Bellator 161: "Kongo vs. Johnson" takes place at H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas, this Friday night (Sept. 16, 2016), featuring two Heavyweight contenders looking to stake a claim to the currently vacant title -- Cheick Kongo and Tony Johnson. Kongo has a two-fight win streak and Johnson is a three-straight fight winner coming in, so each man is poised to make their case as the next Heavyweight champion.
Meanwhile, earlier in the evening two Bantamweight fighters have a bit further to climb. Former 135-pound champion Joe Warren lost his last fight to Darrion Caldwell, who himself seemed posed to challenge for the title until his stunning submission loss at Bellator 159 to Joe "The Juggernaut" Taimanglo. The self-proclaimed "Baddest Man on the Planet" hasn't lost two fights in a row since 2012, though, and if he can return to form he'll have to defeat a hungry opponent who lost his promotional debut on the same card -- Sirwan Kakai.
In a recent interview with MMAmania.com, Warren reveals how he plans to push reset on his loss to Caldwell, using Kakai as the first stop on his road back to the top. He started out with a royal "we," but quickly went back to first person.
"Yeah, we're prepared man, we're 10 pounds over, we're focused. I'm healthy, I'm violent, I'm pissed off at my loss. I'm focused on trying to make some money for my family to take care of 'em. Everything so far so good -- I just need to go perform and impress myself."
Fighters take their losses personally, but "pissed off" might even be a level beyond that. What's eating Warren's grapes is that his loss to Caldwell was in his view because of an injury and not any mistakes in training or performance.
"I was fine getting in there (but the) first takedown I dislocated my kneecap and tore my MCL. So I was stuck on the ground against that cage and I've never been in that position. I wasn't sure if I could move, or if I could go on, and it was a strange position I've never been in. So I tried to stand up and got body slammed and choked. When shit goes bad in that cage it goes REAL bad. It was disappointing that I didn't actually get to fight that fight."
Warren's critics -- which he freely admits he has many of -- will no doubt accuse him of making up excuses for his loss. He gives Caldwell all the credit in the world though and wants to silence the critics by facing Kakai.
"I'm not taking anything away from Darrion. He's a great new fighter and he's going to be the future in our program, but just let me fight and we'll see what happens. I've rehabbed, everything's fine, I'm 100 percent so I'm excited to get out there and perform again for Viacom and Bellator and get this big win."
Even though Warren would like to avenge that loss to Caldwell, he's not the only one with an agenda given Caldwell wants to avenge a loss to Taimanglo. I asked Warren about this chain of dominoes falling at Bantamweight.
"I'm not surprised at anything in that cage. MMA and fighting is the most unpredictable sport and unpredictable place you could possibly put yourself in you know? In a wrestling match nine out of 10 times the better wrestler will win, but that's not the case in the cage -- it's very unpredictable. You never know what's going happen."
Warren's philosophy seems to be he would rather take a fight and lose than sit and wait for a title fight or a rematch that he'd rather have -- staying busy is always better.
"I fought L.C. Davis, beat him, and I was supposed to fight for the belt. Those Brazilians would not fight, it took about a year (and) I needed to make some money for the family. I took that fight against Darrion, thought it would go my way, and things didn't go my way. Same thing happened with Darrion. He could have waited and had a title shot, instead he took a fight, and he got choked out in the third. You can never really count on what's going to happen in that cage."
As unpredictable as the sport may be, one thing seems predictable in Bellator, and that's Warren almost never loses two fights in a row. In fact it hasn't happened since Warren fought Pat Curran back in 2012.
"I don't ever think about the loss. It's never going through my mind. I'm not worried about what the other man's doing, I'm worried about moving forward and being offensive, and that usually pulls the wins out for me. When I do have those losses, I don't really know how to deal with it -- it sucks!! I have a hard time losing. It's been shitty for me these last few months. I'm really focused on getting back in that win column."
Warren sounds as hungry as ever to perform and anticipates dealing with Kakai's strengths. He has 10 finishes in 12 wins (four by knockout, six by submission) and claims he's on the way up and Warren's on the way down. Are you surprised to hear that Warren doesn't agree with that assessment?
"You know people say a lot of shit when they get to fight me, when they get the opportunity to fight a bigger name than them. He's a very dangerous opponent coming in. He's got two losses coming in, but he fought hard in both of those fights. He feels like he's disrespected, but I don't think he has the game to be able to beat me. Let's see what happens. I let my mouth do the talking then I go in there and physically get the job done."
Whether people love or hate the way he talks smack to Warren it's just another day and another fight.
"I don't even care about this man at all. He's just a body they're putting in front of me. As long as I do what I'm supposed to be doing I'm going to kick this guy's ass and move forward."
Complete audio of our interview is below and complete Bellator MMA coverage can be found right here on fight night.