Rejuvenated Warren has eyes on the title

Fighting exclusively at 135 pounds, Joe Warren believes he is back at his "competitive weight" again. Daniel Herbertson for Sherdog.com

When Joe Warren competed in mixed martial arts for the first time on March 8, 2009, he wasn't a very knowledgeable fighter.

His technical game was nonexistent. Warren's footwork was laughable and his transition ability was awkward.

But what Warren, a highly skilled wrestler, lacked in overall fighting know-how, he made up for with determination and confidence.

Warren won that Dream 7 Featherweight Grand Prix opening-round bout against Chase Beebe by first-round TKO, despite being physically smaller and far less experienced than his opponent.

Determination and confidence carried Warren to victory that night and eventually led him to the Bellator featherweight title in September 2010. But determination and confidence can only take a fighter so far.

After defeating Joe Soto to become the 145-pound Bellator titleholder, Warren knew his days of fighting physically larger men needed to end.

Warren is a natural bantamweight, but the trip downward would prove to be a bit bumpy.

Warren survived a catch-weight battle (137 pounds) against Marcos Galvao in April 2011, winning by unanimous decision. But his bantamweight debut didn't go quite as well when Alexis Vila knocked him out in the first round of their Bellator Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament quarterfinal bout.

Warren made a return trip to featherweight on March 9 for a title defense against Pat Curran, suffering another knockout loss as Curran finished him in the third round.

"Alexis is one of the strongest little guys to draw in the world and I just got caught," Warren told ESPN.com. "I never thought that I could get knocked out; it happened so fast. You hear about it all the time -- getting caught on the sweet spot. I didn't think I had one, but I definitely have one. I got caught with a sweet punch and went down.

"Pat Curran, he's a stud, too. I was a little outsized in height and weight, and in the late rounds it was a factor on me. I just had a weird two fights in a row. That's what happens when you're a prizefighter."

Back-to-back knockout losses: Warren had never been finished in such fashion as a professional. It was the ultimate learning experience, and something Warren intends never to go through again.

But this two-fight skid has had a positive effect on Warren, who is now fighting exclusively at 135 pounds and has worked extensively on fine-tuning his technique.

"I learned how to fight in the cage," Warren said. "I learned how to fight against guys who were extremely experienced and extremely heavier than me. I didn't get that opportunity to learn. The last six to seven months I've been training wrestling, just really training techniques. I just feel comfortable 10 fights into my career.

"I'm in my competitive weight class again. I'm focused and extremely violent."

Warren will carry that violent attitude into the cage Friday night at Bellator 80 (8 p.m. ET, MTV2).

He will also be determined, confident and smarter when he meets Owen Evinger at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

Other than the fact that both fighters possess 7-3 professional records, Warren doesn't know anything about Evinger. And he isn't attempting to find out more. Warren believes if he sticks to his fight plan, there isn't anything Evinger can do to prevent this bout from ending early. Warren intends to take Evinger out before the final horn.

"I don't know anything about Owen Evinger," Warren said. "But he's going to get his [butt] kicked really bad at the Hard Rock, that's all I know. I'm just focused on all the positive things in my training -- keeping my hands up, moving forward, throwing punches and finishing my opponent. I'm not worried about what he's going to do.

"If I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, then he doesn't have a chance to do much."

Warren turned 36 in October. But while most fighters are looking to put the finishing touches on their professional mixed martial arts careers at that age, Warren is just getting started. He feels rejuvenated and eager to get back in the win column. There's also the matter of becoming a champion again.

Warren eyes his fight against Evinger as the first step toward claiming the Bellator 135-pound belt.

"I'm 36 and I have man strength, I'm battle-tested," Warren said. "There is no one like me who's been through the grind at the top tier and successful in MMA like I am. There is nothing in the cage that I haven't seen. I've never been hurt -- no injuries or surgeries -- so my body's really young. I'm a little smarter now than I was in my 20s. My goal is to finish this fight, then see what [Bellator CEO] Bjorn [Rebney] puts in front of me.

"I'll fight for this 135 belt again. I'll own another belt from Bellator soon."