In the midst of an emotional and financial nightmare, Joe Warren suddenly found something extra on his plate.
Following his last-second withdrawal from Bellator 98, Warren heard reports out of the Mohegan Tribe Department of Athletic Regulations that the reason for his removal was simple: Warren had been knocked out in sparring.
"Nothing like that ever happened," Warren told MMAFighting.com.
"I was never knocked out at all. This whole camp has been structured around me not getting hurt, me not taking any punishment, me slipping punches, making sure that I'm not in any danger. I'm the safest athlete I've ever been."
Unfortunately, in comparison to the initial story, the one critics were so quick to ridicule him for, Warren's version of events is far more miserable.
The week of the fight, Warren was in his car, on his way to the airport when he received a phone call from Bellator officials. Doctors had discovered an irregularity, something small and unsettling on the 36-year-old's MRIs. The Connecticut commission refused to clear him. Warren was to immediately see a neurosurgeon in Denver.
"They were telling me that I had a stroke. That I was never fighting (again)," Warren says. "It was crazy."
In truth, it was nothing. An overblown slip-up, a false needle in a haystack. But it'd be a while before Warren would come to realize that.
Warren booked the first flight out to Denver. There, neurosurgeons ran a slew of tests, including a continuous series of MRIs. For days, Warren and his family worried about his livelihood. He shuttled from doctor to doctor, conducted exams, watched as the results shipped from location to location.
Ultimately, neurosurgeons reached a staggering diagnosis.
"It was all a mistake," Warren bitterly recalls. "We had three different doctors reading the image wrong from thousands of miles away.
"My coach and everyone were so upset. We've been doing everything humanely possible to get ready for this fight, and then this happens. Then they won't even tell me why."
But somehow, it didn't matter. Connecticut officials stood firm in their reluctance to clear Warren, despite the fact that doctors treating Warren in person did so without hesitation. Fight day came and went, and Warren was forced to continue paying for tests and MRIs out of pocket.
"It cost me so much money that Bellator stepped in and took over the bills, all the MRI bills and everything," a grateful Warren says.
"All the other doctors, professionals and neurosurgeons were actually clearing me, but Connecticut.
"These guys were having me do MRIs, back and forth, all kinds of different neurosurgeons and things. It's a lot of money. I paid for all that stuff myself, so it was a huge burden for me and my family, for them to make a mistake and then weed me out of my profession, my job, and tell me I was never going to fight again."
At that point, the incompetence was palpable to Warren.
He knew he was alright. He didn't have a stroke. Warren understood his health better than anyone, and he figured things would work themselves out, one way or another. And when they did, Bellator would rebook the fight.
Though truthfully, that's the part that worried him.
Warren had already cut weight once. Now the constant anxiety from a prolonged state of limbo had started playing tricks on his body.
"Every week I thought I was going to fight," Warren says.
"I peaked. My coaches, my sports physiologists, they had to re-peak me. We were peaked, then I had to maintain a peak because I wasn't if I was fighting that next week, and then it took a few weeks to be able to get where I am now. The weight was up and down, plus just dealing with the stress issue."
Finally, after a painfully slow few weeks, things worked themselves out. Connecticut was satisfied and cleared Warren. Bellator rescheduled the fight for September 27.
The medical industry is notoriously slow, and largely unapologetic. Doctors called Warren's case an "image abnormality." Warren isn't quite sure what it means -- they never gave him a good explanation -- but he repeats the phrase with disdain.
"It sounds to me like they read the image wrong," he flatly says.
Regardless, Warren is trying to take the experience in stride. For a brief moment, he stared eye-to-eye with the end of his professional career. In comparison, a cage fight doesn't seem like such a big deal.
"This is a very unpredictable sport. A lot of s--t happens in it, so I just roll with the punches, pretty much. Try to stay positive," Warren concludes.
"My main concern is to win this tournament championship, and the first step is to get through this Nick Kirk, to get to that first round and just get this fight started. I'm real excited that I'm here. It's actually going to happen."