by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Nobody told Joe Warren he wasn’t supposed to win.
Last Wednesday, the decorated wrestler turned fighter, in just his second MMA fight, dispatched Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto at Dream 9, knocking the star out of a featherweight tournament bent towards his participation.
The Japanese were professional, but even if they didn’t say anything, it was clear to Warren what they thought of his chances.
“It’s their superstar,” Warren said of his victory over Kid shortly after returning from Japan. “They love that guy; that’s their man. It was a hostile environment. I was ready for it. I was used to going into other countries and competing against the best people they had.”
The relentlessly optimistic newcomer wouldn’t have been listening anyway.
“I don’t give a crap what anyone thinks,” he said. “I’m there to fight and win for myself and for my family. I know what kind of competitor I am, and they underestimated me. To me, I don’t see that as a negative. People keep underestimating me, and I’m going to keep beating the crap out of people. I know they think I’m there to get my ass kicked, and that’s fine. It makes me laugh a little bit.”
For Warren, the equation is the same for wrestling and MMA: flawless technique equals victory.
Flawless is the last word he’d use to describe his performance.
“The match was sloppy,” he said. “I was in and out of positions I didn’t want to be in. Our plan was to get him in a front headlock; I wasn’t able to do that. I was upset that I didn’t finish the fight for the extra money. I did feel at one point that I could have finished it, and I slowed the match down, stopped the striking. I just wish I would have pushed a little harder.”
Fans gave Warren a tremendous amount of respect for the punches he took during the fight, shots that have dropped weaker men. But it’s not something he wants to repeat.
“I got hit with a lot of shots that I shouldn’t have gotten hit with,” he said. “If I would have kept my head moving a little better, I could have avoided that. He threw some hard shots and I took them. I didn’t want to; I didn’t even know I did until last night when I got home and I saw the HDNet episode. I thought I won that fight hands down, and then after watching that fight on TV, I thought that was a lot closer than what I expected. It was a better fight than what I thought it was in my mind.”
He came back mostly unscathed, except for a knot under his left eye and bruising on his inner thigh, where he took several hard leg kicks.
“I found a whole new respect for Muay Thai after this fight,” said Warren.
He went into the fight with an injured right hand, courtesy of a training session with Dan Henderson at Team Quest South, which ended up being a blessing in disguise. In a meeting with trainer Heath Sims three weeks before the fight, he stated his case.
“I’m not getting the training I need at Team Quest, because the guys are too big,” Warren told Sims. “I can’t really tell if my striking is getting better because I’m fighting with Dan Henderson. Or I’m fighting with Jason Miller. They’re just too big. So I went up to Ultimate Fitness, and they have 10, 12 guys in there every day that are my size and fight professionally. Hands down that’s the best training in the world for lightweights.”
Warren spent the remainder of his time with WEC staples Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, soaking up the game plans they had worked on in anticipation of a showdown with Yamamoto (Yamamoto had been scheduled to face Benavidez at Dream 5 before pulling out due to injury).
“I just wanted to make it a barn-burning fight; just throw off the gloves and get after it, and that’s what it ended up being,” said Warren.
After the fight, Warren asked Yamamoto if he could train with him.
“If I could get half of the striking skills that he has for this next round, I’ll be unstoppable,” said the world-class wrestler. “If my hands and my kicks get better, I’ll finish fights in the first minute.”
Warren will soon be working with striking coach Trevor Wittman, a longtime associate of Greg Jackson’s camp, to further round out his game.
But ultimately, he’s learned the most in the ring.
“The only way you learn is in competition,” he said. “You can train all day, you can be the best technician in the world, and then you go into a competition and you get worked. Because you’re not used to the pressure, you’re not used to the focus, you’re not used to being hurt and focusing through it. With each fight, I’m getting better.”
And with a victory over one of the world’s most highly regarded featherweights, God only knows what he’ll do when he reaches perfection.