Today I have the honor of interviewing Joe Warren, one of the coaches on Bellator’s inaugural season of “Fight Master.”
Nicknamed “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” Warren is the Season 2 Featherweight Tournament champion, which earned him a shot at the Bellator Featherweight championship. In September 2010 Warren would end face Soto and knock him out in the second round. That night he not only captured the Bellator Featherweight championship but also handed “The Hammer” his first loss in his MMA career.
Warren also competed in the Dream Featherweight Grand Prix Tournament in 2008 where he defeated the likes of Chase Beebee and Kid Yamamoto to get into the semi-finals and lose to Bibiano Fernandes.
Outside of mixed martial arts he is a world champion Greco Roman Wrestler. He is also the subject of an upcoming documentary, which is set to premiere soon.
Warren took some time out of his schedule to talk to Fansided about his upcoming fight with Nick Kirk, his career and his future in mixed martial arts.
Joe, how are you doing?
I’m good, thanks for having me.
Thank you for taking some time to talk with us. Now for readers who may not know, how did you get your start it in mixed martial arts?
I was a wrestler in the Olympic team. I watched my teammates Dan Henderson and Heath Sims, Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, make that transition from Greco Roman into MMA. So I had a real interest in watching it at that point. I won some world championships and started having some babies so I was looking for an opportunity to make some real money outside of wrestling.
I talk to Dan Henderson and Heath Sims at Team Quest and I got instantly into the Dream Featherweight Grand Prix and that’s kind of how it started. I was actually trying out for color commentating and people were telling me that I didn’t have any credibility in fighting because I’ve never taken any fights so I needed to get some fights and get some credibility to speak about fighting.
I called Henderson and said “I needed some fights.” Three weeks later we were in Japan fighting in the featherweight Grand Prix. That’s how it started and here’s where I’m at now. And it hasn’t stopped.
You mentioned the featherweight tournament. Japan is known for their big tournaments. Looking back at where you were at at the time you were going up against Chase Beebee, a world champion and Kid Yamamoto, who at the was touted as the next big thing in Japan.
Oh yeah, a pound-for-pound guy
What was it like fighting in a tournament that grand so early in your career?
The Dream organization watched me win the world championships a few years back in China. They had some interest. It was exciting to go to Japan. It was comfortable for me. I’m an Olympian, I’m used to traveling the countries and competing in a foreign land. I felt that was the easiest for me to get into fighting was to stay comfortable in travel.
I fought in front of 50,000 to 60,000 people every single time. I had no idea how to fight. It was entertainment. They really knew how to throw on a show. There were a lot of spectators, a lot of hype, a lot of press and a lot of fun. There was a lot of media and I like that kind of stuff. It fit me really well. It kind of went together, the entertainment part of athletics that I had never experienced.
I had a great time and I was honored to compete in those big arenas in that time before today, where there aren’t that many shows over there.
You talked about all of the spectators and the media. Is there anything you miss about competing in Japan?
I miss the scale of it. You could tell you were there for a reason. When you go out to fight in a ring over there, there are 50,000 thousand people standing, all excited to watch you. It’s a different feeling than a Bellator or UFC. They’re smaller events, so there aren’t as many spectators. It’s strange for me.
It felt more comfortable to compete in front of the masses than to compete in a smaller venue with less people for television. I do miss the big venues.
Let’s talk about Bellator. You entered the Season Two Featherweight Tournament. You won the tournament and defeated Joe Soto to become a world champion. .For the tournament itself, the fights appeared to be a month apart. How did you start in Bellator and was it difficult for you or bouncing from one fight to the next in the tournament?
Yeah. When I was fighting in Dream, we had three fights a few months apart from each other. When I was coming back from Japan, I met with Bellator. I flew back to Los Angeles and I met Bjorn Rebney for breakfast. We were negotiating and we got it done quickly. They didn’t have a 135-pound weight class and they only had the 145. The season was about to start and they wanted to use me.
We signed a contract right then and instantly started in another tournament. I had those three fights in three months. It was a tough learning curve because I was fighting so much and fighting against such a high level of talent that it was hard for me to work anything myself besides the understanding of the sport.
Mixed martial arts is an extremely difficult sport, there’s so many disciplines that go into one sport, so to be world champion or to be as technically sound as you need to be inside of that cage takes time. It takes muscle memory and being able to punch and other things. It doesn’t come overnight, it takes practice. It took me a long time. I learned in the cage and I fought nonstop.
I learned after being thrown into the fire, which has helped me gain a new respect for this sport than I ever had. I was able to take step back and concentrate on my technique and my muscle memory. Remember, I was a world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, the toughest sport in the world, before this, so I was going into these fights unprepared. It was a scary feeling because I was such a prepared Olympic athlete at that point, so it was strange. It was me having to brainwash myself into these things, but now I see it in a whole different light after being four years here.
Right on. Before we go “Fight Master,” what was it like winning your first world championship in mixed martial arts? For you, what was it like getting that belt wrapped around your waist?
Since I’ve been a little kid I’ve wanted to win a gold medal for the U.S., so when I accomplished that goal in wrestling it was amazing. Winning that belt in Bellator, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve got tingles in my arms just thinking about it. To go in there and beat the man in the cage, who’s trying to beat you as bad, and taking his belt, it’s an unbelievable feeling. It was a moment that I will never forget. It was a tough process to get there and to win that belt, put it around my waist and to be featherweight champ, it was real satisfying.
It showed me that if you put your mind to something, you can get the job done, even if you don’t have the technique. It really blew up Bellator a little bit. It gave me the chance to do a little bit more outside of the cage with interviewing and commentating. It changed my life again.
There are certain times in your life when you get in a situation where you can change your life for the better or the worse. In fighting, I believe that you can really change your life with one fight if you can stay focused. just get into one fight at a time.
I believe winning that world championship changed my life for the better and opened up a lot of doors that weren’t open when I wasn’t ready. It started a brand new career for me.
Let’s segue off of fighting for a moment. You were a coach on the first season of Bellator’s “Fight Master.” You’re coaching with the likes of Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and Greg Jackson. How did you end up getting tabbed for the job?
Bjorn Rebney and Tim Danaher, Bellator President, always had an open mind that I would be involved with Bellator outside of the cage, behind the microphone or something like that. They have always had high hopes. This is our fourth year and look at where we are at now. It just shows the kind of leadership we have. They told me things were going to come. Bjorn gave me a call last summer and said, “Hey we are working with Spike TV. We’re exciting, Viacom is excited about a television show. We’d love to use you.” I said “I’m honored.”
They told me the other coaches, and they are all legendary coaches and a little older than me and i’m kind of the new breed of coaches, it was a pleasure to work with everybody. It was a lot of fun to do and for me to be on that level coaching with them is an honor.
I’ve been coached by the top-tiered coaches my whole life. I won everything as a child. I went to the University of Michigan and had the best coaches. I went to the Olympic Trials and had the best coaches.
One of the differences between me and the other coaches is I’m still an active fighter. I understand what the contestants were going through. I know what Bellator is about. I’m the only guy of the coaches that won a Bellator tournament and competed for them. I kind of felt like was it my show. It was priceless. I’m a competitor, I hate losing, so I hated losing the show, but I got my fingers crossed to get another chance.
And as for the fighters on your team, do you keep in contact with them?
Yep. A bunch of the guys I still talk to. Ishmael Gonzalez, Evan Cutts and those guys still come around. We had a few guys come into Denver and train. I went down and trained at Randy Couture’s gym and trained with Mike Bronzoulis. I trained down at Greg Jackson’s gym for this next fight. I traveled more and saw them than they saw me.
That brings me to my next question. You’re trained with Greg Jackson for this upcoming fight. What’s it like training under him? You hear a lot about him and then you’re finally under his tutelage?
My camp for this fight is Mark Montoya and I can’t say enough about him. For him to have an open mind with an athlete like me who goes from a serious winning back round. He’s been open minded for using sports physiologists for my training and opened minded for me to be able to travel down to Greg’s gym or Randy’s gym and things like that. When we got to go to Albuquerque and see Greg, he worked with the both of us. Greg has had more champions than anyone and he understands situations in fighting better than other people.
I’m a very coachable athlete and open-minded fighter so I sat down and one-on-one for a few hours a day and teach me. He watched all of my fights and all of my wrestling and he was able to talk to me about certain situations such ground-and-pound scenarios and the best way to throw this punch from the ground.
Just little things. He talks about percentages a lot. “This is the highest percentage of move that works” or “This is the highest. It was nice because it brought back a lot of the Olympics stuff that I’m used to.
You can tell these guys are veterans and for me to be able to pick his brain nd be able to use him as part of this camp, it was unbelievable.
For me to have all of these tool at my fingertips to help me improve myself, it made me the smartest coach on the show because I was able to use the other coaches to help me get better as a fighter.
I’m really happy that Greg is a good friend of mine and he was able to help me out. I know he’ll be in my corner and I know he’s pulling for me 100 percent and I believe a lot of the stuff I worked on with him will be extremely successful in the cage.
That’s great. Now I’m not asking you to divulge your strategy, but what are some of the things you are going to be looking for when you step into the cage against Nick Kirk?
I’m in the best shape and the best place, technically, that I’ve ever been in fighting. I believe there’s not a spot in mixed martial arts, right now, in the game that I can’t win from, or that I’m not better than other guy and I previously was not able to say this in previous fights. I just believe that we’ve worked a lot on our head movement and things like continuing to move forward and submitting on the ground.
You never know what’s going to happen in a MMA fight, but I can tell you one thing: there will be a lot of violence and a lot of pressure moving forward and hopefully you’re going to see me ground-and-pound this guy or submit this guy.
Let’s wrap it up. You mentioned this earlier, but you started in Bellator in season two. As someone who has been with the promotion for four years, what’s it like to see it grow? It’s one of the top two promotion in the nation. It’s on Spike TV. Now they’re having their first pay per view in November.
You know, I’ve been with Bellator since the beginning. When I joined they had one champion before me, which wasn’t even a full year yet. When I started fighting on Bellator, you only see me on ESPN Desportes, so I just want to throw that out there. We started out on as an organization that wasn’t even on an English-speaking channel.
Within four years, we’re on Spike TV with television shows. And it’s a pleasure to work with an organization like this. An organization that cares about me and wants me to do well outside the cage as well as inside of the cage. It shows the leadership that they have, to be able to move from place to place each year and be successful.
For them to sign up with Spike and Viacom and have them on board, it’s an honor. They get as good at what they do, just like me and it’s easy for me to trust in what they say and to keep moving forward. They have the best interests for me always at heart.
Bjorn, and those guys take on the chin kind of hard all of the time, but they’ve never promised me anything they haven’t given me. I’m kind of honored to be the Bellator spokesman. I believe I definitely portray what a Bellator champion is. You’re going to have to shoot me before you beat me. I think that’s a lot of way that Bellator went.
You’re seeing some of the toughest fighters every week that you would never see before because we’re going out there and fighting them. You’re seeing these new talents that everyone has been waiting to see, all of the Russian fighters and the other foreign fighters that we get our hands on.
For me to be a part of this organization and to have a big role in it, I’m honored.
That’s kind of all I have. what else would you like readers to know about you? Is there anyone you would like to thank out there?
Yeah, just to let you guys know I’m a family man. My wife Christy and I have two babies, Xander Warren, 5, Maddox Warren, 3. I’m a family man in Colorado and I rock ‘n’ roll for my family. I continue to keep pushing and working everyday and it’s strictly to support my family. A lot of people don’t think I have a family. My kind of story has been on the table. There’s not of a lot that’s hidden about me.