Noticeably absent from the landscape since November of 2011, the Bellator promotion unveils its first event of 2012 this Friday (March 9th).
Featherweight madness will ensue at Bellator 60 from The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana, as the event kicks off the opening quarterfinal round of this year's featherweight tournament and is captained by featherweight champion Joe Warren defending the strap against Pat Curran. Even the undercard exceeds expectations and is punctuated by former UFC talent, including love-him-or-hate-him heavyweight Sean "Big Sexy" McCorkle.
The following is the full lineup for the Bellator 60 card:
Bellator Featherweight Championship (live on MTV2 and EPIX at 8 p.m. ET)
Joe Warren vs. Pat Curran
Preliminary Card (streaming live on Bellator.com and Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET)
Shamar Bailey vs. Josh Shockley
Travis Wiuff vs. Anthony Gomez
Sean McCorkle vs. Richard White
Kenny Foster vs. Bobby Reardanz
Eric Oria vs. Lance Surma
Cory Galloway vs. Jake Nauracy
Joe Warren (7-2) vs. Pat Curran (16-4)
Featherweight monarch Joe Warren is returning to 145 after an unsuccessful quest for the Bellator 135-pound title. Warren took two fights at bantamweight: the first was an unconvincing and controversial decision over Nova Uniao's Marcos Galvao (137-pound catchweight), the second a high-profile knockout loss to Alexis Vila in the quarterfinals of last year's bantamweight tournament.
Warren had one of the more memorable entries into MMA. He debuted as an unknown in Dream's 2009 Featherweight Grand Prix and launched into stardom by finishing former top-tenner Chase Beebe (first round KO) and legend Norifumi Yamamoto (split decision). He then suffered his first loss by tapping to a first round armbar from Bibiano Fernandes and has competed under the Bellator banner ever since, winning five of his six total fights and becoming featherweight champion in the process.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Warren was a NCAA D1 All American at the University of Michigan and finished third in the national championship tournament. He shifted his focus from freestyle to Greco Roman after graduating from college and accrued a pile of noteworthy accomplishments, the most significant being his two gold medals at the Pan American and World Championships (2006) as well as in the 2007 World Cup.
Warren's 2008 Olympic aspirations were curtailed by a positive test for THC in 2007, and he transitioned to MMA shortly after.
Wielding the memorable offense that tends to make an impression on judges, Warren is exceedingly aggressive with his dual-pronged wrestle-boxing attack. To his credit, he is not the type to become discouraged or gunshy if he can't find the mark, but persists relentlessly and keeps the pressure on his opponent nonstop. Like many wrestling-based fighters, Warren's striking is more bark than bite for MMA's A-level and typically employed to set up his takedowns, but the first gif above against Joe Soto shows that it's not without effectiveness.
Bellator has become a reliable breeding ground for several intriguing prospects, many of whom managed to defy the odds and rise up in the UFC-heavy world rankings. There is no better example than Pat Curran, who secured the fourth-spot at 145-pounds with the crushing high kick knockout over Marlon Sandro to the right. While this outcome resonated in the sports combat community, the previous victories in Curran's tear through the promotion were received somewhat mildly. The F-word (fluke, of course) was a common assertion for his close decisions over Roger Huerta and Toby Imada.
Regardless, the back-to-back wins propelled Curran, then fighting at lightweight, to a crack at Eddie Alvarez's belt, and the hard-nosed, five-round performance validated his skill despite the loss.
Dropping to featherweight has resulted in a slick Peruvian tie submission, a calculating decision over UK vet Ronnie Mann and clenching the 2011 tournament championship by picking off Sandro.
More importantly, Curran has cemented a rep as one of the feistiest featherweights in the game.
The following is a detailed breakdown on Curran's rock-solid defense and counter striking from the Dissection leading into his Bellator 48 clash with Sandro.
The sequence to the right is a medley of Curran's flying knees versus Mann.
The first and second are sprung instantly and with absolutely no set up. Note how, in the second flying knee, Curran adds a straight right hand when Mann anticipates the advance, and he keeps his hands high to protect himself in both.
The third example is the charging double-knee, which he assailed Palomino with after stunning him with a punch. To conclude the second and third attempts, Curran drops levels for a double leg. This has been another tool to continually push his opponents backward and keep him in control of the pace.
In the past Curran was cautious and surrounded himself with a force-field of stiff counter punches, but he's upped his offense since moving to 145 and is now leading exchanges with more enthusiasm.
Being more assertive on the feet is the perfect complement to Curran's stand up game, because he has some of the most amazing defensive abilities in the sport. His ability to stave off takedowns and dodge or block strikes was subtly apparent in his upsets over Huerta and Imada, but became glaringly obvious against Eddie Alvarez's high octane attacks.
As usual, Eddie unloaded everything in the cannon but, due to Curran's freakish defensive skills, had to settle in to a strategic back-and-forth duel when he couldn't run him over with strikes or takedowns.
As shown in the animation above, with Curran, nothing is superfluous, excessive, or wasted; he's one of the most efficient and judicious strikers in the featherweight class.
He controls distance with a long, clean double jab, and when both get through, he cracks a tight right hand. The accuracy and consistency of his punches disrupt his opponent's rhythm and never let them get settled.
To the right we see the subtleties of Curran's bewildering defensive skills. Watch Mann time his counter to Curran's lead jab well, but still, Curran muffles all three strikes with textbook blocking and shelling while skipping back out of range.
In the next exchange, Curran's technique is nearly flawless: his elbows are tight, his chin is tucked, he has his balance, and he delivers a beautiful one-two while deflecting Mann's counter.
Here we see more fundamentally intact boxing from Curran. Check out the lightning fast counter-combination led by the heavy right hand to back Mann up in one of the few instances where Mann gets off first.
Curran advances and feints with a body blow, forcing Mann to backpedal further and reset. Then Curran lances another long jab and left hook before displaying exemplary defense once again when Mann returns fire. This is a great example of how he's relentless in peppering with a variety of blows, keeping foes on the end of his punches, controlling the distance and (somehow) having the innate ability to deflect strikes wholly even when he's in the middle of throwing his own.
And this from Warren preceding his bantamweight bout with Alexis Vila:
The appeal of Vila's potential is that Warren thrives on having his way in the clinch.
The sequence to the right versus Galvao is a fitting example of Warren's grinding and overwhelming style.
Warren lays out the jab to set up his rifling overhand right, epitomizing the Team Quest philosophy by following closely behind the big punch to tangle against the cage.
Warren had one of the most memorable MMA debuts in history, clipping Chase Beebe for a TKO and upsetting Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto in Dream circa 2009.
Here we see a carbon copy of Warren's go-to technique. It's the type of rugged advance that's difficult to stop even if you know it's coming. The overhand right has enough heat to require your full attention and basic human nature suggests you pull your head back from the missile.
This puts the defender quite literally on his heels, and Warren is always clever enough to steer them against the cage wall, further limiting their options for escape.
The options to counter this onslaught are either to circle hard away from Warren's power hand or confront the bull-rush head on.
To the right, Galvao takes the ballsy approach of the latter.
Galvo turned the tide by whittling his selection of strikes down to those that rend upward through the pocket to discourage aspiring takedown artists: heavy uppercuts, the short, spearing knee and the flying knee. Galvao executes each in sequential order here.
Even though Warren presents a high-level wrestling threat that few can mirror, Curran seems to be tailor-made to exploit his flaws. His best attributes are footwork, patience, takedown defense and precision counter punching. If one part of his game stands out above the rest, it's the way he's been impossible to control or coax into a brawl. His wrestling and scrambling are highly under-rated, his submission grappling is top-notch and his defense is phenomenally technical.
Warren has a good chin, a big heart and an imposing combination of wrestling and aggressive striking. However, every time he's faltered, it's been against an opponent whom he could not out-slug nor control with takedowns. Ferocity is more prevalent in his stand up than a wide range of fundamentals, and Curran's concrete beard, icy composure, calculating footwork and thorny defense should make for a venomous formula.
My Prediction: Pat Curran by submission.
All gifs via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com and "Caposa"