Joe Warren is just some regular dude.
He may have finished a former WEC bantamweight champion in his first fight, beat a revered Japanese legend known for wrecking opponents a weight class higher in his second, and has become a champion in under two years in the sport. I did that on my lunch break yesterday.
Warren has now set supposedly "lofty" goals of adding another Bellator championship belt to his collection and competing in the 2012 Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling. Hello? I'm totally thinking about making a grocery list later if I can find a pen, and these dishes aren't going to wash themselves.
Please reach down and bang on the sarcasm detector in your fanny pack if bells and whistles aren't going off. Joe Warren has embodied an ultra-talented, atypical fighter since he first set foot in the DREAM ring, etching his name on the list of Most Impressive Debuts in MMA History, and now the featherweight fireball is shedding a few pounds to shake up the bantamweight division.
Warren faces Nova Uniao black belt Marcos Galvao in a 137-pound catchweight bout that will headline Bellator 41 tonight, and Galvao is a sleeper who could spring some traps on the Team Quest juggernaut. Join me in the phase-by-phase analysis after the break.
The betting lines have Warren at -625 and Galvao at +425, so it's not a jaw-dropper that the reigning Bellator featherweight king is expected to be equally or more destructive against smaller opponents. Let's accept that Warren deserves to be the heavy favorite right off the bat and outline some spots that Galvao could be a handful.
First, a little about 9-3-1 Marcos "Louro" Galvao: he's a two-time Brazilian National Champion and five-time World Champion in jiu-jitsu. His losses are to former WEC bantamweight champ Brian Bowles and home-run slugger Damacio Page by TKO and undefeated prospect Akitoshi Hokazono by decision. He drew with former Shooto 132-pound champion Masakatsu Ueda, who holds wins over Akitoshi Tamura (another Shooto champ and former WEC and Sengoku fighter) and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto.
Galvao topped the well-traveled Kenji Osawa (former WEC and Shooto fighter who once finished the UFC's Takeya Mizugaki with strikes and just beat Yoshiro Maeda in DREAM), Naoya Uematsu (featherweight with a win over Caol Uno and experience against Jens Pulver, Gilbert Melendez, and Urijah Faber in losing efforts), and Gracie Barra's Fredson Paixao (WEC-UFC featherweight with wins over Rani Yahya, Masakazu Imanari, and welterweight Thomas Denny). This should imply that Galvao comes from one of the best teams, has a resplendent grappling pedigree, and has scrapped with some stout competition.
What I love about this match-up is that Galvao is wild and aggressive, but tough as nails and very well-rounded. Since Warren has been drizzling extra power on the end of his punches, he could unload on Galvao early and finish him with strikes just like Damacio Page did. However, factoring in Galvao's accomplished submission skills and unpredictable offense on the feet, he does have a chance to expose the tiny holes that Warren has shown in his game.
Free Movement / Striking Phase
We are quick to proclaim that wrestling is the best base for MMA, where I would add that freestyle wrestlers who transition to Greco-Roman are even better. This endows athletes with a broader range of levels and level-changing along with more detailed footwork that translates well to MMA striking.
This is why Joe Warren was able to hold his own on the feet early in his career. Hammered into shape by Team Quest, the best MMA mod-shop for Greco Roman wrestlers, Warren displayed the type of motion and mechanics that beginners usually spend years struggling to learn. Though he wasn't a drastic standout anywhere with his striking, he wasn't weak anywhere either, getting good marks across the board with overall fundamentals -- which is scary for a green fighter with a wrestling base.
Despite a loss to DREAM champ Bibiano Fernandes in a literal "tap or snap" scenario, Warren was also clipped on the feet and seriously endangered by Joe Soto and Patricio Freire in the first round, but showed impressive resolve by turning the tables in the remaining frames for come-from-behind wins. If anything, it seems Warren ate those punches by becoming too comfortable and relenting with the fanatic dedication to defense he showed initially in his career rather than any basic inadequacies.
Regardless, Warren is improving his stand-up and increasing his power, and Galvao's two TKO losses indicate a red flag. However, Warren has a tendency to leave his chin exposed, and Galvao makes up for having porous defense with an unpredictable and volatile striking game of his own.
Where Warren is more cautious and defensive-minded, Galvao is willing to take offensive risks and sling haymakers, leap forward with knees to opponents that drop levels, and cleave with short Thai elbows while trading in the pocket. He has shown a propensity to retreat in a straight line on many occasions, which is exactly how his two losses to strikes came about in the past.
I chose the animation on the left because it shows a little bit of everything that Galvao offers on the feet. At 3:51, we see the ill advised straight-line retreat with Bowles in pursuit, but Galvao is wary enough to flick a solid left counter into the mix. During the pause at 3:48, check his quick reactions when Bowles fakes a level drop, and Galvao threatens to plaster him with a quick upward knee, which could come in handy against an opponent like Warren that also shoots from outside.
At 3:45, Galvao counters with the short elbow in close quarters; something uncharacteristic for a decorated submissionist. At 3:42, he charges with the kind of flurry that isn't pretty, but requires the full attention of his opponent. Just as this wild exchange leaves him exposed, he concludes with a leaping knee that's been known to catch wrestlers when their instincts take over and they drop levels to defend a charging striker.
He stands upright, most likely because his world-class BJJ awaits on the mat.
Each have shown a dependable chin with a remarkable ability to recover quickly. As is the overall theme with this fight, Warren represents the safe and steady choice, but Galvao exudes the type of unbridled aggression and dicey bravado that often fosters unforeseen timing and angles, and Warren's defense has been breached with strikes in his last two fights.
Advantage: Warren (slight)
Eh, kind of hard to waste time here. Class A High School Champ, Big Ten Conference Runner-Up, NCAA D1 All-American, FILA World Championship and Pan-Am Greco Gold Medalist, Olympic hopeful, etc.
It's worth noting that Warren is not insta-death nor unstoppable in the clinch, mostly because he's not takedown-oriented. Most foes anticipate and slip in the underhooks, and Warren uses their own momentum to shift his force from downward to upward, standing them up and bombing knees to their exposed midsection. Playing a chess game by alternating the massive force he applies in the clinch is a sign of his intelligence and diversification.
We did see Fernandes pop back to his feet, Freire slip around to cinch his waist from behind, and other small areas that only reinforce that Joe Warren isn't invincible here. Galvao is that same type of sneaky, slippery, and crafty fighter that makes nothing easy, but it's impossible to pick against Warren here.
The animation to the right shows how Galvao compensates for his defensive flaws with creative offense. Bowles tags him after using predictable patterns, and pounces for what many fighters might think are the fight-ending blows. Not only has Galvao regained his composure, but he hooks the right leg of Bowles and rolls for a kneebar.
This is how upper-echelon jiu-jitsu can transform a fight from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the brink of being pounded out with strikes to locked inside the clamped jaws of a submission, all in the blink of an eye.
Where Joe Warren has excelled is with his submission defense and top-game. Versus Freire, another perilous black belt, Warren was rock-solid inside his guard: he was aware of Freire's angling of the hips and snaking hands, and kept his own arms tucked in and never posted them while grinding safe elbows (even to the body) and maintaining a strong base.
Warren's BJJ awareness and defense was apparent, which completes his overall game and makes him enough of a force to hold a slight advantage over the decorated Galvao, who shockingly has never won a fight by submission.
Advantage: Warren (slight)
Galvao should not be overlooked. Anyone under Andre Pederneiras with startling BJJ credentials, experience against top competition, and an unusually effective striking game has the tools to win fights at any level. Were Joe Warren not such a freakishly skyrocketing phenom, Galvao would be a great underdog pick.
Unless Warren comes in cocky, dwelling on his future aspirations, or unfocused on the task at hand, he should cruise to a competitive decision. While Warren could also very well lay him out with strikes, if he underestimates Galvao, presses unwisely or slips up even once on the ground, Galvao is the kind of sleeper that could give him a brutal wake-up call.
My Prediction: Warren by decision
Gifs courtesy of "Caposa"