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Interview: UFC on FOX 13’s Jamie Varner Gets Real About Sponsorship Money, Rankings, And Coming Back From a Difficult Year


(Photo via Getty)

By Ben Goldstein

“I’m the best fighter with the worst luck.”

That’s how UFC lightweight Jamie Varner describes his trials and tribulations during the past year, in which he got knocked out by Abel Trujillo in a fight that he was winning, then suffered a TKO loss by ankle-injury against James Krause — in another fight that he was winning.

Varner’s back is against the wall as he returns to the Octagon at UFC on FOX 13, which takes place this Saturday, December 13th, in Varner’s hometown of Phoenix. In this candid interview with CagePotato.com, Jamie Varner opens up about the UFC’s controversial new partnership with Reebok, how he’s trying to rebound from a tough 2014, and his upcoming opponent, Drew Dober. (“I didn’t know anything about him. I still don’t.”) Enjoy, and follow Jamie on twitter and sqor.

CAGEPOTATO.COM: Since it’s such a hot topic these days, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the UFC’s uniform deal with Reebok. Overall, do you think it’s a good thing, a bad thing, or is it still too early to tell?

JAMIE VARNER: It’s a little too early to tell. The organization is becoming more mainstream, the overall operations are becoming more corporate, and I think it’s time to implement some sort of fighters’ union, just to make sure that everything is fair and evenly distributed among the fighters. Because for me personally, about 30-40% of my income comes from sponsorships, and with the way their tier system has been announced, it’s like, champions get the most, #1-5 [ranked UFC contenders] get the second-most, 6-10 the third-most, 11-15 the fourth-most, and then all non-ranked fighters are going to be on the same level.

For a guy like me, I’m not in the top 15, but I’ve beaten a couple guys who are — Edson Barboza is ranked like #11 [Ed. Note: He’s actually #6 now] Donald Cerrone is top 5. So I’ve beaten guys in the top 12. And I have a pretty good audience and presence when I fight, people like to tune in to watch me throw down, so I don’t think that I should be making the same amount as a guy who has never fought on a main card, never got a Fight of the Night bonus. I just don’t really understand how this is all going to work out. I can’t really comment on whether I’m upset or happy with the way everything is. I do like the fact that we are all going to look nice. I like the fact that there is going be a little more structure, and we’re going to be more mainstream by having the uniforms, but the fighters need to be appropriately compensated.

You mentioned that 30-40% of your income comes from sponsorships. Has that number held steady in recent years, or have you personally seen the market for sponsors in this sport dry up?

I was making more money, sponsorship-wise, back when I was in the WEC. That was also before you had to pay the [UFC sponsor] tax. But I was able to get big money from sponsors on fight night, and as soon as they implemented the sponsorship tax, money has definitely gone down. As well as the dilution of the sport — I mean there’s over 40 UFC events a year, so the sponsors aren’t paying as much money as they used to because there’s so many shows. So I’ve noticed that with the dilution [of events], the prices have kind of come down a little bit, but nevertheless, just because I’ve been a fan favorite and I’ve been around a long time and I have a great agent — Oren [Hodak] with KO Reps does right by me — I still have been able to make about 30-40% of my income from sponsors. So let’s say I make $20,000 in a fight, I can almost count on having $10,000-$15,000 in sponsorship money. At the end of the year, it totals out to be about 30-40% of my income, from sponsors.

I’d like to talk about the year you’ve had, which has been challenging at times, to say the least. That ankle break you suffered against James Krause looked terrible. In terms of the injury itself and the recovery, is it safe to call that the worst injury of your career?

No, it wasn’t the worst injury of my career. The worst injury of my career was definitely when I broke my hand and broke my foot against Donald Cerrone when I was in the WEC back in 2008 — but [the ankle injury] is #2. Yeah, this year’s been a tough year, man. I lost to Abel Trujillo in a fight that I was dominating. It was my first time ever being knocked out in my career. I’ve never even been dropped in training, in sparring, and I spar with monsters like Ryan Bader, CB Dollaway, Carlos Condit. I spar with some tough, tough guys, some pro boxers, and I’ve never gone down with a head shot.

To see the look in Abel’s eyes, to see that he had quit in that fight, that he had given up, that he had accepted defeat, and getting caught the way I got caught, with my hands down? It really sucked. Seriously, I looked into his eyes and he was done, and I was just waiting for the ref to come in and stop the fight. And the next thing I know I’m picking myself up. So kudos to Abel for toughing out the fight, but yeah, this year’s been a tough year. Breaking my ankle in the first minute of the first round with James Krause, and still being able to win the round, but losing that fight. Losing a tough split-decision to Gleison Tibau — I mean that fight I felt like I clearly won. Honestly, dude, I’m the best fighter with the worst luck, but I’m just gonna keep on fighting and keep on bringing it.

As you grow older in the sport, is there anything different you need to do in terms of physical preparation or recovery? Are you doing anything different lately to take better care of your body and prevent further injuries?

I’ve been doing this sport a long time, and plus I was wrestling and boxing in college, so I have a lot of wear and tear on my body. I took a different approach this training camp, which was a little bit longer than some of my past training camps. I used to do 6-8 weeks, and I did 8-10 weeks this time around, and I’ve only been doing two-a-days. I used to do three-a-days, Monday through Friday, and take Saturday and Sunday off. Now, I do two-a-days Monday through Thursday, one workout on Friday, and one workout on Saturday. But the Saturday workout is only an hour long, and I pretty much get the whole day to recover, then I get all day Sunday to recover. As far as being beat up and having injuries during training camp — because that’s when most of our injuries occur, is during training camp — I can’t tell you the last time I had a fight and I wasn’t injured going into it. Before I fought Ben Henderson, I had tore my MCL, I was just going off of cortisone shots in my knee just to survive the training camp and get through that fight, and then pretty much every fight since then I’ve had some sort of injury. From what I hear, most fighters are the same way. You go into almost every fight banged up, a little injured, and that’s the way it is. It’s such a hard sport on your body

You’ll be fighting at UFC on FOX 13 against Drew Dober, a guy who had floated around the regional promotions for a while before getting a UFC contract last year. Had he been on your radar before this fight was announced? Did you know much about him?

I didn’t know anything about him. I still don’t. I’ve seen three fights of his. One of them was against a southpaw so I just turned that fight off after a little while. Another one was against a guy at 170 pounds who was about six inches taller than me, so that fight doesn’t really make any sense. The only fight that really made any sense was a fight that he did about a year ago in a regional promotion that I watched. It went three rounds and he ended up winning the decision, but he got dropped twice in the first round with punches and was put full on into a triangle choke, completely locked up, and was still able to fight his way out and come back and win that fight. So he’s a tough, durable dude that’s gonna be another tough test for me, but I also expect this to be Fight of the Night. It’s gonna be like “Clash of the Titans,” we both like to move forward, we like to throw punches and kicks, we both like to command the center of the ring.

Alright Jamie, it’s lightning-round time. At this point, what do you consider to be the greatest fight of your career?

Rob McCullough and Edson Barboza, those two were the best fights of my career.

What’s the Phoenix Suns Gorilla like in real life? Is he an MMA fan?

The Phoenix Suns Gorilla is an MMA fan, and he’s a very humble, humble dude.

Once in a while, we’ll link to that GIF of you doing the funky chicken and the worm victory dance, after your win over Jason Gilliam? Have you ever thought about bringing that back?

That was UFC 68, and no I have not about bringing that back.

I’ve seen photos on social media of the “green drink” that you make. What exactly goes into that, and are there any special tricks to making it taste good?

There are no tricks into making it taste good. It’s Lacinato kale, a half a Granny Smith green apple, and a half a cucumber, and that’s it. The Granny Smith apple sweetens it up enough to just make it bearable.

Is there anything else you’d like to say before I let you go?

Yeah, I just want to give Body Fortress a shout-out, they’re my main sponsor, and they’re not even allowed in the UFC. They’ve been sponsoring me for two years now — I’m going into my third year with them — and they’re a great company to work for. I use all of their products, off-season and when I’m training for a fight. Their whey isolate and their glutamine are my top two that I use in training camp, and then out of training camp I use their advanced whey protein, their creatine, and their NOS.

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