The other day I was watching one of my favorite films of all time, *61, the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s race for the coveted 60 homeruns during the 1961 season.
The film delves into Maris’ struggle with teammates, fans, press, and even the commissioner of baseball. The fans, around the league, automatically hate him for trying to break Babe Ruth’s record; and Yankee fans hate him, because he is not Mickey Mantle. Even after he breaks the record he is not given the proper credit; the stadium was half empty and the media thought if anyone should break the record it should be someone of greatness. After I finished it for the 1,000th time I started to think is there anyone fans hate for no reason and it hit me…
Now I know what people might say, how can you compare the two? Even when I told my editor the idea of this story I could hear the shock in his voice over the phone [Ed. Note: It’s true!]. But, hear me out, Varner and Maris have both been loved early in their careers and then hated later on.
When Varner busted into the scene he was a highly talented wrestler, racking up an impressive 11-1 record before losing to Hermes Franca in his UFC debut. He made a quick comeback with a victory over Jason Gilliam, with a rear naked choke. From there Varner then went to WEC where he defeated Sherron Leggett for a number one contender shot. Jamie Varner won the WEC lightweight title against Rob McCullough, and then went on to defend it against Marcus Hicks. But, it was his next fight that people started to dislike him.
Varner vs. Donald Cerrone was an epic battle with plenty of back and forth action, going into the 5th round most had the fight tied. It was during the round that Cerrone landed an illegal knee to the temple of Varner; this caused a timeout, in the bout, so that Jamie could regroup himself. But, after the allotted that was given to Varner to recoup he complained about double vision. The fight was stopped and then went to the scorecards where Jamie Varner won by split decision. MMA fans were upset that this match had stopped as it was highly competitive, and have yet to forgive Varner.
Since then Varner has been public enemy #1, at a Q and A event many fans kept asking Varner questions such as; where is your heart, how did it feel to quit and win, why was he ducking Cerrone again, etc….Some fans even showed their dislike at UFC’s first expo by walking up to Varner’s booth and booing him in his face. At certain events whenever he is shown on screen fans immediately start to boo him.
But, what has Varner really done to deserve this? Nothing. If he was hurt in the fight with a strike to the head, proper precautions need to be in play for the fighters own safety. MMA is still under the microscope, and does not need a serious injury to happen just to make a fight continue.
Varner’s record has been on the downslide as of late. He lost his title to Ben Henderson by standing guillotine and then scored a draw against Kamal Shalorus, even though a lot of people had Varner winning the fight. Shalorus had a point deducted for multiple kicks to Varner’s groin to add injury to insult.
Now, Maris went threw a period just like Varner, but bounced back in a big way helping the Yankees get to the World Series. It’s up to Varner to turn things around now, especially with a rumored rematch with Cerrone coming up. After all was said and done many people regretted how they treated Roger Maris during that time, hopefully people will start to do the same to Varner.
[Ed. Note: This post was initially published in July 2010 on our sister site NorthTexasFisticuffs.com]