Commissioner critical of Bellator's Joe Warren over non-clearance


joe-warren-4.jpgBellator fighter Joe Warren regards the events leading to his scratch from Bellator 98 as “a lot of headaches” and is excited to have resumed his career in the cage. 

“It’s been a little bit of time, so (there’s) a little bit of ring rust, a little bit of anxiety,” Warren (9-3 MMA, 7-2 BMMA) told MMAjunkie.com after his victory over Nick Kirk (10-3 MMA, 0-2 BMMA) at Bellator 101 this past Friday in Portland. “I’ve got so many new toys, it’s like Christmas. 

“I’m excited to get another shot. Hopefully, I’ll get on that (Bellator) pay-per-view card, Nov. 2., and get the job done there.” 

That sounds good to Mike Mazzulli, who declined to clear Warren for his first scheduled booking against Kirk this past month at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. But the official takes issue with the fighter’s comments about the handling of the medical issue that prompted his removal from this past month’s card. 

“I’m not going to take the responsibility for clearing a fighter that my neurologist states should not be in the cage,” Mazzulli, Director of the Mohegan Tribal Athletic Department, told MMAjunkie.com. “He should be grateful more than being so argumentative over the issue.”

Warren, a Denver native and former Bellator featherweight champion, is moving on after submitting Kirk in the semifinals of Bellator’s Season 9 bantamweight tournament and next faces Travis Marx in the finals for a shot at the title. But there was a brief moment where his career seemed to hang in the balance. 

In early September, Mazzulli said Warren couldn’t fight after he wasn’t medically cleared to compete. A report then surfaced that a knockout in sparring was responsible for Warren’s denial. 

“I do not care or am concerned about him getting knocked out,” Mazzulli said. “I heard that, but that had nothing to do with my decision making. Mr. Warren has to understand that the Mohegan Tribal Athletic Department looks out for the best interest of the fighter, and there were three doctors that all concurred that he needed to hold off to make sure this was no issue.”

Mazzulli said one of the doctors, neurologist Tony Alessi, who consults with the NFL Player’s Association on concussions, saw something that concerned him when he looked at an MRI that Warren submitted five days prior to the Sept. 7 fight card as part of his medical clearance. 

Based on that concern, Mazzulli said, Alessi recommended another MRI be performed on Warren, who at that point hadn’t competed in 10 months. 

Warren claims a “printer mistake” is to blame for the neurologist’s initial diagnosis that he had suffered a stroke and was unfit to fight. He said the commission wouldn’t budge when another neurologist cleared him and forced him to wait 10 days, thereby denying him his opportunity to get back in the cage. 

“They saw something in the back of my head that they thought I got knocked out,” Warren said. “So they wanted me to do another MRI. That was the day of the weigh-ins, so I drove to a neuro guy in Denver, did another MRI, (and) he cleared me and the Connecticut commission still wouldn’t clear me (and) wanted 10 more days.”

Warren said his personal doctor balked at the commission’s demands and declined another MRI while declaring him 100 percent healthy. But after talking with Bellator, who agreed to foot some of the bills for the additional testing, he decided to go through with the process. 

“We talked with (Bellator CEO) Bjorn (Rebney) and everyone, and they said, ‘We’re going to give you 10 more days and make sure everything is 100 percent,’” Warren said. “I just stayed quiet through that time, but I was fine. What they told me was (it was) an image abnormality, so that means they’re reading things wrong.”

Mazzulli, however, said that Warren is remembering things wrong in his recounting of the process. The official said Alessi confirmed the abnormality and consulted with Warren’s neurologist in Denver. Both reached the conclusion that the fighter needed to wait 10 days to make sure the MRI was clear. 

“What I find very interesting is that his doctor wouldn’t clear another MRI, and we do another MRI, and there’s an issue,” Mazzulli said. “So who’s right on this case?”

The commissioner said his experience in combat sports has taught him that caution is never a bad thing when dealing with the health and safety of athletes. 

“Mr. Warren should also realize that his life is in jeopardy, as well, so he should understand that and get his facts straight,” Mazzulli said. 

For additional coverage of Bellator 101, stay tuned to the MMA Events section of the site.

(Pictured: Joe Warren)

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