Joe Warren got back on the horse after 14 months of competitive disappointment.
The self-professed, "Baddest man on the planet," had eyes on three goals at the same time going into last fall. He wanted to retain his Bellator featherweight title. He wanted to drop down and win the Bellator bantamweight title.
And he was looking to win an Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling in London.
But focusing on so much may have led to not enough focus on each. Warren was first knocked out of the bantamweight tournament by Alexis Vila. Then he took a horrible, almost inhumane beating in losing his featherweight title to Pat Curran that was a textbook example of horrible officiating. He had little time to recover from a beating he had no business taking, to prepare for the Olympic trials. A former world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling in 2006, who missed out on a genuinely good shot at medaling in 2008 when he tested positive for marijuana and was suspended past the Olympics, failed to make this year's team.
In his first time back since that trifecta, Warren (8-3) used the hardcore wrestling pressure tactics to grind out a three-round decision over Owen Evinger (7-4) in the main event of Friday night's Bellator event at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Sunrise, Fla.
Warren got into trouble in an exciting first round when he missed an armbar attempt and landed on the bottom. But the took the simple approach from there, as he opened rounds two and three with takedowns and just kept Evinger on his back, not doing major damage, but being completely dominant in winning a straight 30-27 decision. The latter two rounds weren't exciting, and the crowd wasn't happy as Warren dominated by simply controlling Evinger and keeping the pressure on, but never hurting him badly.
"I'm crazy excited to win again under the Bellator banner," Warren said after the fight. "You never know what's happening in this cage. This sport is extremely rough."
Warren's goal is to get back into a bantamweight tournament in 2013, and follow by winning the championship.
"I'm real focused on getting another belt," he said. "My waist is bare."
The show also featured one tournament semifinal match in both the heavyweight and featherweight divisions.
Alexander Volkov (18-3), a 6-toot-7 Russian fighter, got the benefit of a very questionable stand-up call from ref James Warring (a former IBF world cruiserweight boxing champion who was an early MMA pioneer) to finish Vinicius "Spartan " Queiroz (6-3) at 4:59 of the second round.
Volkov's reach and a solid jab gave him the edge in standing exchanges throughout the fight, and he scored a second round knockdown. Volkov then backed off, refusing to go to the ground with Queiroz, who has a solid submission game. Volkov landed two hard rights but Queiroz was able to halt his momentum with a takedown.
However, just seconds after the takedown, Warring stood both men up, causing Queiroz to give him a look of complete disbelief. The stand-up was so quick that even fans, who traditionally will cheer a stand-up, warranted or not, booed the call.
Volkov started taking him apart with punches. Queiroz would fire back hard, he was taking too many and the attrition took its toll. Volkov hurt Querioz, landing seven unanswered punches standing in just a few seconds. Queiroz was about to tumble when Warring stepped in to end it with just one second left in the round.
This sets up Volkov against Richard Hale, who scored a first round win over Thiago Santos on Nov. 2, in the heavyweight tournament final. No date was announced for the fight. Hale got in the ring and the two had a lengthy staredown that turned into a battle of wills as neither was going to blink until they were pulled apart.
Rad Martinez (14-2), a former All-American college wrestler at Clarion University, was able to use his wrestling skill to nullify the Jiu Jitsu game of veteran Wagnney Fabiano (15-4) to win a unanimous decision on scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28. This put Martinez in the finals of the featherweight tournament, where he'll face Russian Shahbulat Shamhalaev.
Martinez used wrestling to keep the fight standing most of the way, and turned it into a sloppy brawl that he had more power in. The first two round were close but Martinez, 12 years younger than the 37-year-old Fabiano, took control in the third round. He landed a strong left late and was going to town on Fabiano as time expired.
"I feel a little tired and a little beat up," said Martinez. "I'm glad I got the victory. (He's) a tough opponent, they aren't getting easiesr are they?"
Shamhalaev (11-1-1) reached the finals with two first round knockouts.
"I haven't watched tape on him," said Martinez. "I see that he got two quick stoppages. But I'm a tough kid. It's going to be a brawl to win that $100,000. Emotions are going to be running high. You get a shot at the title and $100,000, so you leave nothing out there."