(Warren throws with “Kid” Yamamoto. Props to ESPN.com)
Joe Warren is the breakout star in DREAM’s Featherweight Grand Prix Tournament. The world-class Greco-Roman wrestler defeated former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe in the round of sixteen and followed that up with a split decision victory over formerly top ranked Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto in the quarterfinals. Not bad for a guy who just started training in mixed martial arts less than a year ago.
Although his star is on the rise, Warren’s interaction online presence is practically non-existent. He doesn’t have a personal web site nor does he have any social networking accounts. He’s damn near a technological ghost. It’s a tad surprising, but his reasoning is quite logical.
“A lot of my buddies got into some serious trouble on MySpace with their wives, so it’s been easier for me not to start that thing up yet,” the 32-year-old says with a laugh. “But those will be started. I get a lot of sh*t for that, but I don’t care. I need to win those titles, then be able to look forward and see what’s going down.”
Instead of wasting the day away with “MySpace Tom,” the featherweight has spent the morning training with Dan Henderson at Team Quest’s facilities in Temecula, Calif. to prepare for his semi-final encounter against jiu-jitsu expert Bibiano Fernandes and a possible follow-up championship match against the winner of Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Hideo Tokoro. Though still brand new to the game, Warren has all the tools necessary to take home two newly minted championship belts.
Warren was a hyperactive adolescent who fell into wrestling back in the third grade. His classmates would wipe the floor with him at first, but by the fourth grade, Warren started dominating them. That domination continued at East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids where he won a state championship, then later at the University of Michigan where he was an All-American, and finally as a member of the U.S. National Team where he won numerous titles including the 2006 World Championship in Greco-Roman wrestling at 132-pounds.
But in May 2007 he tested positive for marijuana and received a two-year suspension from participating on the national team. Warren was forced to miss the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. Though his career in Greco-Roman was coming to a close, Warren realized his top class grappling ability could transition well into MMA and decided to go down the path so many of his other friends wandered.
“Well you know Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, and Randy Couture used to wrestle on the same teams on an Olympic level. We all wrestled together since we were kids. Dan and those guys are a little older than me, so when it came time for those guys to stop wrestling, they started fighting, so we all would watch them fight. But I never really got into it,” Warren explains. “My wife always thought I’d be good at it. She said, ‘If you’re gonna train, you gotta do it now. You can’t wait a few years.’ So we jumped into this with both feet.”
In February 2009, while on a ski trip in Aspen, Colorado, Warren received the phone call that would jumpstart his new career. “Heath Sims called me and was like, ‘We got a fight in two and a half weeks if you want it.’ I was like, ‘Alright. Let’s try it out.’ So I flew out there (to Temecula, California) that next day from Aspen and started training,” he recalls. “It was a nerve-wracking experience. I never really … I wasn’t the guy who got into fights in the streets. I always had the chick with me.”
In this case the chick, his wife, was at home and the two-week training camp at Team Quest enhanced his skills enough to defeat former WEC Bantamweight Champ Chase Beebe in the qualifying round of the DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix. Then “Baddest Man on the Planet” traveled to Sacramento to work with Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male in anticipation for his quarterfinal showdown against Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. “Kid,” considered one of the best lighter-weight fighters in the world, was edged out by Warren in a split decision. It was just the second loss of Yamamoto’s career.
The outcome of those bouts surprised everyone except this underdog and the folks around him. “I planned on winning those fights, so it didn’t surprise me all that much,” Warren says. “The thing is it just jumpstarted my career. My training has been different, I’ve been away a little bit longer form my family than I wanted to be just because I’m ready to win these belts. The plan from when we started this tournament was I was going to go in there and win these world championships.”
First he has to get by jiu-jitsu whiz Bibiano Fernandes in the semi-final. And if Warren is victorious, which he says he will be, then he has a late-night date with the winner of Hiroyuki Takaya vs. Hideo Tokoro.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m about as hardcore as it gets. In the world championships, Olympic style, we fight probably five matches in one day, so I’m really used to competing in several matches for a day. So this is right up my alley,” he explains. “We’ve been doing a lot of jiu-jitsu with Rani Yahya, Alberto Crane and they’ve been trying to submit me every day and they can’t do that now, so it makes me feel a little bit more confident there. Every time I step into that ring, I learn more, so it’s not good for my competitors because I’m getting better every day and I’m extremely violent.”
If all goes well on Tuesday night, then the “Baddest Man on the Planet” will become two title belts richer. The next step is opening his Team Quest gym in downtown Denver, and then of course he’ll have the time to become the “Baddest Man on MySpace.”
Dream.11 will be broadcast live on HDNet at 5 a.m., Tues., Oct. 6.