Joe Warren has had a rough last 14 months.
"The Baddest Man on the Planet," perhaps with a bit too much on his plate, dropped down to bantamweight while the Bellator featherweight champion in an attempt to win multiple titles at the same time, and he got a nasty reality check via a first round knockout loss to Alexis Vila.
In his first title defense, the former Greco wrestling world champion couldn't wear down Pat Curran and was brutally knocked out in the third round via a vicious extended flurry of strikes in one of the year's most controversial late stoppages.
To make matters worse,the Michigan native came up short in his bid to make the US Olympic wrestling team just weeks later, ending his Hall of Fame competitive wrestling career on a sour note.
But now that's all behind him. Warren has dropped down to 135 pounds for good and he's looking to turn over a new leaf in his mixed martial arts career. With no more distractions, the 35 year old is looking to make another run in the 2013 Bellator bantamweight tournament and rightfully earn his nickname again.
It all starts on Friday night (Nov. 9, 2012) when Warren battles Owen Evinger in the main event of Bellator 80 in Hollywood Florida. Warren spoke with MMAmania.com about getting back on track, the reality of defeat and his future in fighting in his exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been asking Bellator for a fight as far back as July. How does it feel to finally have one and to be less than a week away?
Joe Warren: Yeah, it feels good. I coached the Olympic team, took some time off, stuff like that and now I feel really well, really focused and I feel really strong. I'm excited to get back in that cage under the Bellator banner again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): As you mentioned, you coached the Olympic team. You tried out for the Olympic team and made it to the semifinals but you came up short. What was it like making that transition from aspiring Olympic athlete to coach?
Joe Warren: You know? It was bittersweet because I had just lost my belt to Curran maybe three weeks before that. I had a concussion and had to sit out for a little bit. For me to be able to wrestle at the Olympic team trials was kind of a rush but I didn't really get to focus on it the way I wanted to. It was a great experience and being able to coach the young guys and being there for them was exciting.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now that you're potentially not going to be attempting to compete in the Olympics (I'm assuming) in 2016, have you been able to focus more on the mixed martial arts aspect rather than splitting time?
Joe Warren: Yeah, I'm done with Olympic wrestling. I didn't wrestle at all for this camp other than the days specifically for wrestling. I didn't focus on it like I focused on it before. It's nice focusing on one sport with only one goal in mind instead of a bunch of goals out there. It was a little more peaceful in training.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is it almost comfortable knowing you'll be fighting exclusively at 135 pounds now after fighting all those guys so much bigger than you at 145?
Joe Warren: Yeah, I fought 145 because it was right when they were getting involved in 135 and I fought there to get back in the US and start fighting for Bellator. I'm excited to fight for them and now I'm able to compete for Bellator again on Spike in the beginning of the year at 135 and it'll just be a way more comfortable weight for me and I feel I'll have longevity for my career at that weight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've gotten a bit lighter just from your MMA training over the past year or so. Have you noticed any speed increases or anything else as a side effect benefit to that?
Joe Warren: Well I'm competing at 135 now and in my Olympic career, it was always at 135 or 132 so yeah, I feel a little more comfortable cutting some weight for this fight. I'm a little quicker, a little faster, a little more comfortable at 135 compared to 145. I walk around at 145 every day so it's a little more comfortable down at this weight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned after the loss to Curran that you were going to come back stronger than ever. Have you taken any specific action in your training or anything to mix it up at all?
Joe Warren: Well I was just able to focus more. I feel way more confident in my skills and my hands and in situations in MMA. I feel like I'm a much more well-rounded MMA fighter now and I'm a battle-tested veteran now. It's gonna be really tough to be in that cage with me at 135.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you expecting to be in that next bantamweight tournament if they're having one in the beginning of 2013 for Spike TV?
Joe Warren: Yes, that is the plan. The plan is to win this fight. The short term goal is to win this fight here next week and then get an opportunity to fight in the upcoming bantamweight world Bellator championship on Spike in the beginning of the year. One thing at a time but that is the future plan.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What's your motivation as you head into this fight against Evinger? Your last fight had a ton on the line and before that, you were facing a former Olympian. What are the stakes for you this time around?
Joe Warren: It doesn't matter. If you don't have motivation to fight when you're getting into the ring, that's a problem. It's a job for me and I'm motivated to fight under the Bellator banner to impress my fans again. I'm excited to get an opportunity to fight at 135 and I don't know about the motivation. I'm motivated to get a win here. I'm not used to being in the losing category and I am right now so I'm motivated to get this big win here in Florida.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Did it bother you that some fans and writers were calling for you to step away from MMA after the two knockout losses in a row?
Joe Warren: Yeah, I didn't really read it or hear much about it but I'm sure, you have to remember that was a title fight. 145 is one of the toughest weightclasses in the world and that happens. We're prizefighters and one guy usually goes to the hospital after those situations. For people to think that because it was a bad loss, I'm pretty okay with that. I'm 100 percent fine. I wasn't hurt at all. It was a brutal loss. I remember it so I'm gonna make sure that never happens again. I don't really worry about what people talk about or say about me. I just worry about impressing myself and taking care of my family.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you have a reputation for taking a lot of punishment in your fights and then bouncing back furiously. After the last two fights, have you changed your style or mindset for fighting?
Joe Warren: Oh no. The Alexis Vila fight, he hit me with a lucky punch man. A nice, super hard punch on the sweet spot on the chin. I didn't think I that had one but I learned real quickly. I take nothing from him, he's hard-hitting but that was a one-puncher. I didn't really have a lot of a chance.
The fight against Curran, I was a little outmatched size-wise. Six or seven inches taller and 30 pounds bigger. I was just a real small 145-er. I think with that, I paid the price later in the later rounds and his size was a big factor. Those are two freak fights and I'm a prizefighter. I fight for money and the're two great fighters. I was just at the wrong end of the stick for those two.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since you did get into MMA later, a lot of people that do that usually end up going a little bit longer in their mixed martial arts careers. Now that the Olympic wrestling career is in the past, how much longer do you expect to be fighting in MMA?
Joe Warren: Well I don't really have a time or date that I've put on. My body's extremely healthy. I've never had a really bad injury, never needed surgery or been seriously injured. I believe my body's young still so as long as I keep winning and as long as people keep wanting to see me fight, I'll keep fighting. Realistically, I don't know. I don't have a set time-table on my career yet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the things people love or hate about you is your personality, the almost arrogance, the extreme confidence in yourself. Has that come back after the tough losses or are you still working your way there?
Joe Warren: You know, I'm not arrogant at all. I'm extremely confident in my abilities and I believe in mental power more than anything. I can brainwash myself, talk myself into a lot of wins that I probably otherwise couldn't. I just think that I'm the baddest man on the planet period. I'm battle-tested and I'm focused on getting back in that win category. I think that my ego was bruised a bit after those last two fights but bruises heal and I'm 100 percent ready to rock and roll again. Just tune into MTV 2 on Friday for Bellator and I'll put on a show for you guys.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any specific way you'd like this upcoming fight against Evinger to finish on Friday?
Joe Warren: Just with my hands up in the air this time. That should be the exciting part of this one, to put my hand up after the fight. I want to win this one. I'm excited and I'm real focused on a finish and it's hard for me to say what it's gonna be in the fight. A fight is a real strange thing to predict but I'm going to have a violent streak out there looking for blood and a finish so it's gonna be very intense.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Knowing you, do you have any words of warning to the guys you'll be potentially fighting in the upcoming bantamweight tournament?
Joe Warren: Tell any 135-er out there that this battle-tested veteran is coming for ya. The last thing you want to see in the cage is The Baddest Man on the Planet staring at you at 135. (laughs)
Joe would like to thank Clinch Gear for being his main sponsor and his gym Rino Sports Galleri. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeWarrenMMA.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Warren be able to right the ship this weekend now that he's entirely focused on MMA? Do you give him any good odds of performing well in the next bantamweight tournament?