If you watched Fight Master you heard Joe “The Baddest Man on the Planet” Warren call himself a Bellator guy. In many ways he is what they are all about with their tournament format for title shots. He was the former featherweight champion for Bellator MMA. At that weight he was fighting up a weight class in a sport he came to later in life and all he did was become champion. He lost that title to Pat Curran in a fight in which he proved that he might be too tough for his own health.
He is back making a run at the Bellator bantamweight title. It is his more natural weight class and after defeating Travis Marx via TKO in the second round of the co-main event at Bellator 107 inside of the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville OK, he’s earned himself a shot current Bellator MMA bantamweight champion Eduardo “Dudu” Dantas. Dantas. This will provide a tough all around test for the still evolving Warren.
Only Fight Master winner Joe Riggs benefited more from the show than Warren. Since they taped the show Warren has worked with each of his rival coaches from the show. For much of his career Warren has been a grappler. He brought a strong Greco-Roman background into MMA and adapted jiu-jitsu to suit his strengths. His game was about control, position and grinding out opponents and wins. He had won the title doing that so at thirty-seven years old, an age when many fighters are stuck in their style.
Warren recognized that in todays MMA world being one-dimensional will only take you so far. Most of today’s champions and title contenders are well-rounded fighters. They may not be experts in every area but they are comfortable where ever the fight goes. There are some exceptions, Ben Askren being one of the biggest, but his wrestling is like something from another planet, especially in the MMA world.
The Fight Master show exposed Warren to some of the best MMA minds and he spent time with each of them. Not many fighters get to work with a Randy Couture, a Frank Shamrock or a Greg Jackson in their whole career. Warren has worked with them all in the last few months and you see the improvements from him inside of the cage.
It is more than just the flying knees that he is throwing. He is making improvements in his footwork, and head movement as well. Warren is bobbing, weaving and using his footwork to avoid strikes. In the past he would often charge forward and the only defense he utilized was his toughness as he would eat strikes.
We saw a lot of that defense in this fight against Marx. He had a good read on Marx and avoided his kicks and punches easily. Warren’s defense did not takeaway from his offense either. The first round was a blend of classic Joe Warren and Warren 2.0 as he used his Greco-Roman wrestling to score numerous takedowns in the round. He did some nice damage on the ground and with his knees in the clinch. Marx was not able to do much of his own offensively in the round. He did land a couple of knees of his own in the clinch but he was in survival mode on the ground.
In the second round it was the newer Warren that came out. He rocked Marx in the opening moments of the round with a nice left hook. A few moments later he just missed with a flying knee. The interesting thing about the knee was how he threw it. He was crouched down in more of a wrestler’s stance and he faked a shot and then leapt up just missing with it. Even though it missed it gave Marx one more thing to think about in this fight.
Warren was aggressive but selectively and smartly about it. He controlled the action, pace and distance of the fight. He got another takedown with about a minute gone in the second round. Marx was able to get back to his feet without taking much damage as Warren was working to get his back. This is another element of his game now as he is looking for submissions on the ground not just control and position.
When they got back to their feet Warren maintained the body lock and was attached to the back right side of Marx. After ten seconds of this Marx was able to break the grip and turn into Warren. As they were transitioning Warren grabbed the back of Marx’s head as he turned and launched a perfectly timed and placed knee. Marx dropped to the ground, Warren leapt in, landed a couple of shots looked at the ref, paused landed one more before the ref finally moved in.
This new version of Warren is much more dangerous than the old one. It is rare to see some evolve like this as they enter the later stages of their career but it is one of the things that separate the great ones from the rest. Warren is willing to take that hard look in the mirror and look for the areas in which he can improve by addressing his flaws. He is quickly turning them into his strengths and his hard work has him in position to become the first man in Bellator MMA to win the title in two weight classes. It will be fun to watch the next version of Warren take on Dantas for the bantamweight belt. Win or lose – he is the heart of Bellator MMA.
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