(Now that Warren will be fighting in the U.S. again, maybe he and long lost brother Jon Gruden can finally reconnect and form some type of relationship.)
In early 2009 Joe Warren seemed like just another decorated amateur wrestler making a hasty leap into MMA after a positive marijuana test derailed his Olympic dreams. But then he beat Chase Beebe and "Kid" Yamamoto in his first two fights, and suddenly the MMA world began to take notice. Now, after a bitter loss to Bibiano Fernandes in the semi-finals of Dream’s featherweight Grand Prix, Warren has signed on to compete in Bellator’s 145-pound tournament in 2010. In this exclusive interview, Warren discusses that decision and much more with Cage Potato.
So what made you decide to go with Bellator?
Well, I’ve been wanting to get back in the states and fight, but I’ve also signed an Asia-only contract with Dream for this next year. I was really excited when I met the people from Bellator and I loved the opportunities they were offering me, like the chance to fight on TV here at home, but still go back and win that belt in Dream. I think we all saw eye-to-eye and I’m glad to be in an up-and-coming organization like this in the states.
Sounds like you have a busy year ahead of you then.
Yeah it is, but I’m a new fighter, still learning, and right now I respect this sport a lot more than I did in my first two fights. It was more of a rush then. I started doing MMA a few weeks before my first fight. Now I’ve devoted all my training to MMA, opening my gym here in Denver, and I’m putting everything I have into this.
Did the loss to Bibiano Fernandes have anything to do with giving you more respect for the sport?
Well, I think I just didn’t have a chance to really learn a respect for all the various disciplines. It was more like I was cramming for a test. But yeah, I’m a little pissed about that fight with Bibiano. I feel like I got something stolen from me. If I get a chance to fight him again I think I’ll smash him in half. I made a beginner mistake. If I would have listened to my coaches more and had a little more time in the ring, I think I would have done much better. But now that I’ve had a chance to be in this sport longer and learn how intense it is and what a grind it is, I really respect it a lot more. I’m learning so much every day that I love all the disciplines.
Is it a goal of yours this year to get another fight with Bibiano in Dream?
Oh, they know I want to fight him. I know he’s fighting [Joachim] Hansen for the belt, so hopefully I’ll get him after that. Right now I’m working towards this fight in Bellator in April, smashing whoever’s in front of me, and then moving on to the next one. We’re going probably one right after another for three months. I enjoy the tournament format. I enjoy the prep and I love winning. I’m a proud guy, and one thing they knew when they got a hold of me is that it’s going to be a good fight and it’s going to be a show. I’m excited to show the talent that I’ve gained.
I know initially you were unhappy with the stoppage in the fight with Bibiano. Now that you’ve had more time to reflect on it, do you think it was the right thing for the referee to do?
The thing is, I was so inexperienced I thought I could keep fighting in a position like that. I wasn’t even thinking about stopping. I was going to go to my knees and try and step over. But they stopped it and I think it looked worse than it really was, but yeah, it’s my fault. I didn’t respect the quality of jiu-jitsu that Bibiano has. He’s a great fighter and I take nothing from him. I was ready for that fight, but I just got a little too excited.
I should have listened more to our game plan. I understand how important the game plan is now. I learned a lot from it and that sticks with me now. I’m pissed off about it and I feel like he took something from me. It’s haunted me a little, but I just let that violent anger build up and push me in training. That’s what it’s done. We’re just starting our training camp in Denver at the Rhino Sports Gallery, and I think it’s probably going to be one of the best ground fighting camps in the sport.
Did you have any conversations with the WEC before you signed on with Bellator?
Yeah, we shopped around a little bit. Bellator is just the best fit for us right now. I’ll get some more fights under my belt and maybe make that my home.
How much did their willingness to let you fight in Dream and also continue wrestling play into the decision?
It did play into it. Dream also gives me those opportunities and I do still love to wrestle. But I think I’m a fighter now, whereas I wasn’t at first. Now I’m dedicated to MMA. I get more excited every morning to go in there and do striking and jiu-jitsu than I do to go wrestle. I’m learning more now and I think I understand what’s going on in there a little better. My fighting style is also based around the cage. I have a violent fighting style, and in a cage they can’t get away from me. In a ring they can get away from me more.
It seems like a lot of wrestlers who come into MMA still feel like their careers aren’t complete without the Olympics. Do you feel that way?
A lot of people haven’t won like I have. I won almost everything there is to win in the sport. The Pan-American Games, the World Cup, World Championships, several national championships at university and everything. The one thing I was training for was the gold medal in the Olympics. The World Championships is kind of the same, but that Olympic gold medal is something we all strive for. There’s just something about it. I think I feel a little better about it because I have won so many gold medals. But it’s still in me. I tried to wrestle last weekend at the Kit Carson Cup and I lost a few matches that I probably shouldn’t, but I’ve been focusing so much of my energy on training MMA lately. Still, the respect I have for wrestling is so great.
Does losing those wrestling matches make you think you need to decide on one or the other, wrestling or MMA, and put all your focus into that?
Yeah, I’m getting a lot of shit from my wife and from my teammates about that, so I’m getting pulled in so many different directions, but I think if anyone can do it I can. Right now I’m putting everything else aside and focusing on one thing, and that’s winning my fight in April. That’s it for us right now. That’s the only thing I’m thinking about, getting my hands better, getting stronger, being more agile. As far as wrestling, I’m going to push as hard as I can in MMA for the next year, and we’ll see what happens after that. Bellator has given me the opportunity to have my contract stop if I train for the Olympics, so we’ll see what happens.
Thanks for your time, Joe. Anything else to add?
No, thanks a lot. I’d just like to say that our gym is open, the Rhino Sports Gallery in Denver, Colorado, on 36th and Wynkoop. That’s where we’re going to be training and where my camps will be the next couple months. I’m just happy to be competing in front of an American audience.