Bellator’s Joe Warren isn’t ready to give up on his dreams of winning gold in wrestling.
The ex-champ and Season 9 bantamweight tournament finalist told MMAjunkie.com that his goal is to beat Travis Marx (21-4 MMA, 3-1 BMMA), win the bantamweight belt, and then compete at the 2015 Wrestling World Championships.
“That’s what I’m best at,” said Warren (9-3 MMA, 7-2 BMMA) of his former sport. “For the world championships to be in the U.S., which is a very rare thing in the first place, and for it to be in (Las) Vegas in 2015, it gives me the opportunity to set that goal of maybe making a world team and being able to win something else in Greco in the U.S. It would be an honor to do that.
“I always set my goals really high, so I’d like to win this fight first against Travis Marx, get an opportunity to get that (Bellator) belt, and then maybe win a world championship wrestling belt.”
Warren takes the first step toward his lofty goals when he meets Marx at Bellator 107, which takes place at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The event co-headlines the Spike TV-televised main card following prelims on Spike.com.
The fight’s winner will move on to face 135-pound champion Eduardo Dantas sometime next year.
Before moving into MMA, the 37-year-old Warren was a Greco-Roman wrestler who won gold at the 2006 worlds, the 2007 Pan American Championships, and the U.S. championships for three years in a row beginning in 2005. A bid for the 2008 Olympics was scratched when an arbitrator for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency upheld a two-year suspension for twice testing positive for marijuana.
Warren, the self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet,” hinted at another Olympic run, but said getting knocked out by Pat Curran in March 2012 scratched a plan to make the 2012 games. He said a potential move to wrestling would be full-time if he is able to win Bellator’s bantamweight belt, and added that he would need financial backing to support himself while training.
“It doesn’t pay like it does to fight,” Warren said. “My thing is I will need to stop fighting completely to be able to do something like that. It’s a whole different animal. The last time with the Olympics, I fought up until four weeks before the Olympic team trials, and I was knocked out by Curran. It threw a big wrench into that.”
A lack of financial upside often drives wrestlers to compete in MMA, but Warren said he isn’t returning to the mats for money.
“This is personal gratification for me,” he said. “I stopped wrestling at the top of my game, when I switched over to fighting and had some babies. That was a choice.
“Our (U.S.) Greco team needs a spark. We had one of the best teams in the world when I was there. We won world championships. I was a world champ, and it kind of went downhill from there. It’s a pride issue for me. If there’s a way that I could help spark the wrestling again, and bring the championship back to the U.S., that’s what I’m interested in.”
Whether Warren can do that two years down the road, just a month prior to his 39th birthday, remains to be seen. T.R. Foley, a former ESPN columnist who covers wrestling for InterMat Wrestling, said upcoming cuts to the total number of weight divisions will force him to shed more pounds or bulk up. The former, he said, could drain Warren of valuable energy, while the latter could put him at a disadvantage against bigger grapplers. (Warren found success in the 132-pound class.) But he added that the changes didn’t rule out a world title.
“There’s no reason he couldn’t,” Foley said. “The rules are probably worse than they were just recently. They were better for older guys to do that because there was less action. But Warren is a tough guy, and the Americans at that weight, hasn’t really done much, so that’s possible.
“I think there’s an outside shot. I think he’ll probably place top-four. I don’t see him making the World Team. I see him placing at the World Team trials. Between now and then, there’s a lot of good talent that’s coming through, and I don’t think he’s going to be able to hang with those guys at the lighter weight. He’ll be almost 40.”
Of course, there’s a possibility that Warren might have some help in combating the effects of age. Prior to an ill-fated bout with Nick Kirk in the semifinals of Bellator’s Season 9 tourney, he applied for and was granted a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone.
After Warren beat Kirk at Bellator 101, he told MMAjunkie.com that he hadn’t decided whether he would go through with TRT and said he was still investigating the process.
Prior to his fight with Marx, however, Warren feels like he hasn’t lost a step, and that’s why he’s thinking about a return to the mats.
“It’s always something on my mind,” he said. “I’m still young and explosive. I believe I’m a better wrestler, technique-wise, than I’ve ever been. I always believe I’m unstoppable and can’t be beat. It would be nice to stop this wrestling and fighting thing with two belts. That would be nice.”
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