For Nate Jolly, it’s the biggest opportunity of his Mixed Martial Arts career.
The Johnson City fighter will take on former WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner Friday night in the headline bout of XFC 14 from Orlando which will be broadcast live on HDNet.
“It’s a very interesting opportunity for me,” Jolly said. “I’ve headlined a bunch of shows, but this is a big step in my career. It’s really cool because I’ve learned I have more fan support than I realized.”
Jolly, 29, has compiled a 10-3 record as a professional following a 23-3 amateur mark. Prior to entering the cage, the Cincinnati native was an accomplished wrestler, competing at 157 pounds for the University of the Cumberlands (Ky.) squad which finished third at the 2006 NAIA national championships.
Those grappling skills should come in handy against Varner, who is more of a striker.
Nearly identical in size — Jolly is 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, while Varner is 5-8, 160. However, Varner (17-6-1) holds an advantage in experience with fights in both the UFC and WEC.
“Some people might look at him as the more experienced person, and it might be that way if you want to look at the quality level he’s faced,” Jolly said. “But as far as experience, between my amateur and professional record, this is nearly my 40th fight. Like anybody I get jitters and all, but when the cage door locks, the cameras are on you and it’s just you and that guy, I’m ready to rock and do what I need to do.” This is something of a comeback fight for Varner, who lost three of his last four WEC fights and was cut from the organization before its merger with the UFC. The Phoenix fighter did win his last bout, however, by submission over midwestern champion Tyler Combs.
Jolly is coming off a loss in his last bout, a decision to Zach Juusola back in April, but earned his shot as a headliner with impressive showings in two previous XFC appearances.
“The way I look at it, I’m not coming back from a loss,” Jolly said. “There was nothing like, ‘Oh my gosh, everything’s wrong.’ I came out and fought well, to the best of my abilities. For me, you just have to push forward. I don’t compare myself to the past Nate Jolly. That’s not what I’m all about.”
While Jolly has used some film study, he said more of the fight preparation has been working on his own game.
Casey Oxendine, Jolly’s trainer and best friend, likes the matchup with Varner.
“This is a great opportunity for him,” Oxendine said. “We’ve watched Jamie Varner for years and we’ve always respected him, but there’s never been a guy Nate didn’t think he couldn’t beat. When you step into the cage anytime, there’s never a guarantee of what’s going to happen. But, the bottom line is when he took that fight, we all knew he could win it and we’re ready to do it.”
Based in Tampa, the XFC (Xtreme Fighting Championships) is billed as the Southeast’s largest Mixed Martial Arts promotion. It’s notable for promoting the first fight card in the state of Tennessee at the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena in 2009, and drawing over 11,000 fans for the largest MMA event in the state of Florida.
Fighters in previous XFC cards have included Gan McGee, the 6-foot-10 giant who lost a controversial fight against Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight championship, and David Bollea, the nephew of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.
Friday night’s card not only features Jolly, but vignettes about his hometown as well. Film crews set up around Fountain Square and the rest of the downtown area for a feature about Johnson City.
“That was great when HDNet sent the people down to do interviews and all the pre-fight segements with Team Oxendine and the city as well,” Jolly said. “It was a very interesting experience. Coming from a big town, I have a little different perspective, but I love Johnson City because it’s so much like a family feel to it.”