Joe Warren can't say enough about Darrion Caldwell. There is a load of respect there from the grizzled veteran toward the up-and-coming star.
Why? Caldwell won an NCAA wrestling national championship. Warren was close to competing in the Olympic as a wrestler, but the closest he came to a Division I title was third place.
So, Warren will bring that admiration into his fight with Caldwell in the Bellator 151 main event Friday at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. He also plans on bringing a can of whoop ass.
"It's as tough as it gets," Warren said of winning the NCAA title. "So, I have complete respect for the kid. He's been extremely nice to me and I like his family. He comes from a good place. That being said, he's still a body in front of me for me to beat the hell out of so I can get my belt back. I respect the kid, but that doesn't mean I'm not gonna beat him up."
Warren, 39, didn't plan on talking any trash before this fight, which is a contrast to previous encounters. Put a live mic in front of the "Baddest Man on the Planet" and you're sure to get something incendiary. Just ask him about Bellator bantamweight title contender Eduardo Dantas, who has a history with Warren and slammed him in recent interviews.
"I want to smash his teeth in his throat, so he can't talk anymore," Warren said. "That would be nice for me."
The grizzled veteran doesn't have those same emotions for Caldwell. Warren didn't really want to talk any crap, but he's always going to tell it like it is -- or at least how it is through his scope. Warren (13-4) is likely a win away from a shot at the bantamweight title he once held and Caldwell represents an obstacle in his path. That means he must be dealt with.
"I think he's real excited to get this shot and I think he's really confident," Warren said. "I think that's gonna be the worst part of it, because he's gonna run into the 'Baddest Man' in that Bellator cage and get the sh*t beat out of him."
Warren has won six of his last seven fights with the lone loss coming to Marcos Galvao when he lost the belt in March 2015. Warren, though, has wins over both Galvao and Dantas. He remains an elite 135-pounder (who has also won the Bellator featherweight belt), even though he's pushing 40 years old. Warren didn't start MMA until he was 33 years old and he's never really been injured.
"I'm the Bellator bantamweight gatekeeper and if you want to win anything in Bellator bantamweight, you've gotta come through 'The Baddest Man,'" Warren said. "It's just something I'm used to. Every single fight is a big fight for me. There's a lot of drama and pressure going into a lot of these fights and that's something I thrive on. I've always been the main event. I've always had that belt around my waist or fighting for it. So it's a very comfortable fight for me. For him, it might not be."
He's right, of course. The 28-year-old Caldwell (8-0) has won five in a row for Bellator and is a future star. But Warren has been fighting the best guys Bellator has had to offer for six years. Back then, Caldwell was still in college at North Carolina State, coming off that title-winning season.
"When you're that young hguy coming up, everybody needs a stepping stone and he thinks it's gonna be me," Warren said. ... I'm a new fighter. I've been fighting for five years and I've now got the technique to get the job done. And I've been getting the job done anyway. I think I'm more violent and more explosive now than I've ever been."
More than a decade older, Warren plans on showing Caldwell something Friday night. And then it'll be back into the No. 1 contender spot. Rinse and repeat.
"When that point comes around where I'm not getting better every day and I can't compete, we'll move on," Warren said. "But right now I'm gonna be beating people's ass in that Bellator cage for the next few years."