Joe Warren's shorts will be free of logos Friday night in the Bellator 161 main event. And it won't be him trying to make any kind of fashion statement.
Warren, a former two-division Bellator champion, said he doesn't have any sponsorships for his headline fight against Sirwan Kakai in Cedar Park, Texas. After his first-round submission loss to Darion Caldwell in March, all the companies split, he said.
"I'm not used to losing and people turn and run when you lose," Warren told MMA Fighting. "I know it's only one loss, but they turn and run on you. So yeah, no sponsors for this fight.
"There's fair weather fans out there. I don't believe getting sponsors is as easy as it used to be and it's just kind of sad. What I've put into this game, what I've given into the MMA field, to not even get sponsors, it's sad, man. It's sad. But it's the game. It is what it is. That's not gonna hold me back from performing, it just would have sweetened the pot a little bit."
Warren (13-5) is one of the biggest names in Bellator, not some also-ran on the prelims.. In 15 fights in the promotion, he has been in the main event 12 times. Warren has been in the co-headlining role once (Friday will be the second) and his only two times not in either spot were his first two Bellator fights.
Warren, 39, is a former U.S. national team level wrestler and held both the Bellator bantamweight and featherweight titles. He owns a win over the current Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas.
And yet, for whatever reason, companies have not deemed him worthy of a sponsorship this time around. MMA fighters, especially outside of the UFC, make a good chunk of their income from sponsors. Not having any has been a burden on Warren, his wife and his two kids.
"I take care of my family," Warren said. "I use MMA for a job. I lost and we're strapped, man. Daddy has to get back in that cage and work. I'm just honored Viacom and Bellator are giving me the opportunity to get back in there, so I can take care of my family."
Warren, who first mentioned his issue on his Lineup MMA podcast with Sean Wheelock and Ben Askren, believes sponsorships in the sport have dried up since the UFC partnered with Reebok in July 2015. UFC fighters can no longer wear outside sponsors inside the cage. Bellator athletes are still able to, but Warren believes there is still a correlation and that many sponsors have left MMA altogether.
"I don't know why," Warren said. "I don't know if people are turning and running from me. I don't know why that is, but it is. I can't really control that. This is the first time as a fighter that I haven't made any money from my shorts or had any sponsors."
"The Baddest Man on the Planet" knows he won't get too much sympathy from fans. Many of them don't know the financial plight of MMA fighters. Very few athletes in the sport are rich.
"Fans think that every fighter makes $12 and $13 million a fight, ya know?" Warren said. "That doesn't happen. I'm fighting to get a pay check, take care of my family. It's terrible. I love Bellator. Those guys give me the opportunity to fight and win, but it's almost to a point where I've gotta look for something else just to take care of my two little babies."
None of this means that Warren won't bring his A-game to the fight with Kakai. If anything, it might be more motivation to get this victory and go after that title shot against Dantas.
"He believes he can beat me," Warren said of Kakai. "He's talking a little sh*t, so I plan on putting my hand in his mouth and shutting his mouth and getting a big win for myself in that Bellator cage."
And then, maybe, those sponsors will come crawling back.
"I lost fights and sponsors dropped me right away," Warren said. "That's not the case in Olympic level or other sports. Things happen. For us to be in a sport like mixed martial arts — the most unpredictable sport in the world — it's kind of sad that's how they do that. But that's the game. That's how it is. Sh*t happens. You'll see me all sponsored up after I get these wins and I'll laugh at them all and just take their money, because you never know what's gonna happen."