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Bellator's Warren on future of MMA: 'It's going to get so much more violent'

Former Bellator champion Joe Warren sat down with Bloody Elbow with his upcoming Bellator 143 fight with LC Davis on the horizon. He talked about his career to date, the plight of smaller fighters in MMA, and verbal submissions among other things...

via Bellator

Joe Warren is in interesting figure in the MMA world. The self styled "Baddest Man on the Planet" didn't start fighting until he was in his 30s and already had a prestigious, world-class wrestling career under his belt. With what was initially a limited style and a brash persona, he became something of a divisive personality to fans that followed his career. Just a little over a year after going pro, he won the Bellator 145 lb title. He'd go on to lose two of his next three fights and the belt along with it. And too a lot of fans, on the heels of those losses, the 35-year old former champ seemed destined to go down as not much more than a flash in the pan; an athlete who found quick success at the end of his competitive prime, before flaring out.

But, and perhaps somewhat obfuscated by his willingness and ability to self promote, Warren didn't drift away. In fact, he's gotten better. If you go back and watch his old tape, he's gotten quite a lot better, really. And in 2014 at the age of 37 he went out and won his second Bellator title, defeating 25-year old Brazilian Eduardo Dantas.  He didn't keep the belt, for long. Even for young fighters, success at the highest level of the sport can come and go, but it does seem like Warren is just hitting his stride inside the cage, right now, in his late 30s.

He's set to fight L.C. Davis at Bellator 143 on Friday, September 25th, in the card's main event. Bloody Elbow spoke to him in the lead up to the fight, and wanted to know what he thought of the idea that in MMA your career is really much more defined by your time spent in the cage than it is your age:

"I've done good things, I've done bad things, but it's always been in front of you guys."

"I don't know if that's the truth, you know?" Warren responded, when asked if he felt that age wasn't a major factor in his carer. "I mean, this is my fifth year right now and it sucks for me, because I've had to... I've learned how to fight on television in front of you guys, so I've made mistakes. I've done good things, I've done bad things, but it's always been in front of you guys. It's never been semi-pro fights or smaller fights before. I learned inside of the cage, I never even trained. I just took a flight to Japan and started fighting.

"So, I believe that if I was a younger fighter... Like, I didn't wrestle, if I was 25 right now, I'd be on top until I was 35. But, that being said, I didn't even start fighting until I was 32, I never even put a glove on. So, I'm thinking, I had to rush into it. I think in the years to come, in the progression of this sport, it's going to get so much more violent, because the kids are going to be so technically sound. That being said, the fights will be a little slower, but they'll be more violent. Meaning, if someone does throw a punch or a kick, it's going to knock somebody out. It's going to change a lot. I don't know how long people are going to stay on top, but I do believe what you say, when a guy gets on top, usually he gets those 5 years right, and he starts fading."

Despite not being 25 and maybe not having as long a career in front of him, Warren does believe he's continuing to improve. Most notably in his striking, as he came into the sport almost a pure wrestler.

"Oh jeeze man, it was striking, bottom line," said Warren when I asked him what part of striking has been most difficult to pick up. "You know, I'm a wrestler, I'm a Greco Roman wrestler, I'm not used to being away from someone, I'm used to having my hands on them at all times, you understand? So, it was really a distance issue; trying to understand how long my arms really are and how far away I am before I take a shot. So most of our work is, how I use combinations and punches to get to my shots; so I just use my hands before I shoot. If my hands do hit you before I take your back, you'll be in way worse trouble than you were if I just take you down. It's taken a lot of time. It's muscle memory, bottom line. Jiu Jitsu came a teeny bit easier to me, just because I'm used to being on a mat and a lot of the positioning and the structure of the sport is similar to wrestling. The striking and the kicking, I'm just learning how to kick right now. But, the striking was definitely the hardest part."

As for how he's made that transition from being a wrestler to a more complete MMA fighter, it's come slowly and with a lot of trials by fire. Warren made no bones about the fact that he got into MMA for money and had to learn the fighting part on the fly.

"I was world champ at the time in Greco Roman wrestling, so I believed I was the toughest person in the world anyway..."

"That's the only reason," Warren responded when asked if money drove him into MMA. "I never really got into fights. I was a wrestler, I didn't get in fights in bars or anything like that. The only reason I got into fighting is because Dream paid me money to fly over there and enter this featherweight world championship. Like, two weeks before the fight Team Quest and Heath Sims and Dan Henderson were calling me to try and go over there and they paid me like 25k to show up. My first fight, that was good money. And I decided, screw it, lets go over there and fight. I was world champ at the time in Greco Roman wrestling, so I believed I was the toughest person in the world anyway, didn't think anything about the actual sport of MMA. I learned real fast that there's a lot of things that go into that. It's a tough sport and I'm honored to still be on top."

Of course, being "on top" also means coming off a loss right now for Warren. But, it doesn't seem to be a loss that has really meant any changes in approach or in mindset for him on his way to his next fight. As Warren described it, losing to Marcos Galvao was a case of "getting caught" by a very high quality grappler. In general, for a fighter who suffered a very tough public loss, Warren seemed pretty serene about the whole thing as he looks forward to L.C. Davis. Even when talking about referee discretion with verbal submissions:

"I don't know. I feel like if you verbally submit, you could tap," responded Warren when I asked him about refs applying the verbal submission rule. "But, that being said, I didn't even know I screamed out last time. My body didn't tap. But, if John doesn't stop that, my leg is broke. So, I want to fight this, say it sucks, but it saved me last time. I'm kinda stuck here in a weird spot. It took my belt for some shit that I could have kept fighting. I probably would have pulled out of that, it would have been fine, and I would have won. Or, he could have broke my leg and I'd be done for the rest of my life. That being said, that's why you have those high level referees out there, that understand the difference between a verbal submission and a guy that just said 'Ow!' That's why we have those great referees."

And finally, as a very successful, smaller fighters in the MMA world, I wanted to get Warren's take on Demetrious Johnson and his fight with John Dodson, and the general apathy that lighter fighters seem to get from the fan community. For Warren, he feels a big part of it has to do with the evolution of the sport and how that doesn't necessarily meet fan expectations... or at least fans outside of Bellator:

"I didn't even watch the fight personally. I'm reading some stuff on-line about it. I don't know, they say they're very exciting and everything, but they're not getting the viewers the '35ers are and I'm not sure why. You see, that being the case, I always say, if I weighed 200 lbs I'd be a multi-millionaire. But, since I fight featherweight and 135, it's a whole different pay scale. I'm not sure why. Those are very exciting fighters to watch.

"With us weighing this weight, even the biggest, strongest one of us need to be bringing a s**tload of force behind those punches to knock some of us out."

"The problem is, you don't see a lot of finishes, a lot of knockouts at 125 and '35. You just don't see it. With us weighing this weight, even the biggest, strongest one of us need to be bringing a shitload of force behind those punches to knock some of us out. We can take a lot of punishment, the smaller guys. Compared to, say, a 200 lb guy or heavyweight fighter that, if his hand just hits the guy in the head, he puts so much force behind it that it drops him. You just get more competitive fights at the lighter weights, is what you're going to see.

"The Bellator fans are really pretty knowledgeable about the smaller weights, though. They follow me and they follow all of us featherweights as much as they do our heavyweights, or more. I think they're just more knowledgeable fans. The other fans are paying for a knockout, are paying for a drinking fight; something to have a good time, watch someone get knocked out. Those are the guys that are booing people in the stands. The people that, it's one of the best fights ever and it's being booed because, well, that guy didn't knock the other guy out. I think it's just an evolution of the sport that, the longer the sport's around, the more knowledgeable people will get about it and see the difference in technique with our smaller fighters than the bigger fighters."

You can follow Joe Warren on Twitter @JoeWarrenMMA

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