Joe Warren still believes he is the baddest man on the planet.
While this may come as a surprise to many who witnessed the Bellator Fighting Championships talent lose consciousness in each of his last two fights due to violent blows to the head, the former featherweight champion appears as confident as ever ahead of his return to 135 pounds on Friday night, when he will square off with Owen Evinger in the main event of Bellator 80 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
“You’re talking to the baddest man on the planet, baby,” Warren recently told Sherdog.com. “ I’m coming hard. I’m coming for his head, and I’m coming to rip it right off.”
In spite of his seemingly ever-present confidence, however, Warren knows it was not so long ago that he found himself in the unfamiliar position of lying flat on his back, staring up at the lights. Warren’s first knockout loss came against Alexis Vila in September of last year. Then Bellator’s 145-pound champion, Warren entered the Season 5 bantamweight tournament in an effort to become the first man in promotional history to hold belts in two different weight classes. That aspiration was extinguished by Vila in the tournament quarterfinals, as the stocky Cuban turned out Warren’s lights with a powerful left hook.
His second defeat took the form of an extended beating on March 9 from Pat Curran, who rocked Warren with a knee in the third round and then brutalized the reeling fighter with a flurry against the cage, wresting away his title and handing him a concussion in return. Though many criticized referee Jeff Malott for allowing Warren to absorb so many blows, the man on the receiving end of that knockout is not among Malott’s detractors.
“I was just too hard-headed to go to sleep. I was the first person to tell the ref to make sure that he let this fight go until someone goes to sleep, because this is a title fight. One of the worst things that happens is when someone stops a fight too early,” said Warren. “I know it’s weird to hear that from me. I should say that he should have stopped it, but I’m fine. Nothing happened to me. I guess I’d have a different view on this if I would have been injured. The bottom line is, give us the opportunity to have the right guy with the belt on. The worst thing to watch is a fight where the wrong guy won.”
Warren, whose Bellator career has been highlighted by several gutsy performances, reiterated that he good to go, both physically and mentally. After undergoing a full medical exam, Warren attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympic wrestling team but ultimately came up short. Still, Warren traveled to London to help coach the squad, allowing himself the necessary time to recover while avoiding blows to the head in training.
“I have a wife and two babies. I’m a little bit older and a family man, and my wife doesn’t let me [gamble with my health], so I was fully checked out by the Olympic training center doctors and everybody,” said Warren. “I just had a concussion. You’re talking about putting two warriors in a cage for five rounds. Things happen. I believe that could have happened either way, and I believe that after a lot of big fights -- like a Bellator belt fight -- one or both guys end up in the hospital.”
The 2006 Greco-Roman wrestling world champion at 132 pounds, Warren says that his setbacks showed him the importance of playing to his technical strengths while at the same time prompting him to place more emphasis on his defense. The Coloradoan also feels that this permanent move to bantamweight should help to increase his career longevity.
“I believe [the losses] didn’t take anything away from me, except they maybe opened my eyes to how I am still vulnerable to a one-punch knockout. I didn’t believe that could happen,” Warren said. “I believe I’m a battle-tested veteran, and there aren’t a lot of us out there. I believe I’ve been through everything [a fighter can go through] in a cage.”
Now just hours away from stepping back into Bellator’s circle, Warren says he pays little attention to those who may believe his best days are behind him.
“Being an entertainer and a top-tier athlete, you deal with a lot of people who doubt you constantly. If you gave a s--t about what half of those people thought, then you’d probably have stopped being a competitive athlete way earlier in your career,” said Warren. “I’m here for me, and it’s a job. I believe I’m better at my job now than I was then, and that should show in the ring.
“Now I get an opportunity to get another big win and fight on Spike TV and maybe [earn a shot] at that [bantamweight] belt for Bellator, so the future looks good. My main concern is putting a hole through this Owen Evinger on Friday and getting back on a winning streak.”