(Photo via USA Today)
By Elias Cepeda
MMA fighters are typically quite good at talking about participating in the sport in philosophical terms. It is human chess, it is the ultimate competition, they feel peace in the cage or ring after the bell sounds, they get a thrill out of it, it is the most pure sport expression of martial arts, etc.
Most MMA fighters are pretty smart and since they participate in a constantly attacked and judged sport, many have come to see themselves as ambassadors for the sport on the whole.
It is important to remember, however, that professional fighters are prize fighters. That is, no matter what auxiliary benefits they get for fighting other trained athletes, they do it for money.
Fighters fight to put food on their plates and roofs over their heads. Joe Warren never forgets this.
The former Greco Roman wrestling world champion is in his car driving to his home state of Michigan on a recent afternoon. In tow, are the reasons he fights – his family. After winning a world championship, Warren was focused on making the U.S. Olympic team in 2008 and going to Beijing and winning gold.
A failed marijuana test and ensuing two-year suspension slammed that door shut for Warren. It was only then, at the relatively ancient age of thirty two, that he decided to follow in the footsteps of other world-class wrestlers turned fighters like Mark Coleman, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland and fight MMA.
“I was training to win a world championship, I won a world championship and then didn’t get to wrestle in the Olympics,” Warren tells CagePotato on the ride to Michigan.
“While training for wrestling, some of the best fighters ever were in the room. Guys like Randy Couture, Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson. So, it was always in my mind. I started to do a little bit of color commentary but I didn’t have any credibility in fighting because I hadn’t fought. So, I decided to take some fights. I had some babies now and I needed to keep making cash.
So, I called Dan [Henderson] and they got me a fight instantly. In a month, I was in the Featherweight World Grand Prix. I flew out there starting fighting.”
Not only did Warren jump right into the fire against champions like Chase Beebe, “Kid” Yamamoto and Bibiano Fernandes in his very first three fights back in 2009, he did so with only a month of MMA training in his pocket. “I went in there strictly a wrestler,” Warren says.
“I flew out to Team Quest maybe a month before my first fight in Japan. I didn’t have a chance to learn the fighting aspect of it. It was just about safety – keep my hands up.”
Despite his lack of experience and, frankly, skills, Warren did well. He beat Beebe and Yamamoto before losing by submission to Fernandes. Then, he moved on to Bellator and won their featherweight title.