At Bellator 41, Joe Warren got out of Yuma with three scorecards against Marcos Galvao. | Photo: Dave Mandel
What started out as a story of Bellator champion Joe Warren’s uncanny sway with mixed martial arts judges would end up a bizarre tale of a single small town’s repeated injustice toward Brazilian bantamweight Marcos Galvao.
Yuma is an arid city in southwestern Arizona, so isolated that the nearest indicator of the rest of civilization is a highway sign reading “Mexico: Next Exit,” and whose nigh-non-existent rainfall made it an ideal outdoor venue, according to Bellator Fighting Championships CEO Bjorn Rebney. Yet, for whatever benefits the Cocopah Resort and Casino offered as a striking visual backdrop for Bellator 41 and 55 in April and October, it’s likely to face stigma as the location of a pair of curious judging decisions that went against Galvao.
Though Galvao was slighted twice, it was the first of these calls that earns Sherdog.com’s 2011 “Robbery of the Year.”
Coming into his 137-pound catchweight bout against Galvao at Bellator 41, top Bellator 145-pounder Warren was no stranger to controversial decisions. From his Dream featherweight grand prix victory over Norifumi Yamamoto through his run in Bellator’s second-season tourney, Warren’s mix of aggression, wrestling and seemingly innocuous knees to his opponents’ bodies have paid repeated dividends on judges’ scorecards, much to the chagrin of many journalists and fans.
However, Warren seemed to have turned a corner in the eyes of many with his brutal knockout of Bellator’s inaugural featherweight titleholder, Joe Soto, giving Warren a belt and the most impressive win of his career. The Galvao bout was to act as a test-run for a drop to bantamweight for Warren, a former Greco-Roman wrestling world champion at 132 pounds, whose list of boisterous proclamations included the goal of being Bellator’s first two-division champion.
For Galvao, the bout with Warren represented a chance to erase his public image as an also-ran fighter who had failed repeatedly at the sport’s upper echelon. Galvao was mostly widely recognized for his brutally unsuccessful WEC run that featured knockout of losses to Brian Bowles and Damacio Page, the second of which left Galvao in such dire shape that the production crew visually willed it out of existence on-air. After the Page loss, “Loro” dedicated himself to rounding out his MMA game, leaving much of his family in Brazil while relocating to the United States to train full-time.
What was widely expected to be a showcase bout for Warren quickly proved to be anything but. Warren’s vaunted Greco-Roman skills failed him as Galvao twice took top position and back-control on Warren’s failed body-lock takedown attempts. The fighters exchanged knees between scrambles, with the lankier Galvao landing the more precise and audibly impressive blows. Warren would find himself on the bottom a third time in what was a clear Galvao round, one that saw the Brazilian repeatedly gain top position and out-strike Warren on the feet and the mat.
The second round began promisingly for Warren, as an early body blow looked to exacerbate the Brazilian’s fatigue. But the round devolved into a morbid exhibition of Warren’s toughness, as Galvao began landing knee after knee. Flying knees, knees to the body from the clinch, knees to the head in counter to Warren’s takedown attempts -- the consistency with which Galvao’s knees landed would have been almost comical if not for the startling cracks that they made against Warren’s skull, each one eliciting louder gasps and much more vulgar exclamations from the live audience.
Amidst the onslaught of knees, Galvao scored with punches as well, landing hooks and uppercuts from the clinch and jabs and straights at range.
Warren’s wrestling was shut down again in the second, when not only were most of his takedown attempts violently repelled, but he also found himself once again beneath his gangly foe. It was by far the starkest round of the fight, and the only one that a majority of the judges saw for Galvao.
Warren would finally find success in the third, taking a tired Galvao down twice and managing to hold him there for a majority of the round, though Galvao would threaten with a submission attempt and strike back from the bottom. A finish from Warren appeared necessary to avoid a troubling loss for a Bellator champion in a non-title bout, an issue that would arise in the company’s next visit to Yuma. Unable to pass Galvao’s guard or attack from it, Warren seemed assured of his second MMA defeat.
The stories began forming almost immediately after the final bell. Would Warren abandon his drop to bantamweight after such a performance? What of his desire to compete in the 2012 London Games, given how spectacularly his wrestling had failed him this night? These things swirled as the judges’ scores were announced. The call of a unanimous decision seemed to easily affirm Galvao’s upset, further reinforced by Chuck Wolfe’s 30-27 card, which, in the mind of a rational onlooker, could only have been for Galvao.
And yet, the slight pause before the announcement of the victor’s name was enough to make the next few seconds seem to drag on. Warren was announced as the winner of an indefensible decision, with judges Henry Guery and Brooks Mason giving Galvao only round two on a pair of 29-28 Warren scorecards.
What made Warren-Galvao stand out as a robbery was the ignored brutality of Galvao’s offense and the futility of Warren’s wrestling for two of the three rounds. There was no mistaking the accuracy of Galvao’s offense, despite Warren’s stoicism as nearly every landed strike seemed to crack through the open-air arena. And where often a well-timed takedown will be enough to sway a judge to overlook the rest of a round, it was still Galvao who controlled the wrestling.
These issues alone would have been enough to crown the decision as the year’s worst, but Bellator’s return trip to Yuma made for a sadder epilogue still.
At Bellator 55, in a Season 5 bantamweight tournament semifinal, Galvao went up against the man who had literally and figuratively knocked Joe Warren clean out of the bracket, Alexis Vila. Once again the underdog, Galvao scrapped his way to winning at least two of the fight’s three rounds in the eyes of most observers. Only judge Pete Rogers, who had it 30-27 Galvao, agreed. Judges Cardo Urso and Luis Cobian both awarded the bout 29-28 to the former Cuban Olympic bronze medal wrestler Vila.
The outcome was met with loud variations on “Not again!” at cageside, as journalists, event operators and fans alike expressed disbelief that the same man could be wronged again at the same venue. Galvao would show the cumulative effect at the post-fight press conference, lamenting his poor luck and inexplicable lack of love from the judges. Even ever-guarded Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was candid when discussing Galvao’s luck
“I don’t think anybody has any doubt about the fight with Joe Warren and what occurred there, and it was unfortunate,” said Rebney. “I felt as though he hadn’t gotten a fair shake in that fight in the judges’ eyes.”
To lessen the sting, Galvao was awarded his win bonus and granted automatic entry into Bellator’s next bantamweight tournament. But, regardless of who he faces from here on out, it’s hard to imagine Galvao will find a more menacing nemesis than the city Yuma proved to be in 2011.