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WEC 51: Varner matured, Cerrone apologetic, both fighters focused

Varner (L) and Cerrone (R) didn't hold back in their first bout at WEC 38. (Photo courtesy of MMAWeekly)

The animosity between WEC lightweight contenders Jamie Varner (16-3-3) and Donald Cerrone (11-3) hit a crescendo when Cerrone said he hoped to kill Varner in the cage and used a homophobic slur to describe his opponent. However, with their Sept. 30 fight at WEC 51 in Broomfield, Colo., fast approaching and the promotion condemning Cerrone’s comments, the trash talking seems to have subsided.

The two squared men last squared off in January 2009, with Varner defending his WEC lightweight in an epic five-round encounter.

Varner seemed to have the advantage, but his pace began to slow in the latter stages of the fight. Cerrone took advantage and had an impressive fifth round until an accidental illegal knee caught Varner in the head and eventually prompted the cage side doctor to call a halt to the action midway through the final period. Varner picked up a split decision victory and the war of words started soon after, with Cerrone feeling that Varner quit and took the easy way out.

After dealing with various injuries, Varner lost his title a year later to current champion Ben Henderson.

Cerrone seemed genuinely apologetic about the recent incident during a recent WEC media call. As for Varner, he said he has matured quite a bit since their first fight and didn’t wish any ill will upon his opponent.

“A lot has changed since the last time we fought,” Varner said. “I had to do a lot of growing, not just as a fighter, but as a man.”

Perhaps for that reason Varner never returned fire when many believed Cerrone crossed the line.

“I feel like I don’t need to get caught up in all of the name calling,” he said.

Regardless of how heated the verbal exchange ever became, both men have always seemed respectful of their opponent’s abilities, and that certainly hasn’t changed.

“Donald is like the Terminator,” Varner said. “You can kick him … beat on him … he keeps coming.”

Varner even sees some improvements in Cerrone’s game since their first match.

“I would definitely say his Jiu Jitsu game off of his back has gotten a lot better,” Varner said.

Unlike their five round title bout last year, Varner and Cerrone will only have to prepare for a three rounds in the rematch.

Cerrone at times has suffered from starting at too slow of a pace, but acknowledged that he doesn’t plan on changing his style even with two fewer rounds to prepare for. He believes that changing his style now and trying to get off to a fast start could get him in trouble.

“Unfortunately that’s just how I fight,” Cerrone said.

On the other hand, Varner plans to push the pace and take advantage of the shorter fight duration.

“I feel I can keep a little bit faster pace,” Varner said.

Still, Varner thinks he has the same advantages over Cerrone as the last time.

“The wrestling and my speed will be the difference in this fight just like it was in the last fight.”

Varner’s last fight also had plenty of controversy. Many onlookers believe that Varner did more than enough to beat Kamal Shalorous at WEC 49, but the judges ruled the fight a draw.

Varner, though is looking past that disappointment.

“I can only be told so many times by so many people that I won that fight,” he said. “Kamal is probably one of the toughest dudes on the planet; sometimes you just can’t finish guys unless they make a serious mistake.”

With a high profile grudge match on the horizon, Varner’s goal remains the same: to win back his WEC title. He’s also hoping to not only beat Cerrone, but set up an opportunity to fight at WEC 53 on December 16 in his hometown of Phoenix.

“I was born and raised there, so that’s my dream to fight there,” Varner said.

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