Before I finish asking Warren (2-1) how he feels about competing in the cage for the first time, he cuts me off.
“—We’re real excited about it man. I think I’m built for the cage. I have so much pressure. I’m used to wrestling and putting pressure and controlling zones,” says the former University of Michigan standout.
The tournament field of Wilson Reis, Patricio Pitbull, Bao Quach and Georgi Karakhanyan – all vastly more experienced opponents – doesn’t bother Warren.
“They’re all great fighters with good records and have been way more experienced than me. I don’t talk bad about competition cause we’re both getting in the cage to get busy,” says the 33-year-old, who recently worked with WEC contenders Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen to learn tricks of the fenced trade. “I’m not really worried about my competition. I’m worried about me.”
Warren fears failing to provide for his family and as a competitor, he despises losing.
“Two fights in one night, lot of money on the line, that’s my kind of place,” he says, still bothered enough to bring up his 43 second armbar loss to Bibiano Fernandes last October in DREAM’s semi-finals, “I thought I had it. I made a mistake. I got over excited and I tried to finish him instead of just beat him down a little bit.
“It’s a beginner’s mistake. It won’t happen again. Everyday I think about that. That’s something I think about a lot. Those were belts I wanted and there was a lot of money for my family. Whatever. I’ll get a chance at him again this year and I will smash him into the mat.”
Professionally and personally, he can’t stand not getting the money or the belts. So he’s spending the majority of his days in the gym away from his wife and two children to gain confidence in his striking and drill technique in all facets of his game.
“This is a business for me. The more technique I learn, the more money I can make and the better I can take care of my family,” he says. “I think really, I just enjoy competing. I’ve trained for so long to compete on the big, big stage with a lot on the line.
“Since I’ve found this MMA, I enjoy it. I enjoy how great the fans are. I just think maybe I was made for this. I didn’t think I was an MMA fighter before, but I can call myself one now. I’m a student now.”
His tireless study of fighting in the gym over the last six months since his last bout is a far cry from the fighter who had his hands wrapped for the first time ever 10 minutes before his debut against former WEC Bantamweight Champion Chase Beebe. The Olympic-caliber Greco Roman fighter’s three performances in the ring suggests he can be scary in the cage, which can favor wrestlers by stuffing an opponent against the fence and raining down ground and pound.
Warren opened his own gym, Rino Sport Galleri in Denver, Colo., putting money into hiring world-class trainers like ADCC Champion Leo Vieira with hopes it results in more championships of his own. And while the Bellator strap is his immediate focus, his mind is never far from the title he very nearly attained in just his third mixed martial arts contest.
“Him having one shot of being able to beat me and he pulls that off. We do that 5,000 more times and he never wins,” says Warren. “That one kind of pisses me off. We’re gonna get that one back.”