Joe Warren first stepped foot inside the Bellator cage in 2010 with a decision victory over Eric Marriott.
At the time, the former standout wrestler was just 2-1 and coming off a tough submission defeat to current ONE champion Bibiano Fernandes.
But the prospects of Warren as an MMA fighter were only starting to grow, and Bellator picked up a valuable piece by claiming his rights.
Fast-forward six years later and Warren is the only two-division champion in promotion history, and on the cusp of competing yet again for more hardware.
He’ll main event this Friday night’s Bellator 151 card against top prospect Darrion Caldwell on Spike TV.
“I have been saying for years that Bellator is where the cool kids come to fight,” Warren said during an exclusive interview with FightLine recently. “Now, they are bringing in more and more top names and I am honored to welcome all these studs into the Bellator family. I’ve been here since the beginning and have had three belts (featherweight, bantamweight and interim bantamweight titles); that’s a tough thing to do.
“I am just honored that people are taking that step and coming to fight (in Bellator). To see what huge numbers the shows have been doing; it just gets cooler every single fight.”
Warren, who won the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championships Senior Greco-Roman gold medal and was gold medalist that year at the Pan American Championships, is 6-1 over his last seven. His lone loss came to Marcos Galvao last March, costing him the bantamweight title.
With a record of 13-4 overall and 11-3 with Bellator, the 39-year-old Warren holds notable wins over L.C. Davis, Eduardo Dantas, Joe Soto, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire and Georgi Karakhanyan.
“When I came out of Dream, I had the choice of signing with either the UFC or Bellator,” Warren said. “Bellator really wanted me and paid me what I deserved. The UFC saw me as just another guy.
“Bellator has never told me something that they haven’t done. They have always held up their end of the bargain, and now that Viacom is behind them, they are making big moves and hosting big shows. People come to watch and it is exciting to be part of the Bellator movement.”
Warren captured his first Bellator title in 2010 when he knocked out Soto in the second round. He claimed the interim bantamweight title four years later with a decision over Rafael Silva and unified the titles later that year with a decision over Dantas.
In Caldwell, Warren will be facing another former standout wrestler, but that is about all he knows about his opponent.
“I haven’t watched tape of any fighter ever,” he said. “I am usually such an underdog that I don’t want to see something to be nervous. The task at hand is to win and I know how to win better than anyone.
“I’m just going to do what I’m suppose to do and not worry about what the other guy is doing. To me, (Caldwell’s) just a body standing between me and the belt, and I’m going to run through him to get (the belt) back.”
The fact that the two share a wrestling background isn’t much of a common aspect, according to “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” At the University of Michigan, Warren was a third place finisher and Big Ten runner-up. Caldwell, competing at North Carolina State University, won a national title and finished with 109 career victories.
“I am a world champion Greco-Roman stud, while he is a former Div. I national champion, which is a tough thing to do,” Warren said. “Fighting in the cage, I believe my MMA wrestling is superior to him. I’ve been tested before and I am expecting to be tested again by a young stud.