In the second round of the Bellator featherweight title fight this past Saturday, Joe Warren ate a Pat Curran knee that would have done a lot of fighters in. Then the big blows started coming at him grapeshot, as Warren rocked, stumbled, flailed, clutched, groped and did everything short of defending himself intelligently. Curran’s partisan crowd roared as the referee moved in with an urge to call off Curran’s assault. But he didn’t give into that urge until Warren sat anesthetized against the fence, unconscious with his eyes open.
Was it a late stoppage? Yes. It looked very late. Unless, of course, you were the man clinging to consciousness with fleeting hopes of coming back. Joe Warren, who was the one getting smashed by a man 20 pounds heavier than him and 11 years younger, remained optimistic throughout the onslaught.
In fact, optimism was the last thing to go black.
“I’ve seen the fight one time and I’ve been hearing a lot about it,” he told ESPN.com. “I think maybe I’m a little bull-headed and I should have maybe went to sleep. But I never thought I’d lose that fight; I thought it was a rough patch and I could fight my way through it and I couldn’t do that. I don’t know if [referee Jeff Malott] should have stopped it. I’ve seen it different ways than other people.
“It was a title fight between two warriors. [Malott] doesn’t want to stop a fight before it’s supposed to be stopped. I don’t have any animosity there. It’s my job to keep myself safe and I didn’t so I see that as a failure of my duties, not his. You guys can talk about it. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t upset me one way or another. I’m 100 percent. If I was hurt bad, it’d be different.”
Warren walked away with a concussion and a bruised ego. He lost his belt, which hurts. He likely fought his last fight at 145 pounds, where at 5-foot-5 he's Lilliputian next to the likes of guys like Curran. And he took a nasty beating that will hang on to him for a long time, similar to when Chuck Liddell got knocked out by Rashad Evans at UFC 88. It was the kind of beat down that sticks in your memory. If not his own, then other people’s -- people who will ask him about it and remind him of it and convey its brutality for the next few months.
And you can’t help but wonder how it will play on his psyche -- people respond to this type of thing differently. There are plenty of fighters who develop “buttons” after getting knocked unconscious. Matt Wiman once told me that after he got knocked out by Spencer Fisher at UFC 60 via a flying knee, he was getting his bell rung in training for a long time after -- like he’d suddenly developed a glass jaw.
In his case, whether it was mental or physical, it didn’t last but a year. He was 22 at the time.
But Warren, a 35-year old decorated Greco-Roman wrestler who got into MMA late, is coming off his second knockout in a row. The first was to Alexis Vila in the quarterfinals of last season’s bantamweight tournament. Suddenly he’s gone from the “Baddest Man on the Planet” to a fashionable never was. Such is life in this grim trade.
And yet then again, Warren isn’t all that worried about the perception nor the carryover. He says he’s planning on doing exactly what he intended before the Curran fight.
“I got Olympic team trials in five and a half weeks at Carver-Hawkeye Arena [in Iowa City, Iowa], to wrestle at 60 kilograms there,” he says. “I’d like to fight at 135 after that and not have to fight 145 anymore. If we can come to the table there, then I’d love to fight in the 135-pound tournament.”
As for the prospect of potentially even moving down to flyweight in the future?
“Funny, everyone seems to be asking me this -- at least my teammates,” he says. “I’m a lot lighter than I used to be. The older I get, the leaner I get. I like belts. I believe I could get another one at 135, but it’s one step at a time.”
The next step is to put the last one behind him. Besides, there were positives. He took Curran down seven times in the first round.
“I had a good game plan, I was pushing the pace the way I had it planned, pulling him deep into the rounds, making the conditioning a factor and, you know, our sport is very unpredictable,” he says. “After the knee came, I was trying to stay awake and couldn’t get the job done. [Curran]’s a great, great fighter, and a real skilled athlete. I think he’s going to be the champ for a while. I think my disadvantage was five inches and 25 pounds.”