleven-year mixed martial arts career, that time came on Saturday for lightweight Jamie Varner after losing four consecutive fights in the UFC.
Varner made his professional MMA debut in March 2003 at Rage in the Cage 46. Three years later, he’d make his first appearance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He went 1-1 inside the Octagon, but the organization cut the 155-pound division. Varner then found a home in World Extreme Cagefighting.
His biggest career highlight was winning the WEC lightweight championship at WEC 32 in February 2008 by knocking out Rob McCullough.
When Varner was one top of his game mentally and physically, he was a difficult match-up for anyone in the lightweight division. He lost his WEC title to future UFC champion Benson Henderson at WEC 46 in January 2010.
The WEC was purchased by the UFC in 2006 and eventually dissolved into the bigger organization in December 2010. Varner was not one of the WEC fighters brought over to the UFC roster. It was a hard pill to swallow for the Arizona native.
He fought in regional shows and eventually earned his way back to the biggest venue in MMA at UFC 146 in May of 2012. He entered his UFC return against Edson Barboza as a heavy underdog. But as they say, every dog has his day.
Varner showed his true potential in the fight, knocking out the much higher ranked Barboza in the opening round. It was the comeback story of the year. Looking back on it, Varner ranked the win over Barboza up there with winning the WEC title.
In his next outing, Varner was submitted by Joe Lauzon late in a fight that he was likely winning. The back-and-forth battle earned the 2012 Fight of the Year by many MMA outlets.
He bounced back in his next fight at UFC 155 by defeating the always-dangerous Melvin Guillard by split decision. It was the last time Varner would taste victory.
Following his fourth consecutive loss, to Drew Dober at UFC on Fox 13 on Saturday, Varner removed his UFC gloves and left them on the Octagon canvas. After eleven years as a professional fighter, Varner’s career ended where it began. His mixed martial arts journey started out from Arizona, and that’s where it came to a close.
“I planned this a long time ago. My family knew. I knew this was going to be my last fight,” said Varner to his hometown crowd. “I just can’t keep up with these young kids anymore. I’m battling injuries all the time. It’s been an absolute dream. I’ve been fighting here a long time. It’s been an absolute dream.”