Bellator FC: Eight Truths about Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. Joe Warren II
Bellator Fighting Championships—it may not be a name you are familiar with, but when you go outside of the Zuffa banner, they hold the distinction of being one of the most exciting Mixed Martial Arts federations in the world.
For the best fights in the Mixed Martial Arts subsection of the combat sports world, you're likely to get it from Strikeforce but not always from the UFC.
And while Japanese MMA will always bring you some of the best talent from the Land of The Rising Sun, many believe that Japanese MMA is on its last legs due to the migration of its best talent to the Stateside circuit.
A man who is all too familiar with the Japanese circuit of combat is Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren, who some claim to be on a tear, while others claim he's clinging on to Lady Luck as he approaches his title fight with Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, the man who Warren defeated at the end of the Bellator Season 2 Featherweight Tournament.
Even though Freire has suffered an injury and will not be fighting Warren at Bellator 47, he will not be denied his title shot. But, he will have to wait for his crack at Warren, who will take part in the Bellator Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament in the hopes of become Bellator's first two-division champion at the expense of Bellator World Bantamweight Champion.
In the meantime, while we wait for Bjorn Rebney to find a date and venue for Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler and Ben Askren vs. Jay Hieron respectively, there are some facts to get straight regarding the Featherweight Title fight.
Here now are the eight truths—eight facts we must get straight—about the rematch between Freire and Warren.
A Recap of the First Bout, Before We Begin...
It seems appropriate to post up the highlights of Warren's Bellator 23 bout with Freire in introducing this fight breakdown because for those who may not recall (or skipped the intro slide), Warren and Freire did fight once before.
The last time, Freire did enough to nab a 10-8 round in the opening five minutes of the fight but lost the last two rounds due to the superior wrestling and overall top game of Warren—from the ground-and-pound all the way down to the ground control.
Even with the dominance that Warren showed, however, one could have wound up scoring the fight for Pitbull because while Warren clearly showed his superiority in the latter two rounds, he didn't make an emphatic case for a 10-8 round in either frame the way Freire did in the first frame.
One should expect that this rematch should be no different as far as the advantages of Freire and Warren, but we also could see some changes in the game plans of both fighters and must anticipate such a thing.
1. The Wrestling Edge Is Still Warren's, and It Always Will Be against Pitbull
The reason why the first fight went to Warren was because the judges believed that Warren's wrestling was effective enough to neutralize Freire for two of those three rounds.
Whether or not he truly did is debatable, but he did use his wrestling to score two rounds in the books for himself, and maybe at the end of the day, the result of the bout depends on who took two rounds and who just took one.
Nevertheless, Warren still has this edge against Pitbull, who was taken down at will for those last two rounds and may get taken down again at will.
Freire's going to have to amp up the takedown defense or call in Daniel Strauss—who he beat to earn the rematch with Warren—if Freire wants to find a win around Warren's strongest suit and get some gold around his waist.
2. A Black Belt under the Nogueira Brothers Is NOT Like a Toy in a Happy Meal
When UFC 117 came by, Chael Sonnen famously opined that a black belt under Rodrigo and Rogerio Nogueira was like saying "I got a free toy in my Happy Meal."
If a free toy from a Happy Meal gave you some knowledge in how to make people squeal and scream like insane schoolgirls by twisting their body parts in odd ways, then a black belt under the Nogueiras is one badass toy to have.
Some may think that there's some truth to Sonnen's words, but is it really "nothing special" in any sense of the phrase when the kid with the "toy" from the Nogueiras has seven submission wins on his record—with all seven submission wins coming by way of ACTUAL submission holds?
If Joe Warren thinks so, he should really get himself a reality check, because seven submission wins means Freire isn't afraid to finish on the ground regardless of what gets thrown at him.
Even on his best day, Warren can face defeat, and when everybody knows that the guy he's facing is a guy that rolls with the Team Nogueira clique, that means that if the fight goes to the ground, Warren could be in more trouble than his foe.
3. Warren's Improved in Striking, but "Improved" May Not Be Enough
When Joe Warren first appeared in Bellator, his style made him a difficult guy to like or even respect because, well, he was just not an entertaining fighter.
He would take a guy down and deliver a few short shots, but the "lay and pray" cliche—the content feeling behind just holding the dominant position without actually doing anything with it—fit Warren more easily than it did any other wrestler in MMA.
That all changed when Warren fought Joe Soto and defeated him with, of all things...a wicked striking game.
Ever since then, Warren's striking has just looked better and better, but while it's starting to look much cleaner and he can land shots with much more precision than before, his striking is not at the level of Freire's arsenal just yet.
If the rematch stays standing with no successful takedown attempts from Warren and the current "improving" stand-up of Warren, even if only for one round as the last fight did, Warren is stepping into Pitbull's world and basically begging Pitbull to knock him out.
In a fight with either Patricio or Patricky, striking is always a factor, and against Warren, Patricio still has to have the edge here.
That being said, however, we must account for the fact that this fight is not happening within the next week or two—it's a ways off and a bountiful amount can, and almost-certainly will, change right before fight time, so Warren does have a shot to step his striking game up.
Everyone has a chance to step their game up, but even a few extra months might not be enough to put the striking of Warren any slight step above that of Pitbull's striking.
4. Did Warren Truly Beat Pitbull the First Time?
To say the first outing between Warren and Freire ended in controversy would be a massive understatement.
Some people gave Pitbull only a 10-9 score for the first round and scored the rest of the bout 20-18—two 10-9 rounds in the last two frames for Warren based on the wrestling and ground dominance, but was it really enough to enhance the myth that Warren won the fight without question?
I don't think so.
As a matter of fact, I had the fight at a 10-8 for Pitbull for the knockdown and the fact that, if you actually watched the first round, Warren clearly didn't do anything outstanding to try and take the first round other than show his pretty face to Freire.
He didn't get the takedown until the second round. And even with the clear 10-9 round he scored in that second frame, Pitbull's first round was all that was needed to put him in the lead with a 19-18 round, and the third frame that Warren did well in only got him a 10-9 based on mere control of his dominant positions.
If you score the first round 10-8 for Pitbull and the other two as 10-9 rounds for Warren, the fight really should have been a draw.
Had a knockdown happened, Warren could have won 28-26 (28-25 if Pitbull had a point deducted for any reason, which he did not), but his overall performance did little to convince the masses that he truly did enough to earn the crack at Soto.
I suppose it's irrelevant now, since Soto was defeated by Warren, but nonetheless, the controversy remains as there is still the question of whether Warren actually beat Freire, as some fans and a few experts might've agreed with the judges that scored for Warren while others agree with the judge that score for Freire.
Both men have to answer that question on the night they finally get their crack at each other once again.
5. Marcos Galvao Redefined Warren's Claim as "The Baddest Man on the Planet"
Joe Warren has been eccentric and energetic enough to be known by his own admission as "The Baddest Man on The Planet."
However, when he fought Marcos Galvao at Bellator 41, Warren looked just plain bad for 10 minutes.
Somehow, two judges felt Warren dominated the third round as well as another round in the fight, while a third judge convinced himself that Galvao was ineffective for three rounds.
Whatever that dude was smoking, I'll take a hit of it right now, because I know for an inarguable fact that Warren did not win the first two rounds of the bout, and the last time I checked, surviving two rounds without getting knocked out didn't constitute a 10-9 round in Warren's case.
Maybe the way he handled himself in Round 3 was enough to steal him the fight, but Warren better not depend on that luck to get him past Freire again when they do fight again.
Freire made Warren try in order to plead a case for the win the last time they fought, and all can rest assured that he will do it again, whether the champ likes it or not.
6. Will Patricio's Injured Hand Be a Factor Come Fight Time?
Nobody likes making excuses, and nobody likes hearing them, but the aftermath of this Bellator Featherweight Championship bout might finally see an excuse to make if Freire drops the rematch.
Again, for those who may not remember, Warren's rematch with Freire was to happen as the Bellator 47 headliner, but an injury to the left hand of Freire has put the fight off until further notice.
It's unfortunate to fathom, but the injury could play a role when Freire finally faces Warren, as the injury could cause Freire to hold back at times and not pull the trigger at times when he previously would have gone in and delivered his proverbial kill-shot with no hesitation.
With the hand injury, the best we can hope for is that we see a more methodical, much more technical approach from Freire, who may look to have toned his aggression down when Warren rematches him.
Obviously, "technical" and "hesitant" cannot be confused for one another, as Freire could be measuring his shots and trying to sting Warren before he lands a blasting shot, but one can always take too long trying to measure a shot or time one just right.
It's the nature of the sport: anyone can snatch a "W" at any time during the heat of the scrap.
Let's just hope we can attribute it to accuracy and precision for Warren and not Freire's bummed left hand if we do see the champ retain his crown.
7. Joe Warren's Drop to Bantamweight Could Do Him Harm or Help Against Freire
It's risky business to drop to a weight class or jump to a weight class for a fight, and then go back to your original weight class for a mandatory title defense.
It was risky when BJ Penn challenged Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94 for the UFC Welterweight title, and then dropped back to 155 to face Kenny Florian. It was risky when Anderson Silva jumped to light heavyweight for fights with James Irvin and Forrest Griffin and then returned to middleweight for respective defenses against Patrick Cote and Demian Maia (the latter of whom replaced eventual UFC 126 challenger Vitor Belfort), and it's risky business for Joe Warren.
Warren said that regardless of whether he beat Freire or not, he was going to drop to 135 for the Bellator Bantamweight Tournament in Season 5. And alas, he has a date lined up with top-ranked flyweight Alexis Vila, who look to prove his ability to make 135 while maintaining the aggression and technical skill that has elevated him toward the top of the Flyweight ranks.
It's yet to be foreseen if Warren can make the drop to 135 for the Bantams-only tourney, do well enough in the tourney to cement himself as a threat at 135 and then make the jump back up to 145 for his title defense against either Freire or the winner of the Summer Series (as the Summer Series winner may be considered next in line with Freire sidelined; more on that later).
Now, it's possible that Warren could actually follow suit with one-time training partner Urijah Faber and find success in making the full drop to 135, but when he fought Galvao, he fought two pounds above Bantamweight, and he didn't look as great as some would like to think he did.
One has to question how intelligent the choice to drop to 135—and then eventually jump back to 145 for his mandatory title defense—is for Warren, and it also raises the question of whether the weight cut will drain Warren at all between the fight with Vila and the time he defends his title.
8. The Champion's Next Challenge Is a Difficult One, Regardless of Who It Is
Marlon Sandro, Ronnie Mann, Pat Curran and Nazareno Malegarie—these are the four men who are the four finalist in the first ever "Summer Series" tournament in Bellator history. One of these four men will be the next challenger for the Bellator Featherweight Championship, regardless of whether Warren or Freire holds it.
Now, interesting of note is that Freire is a Team Nogueira fighter. And if there's one thing MMA fans should know right off the bat, it's that the Nova Uniao Jiu-Jitsu Academy and Team Nogueira are one of the most tightly woven camaraderies in the combat sports world, with fighters like Sandro and UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo being known for rolling with the likes of the Nogueira brothers, Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva from time to time.
The last time anyone from the Black House/Team Nogueira/Nova Uniao family faced off with each other, it was UFC 97 when Thales Leites "fought" Silva for five rounds, but since then, Aldo and Diego "The Gun" Nunes have flirted with fighting each other, and some believe Freire and Sandro may not have trouble fighting each other either.
The first question is, however, will Freire fight Joe Warren when he gets back?
Freire was granted a rematch with Warren by defeating Daniel Strauss in the Bellator Featherweight Final least season, but now Freire is out, and this leaves Sandro open to face Warren, but that leads to the second question:
Can Marlon Sandro plead his case for being the best featherweight outside of the UFC by first beating Nazareno Malegarie and then the winner of the Ronnie Mann-Pat Curran fight?
No fight in MMA is easy: Malegarie isn't Hatsu Hioki on the ground, but he can and likely will look for a submission any way he can get it—and anyone who has been following Bellator this season knows Malegarie will not give up in trying for a submission win.
On the other side of the bracket, Curran is a "Jack of All Trades" fighter who has KO power, resilience, and a wicked-nice grappling game to boast about, and Ronnie Mann is probably the best example of a non-UFC fighter from the Team Tompkins camp that is like Curran in possessing a well-rounded skill set. But after defeating Adam Schindler with a right uppercut, a left hook and some disturbing hammer fists, it's possible that he's more a threat on the feet than Curran.
Really speaking, Warren's only real edge on those three guys, as well as the aggressive striker and powerful jiu-jitsu artist that Sandro has proven to be, is that Warren has good wrestling and a smothering top game, but the question with Warren is if the striking he showed against Joe Soto was a one-night-only thing or if Warren is a real threat on the feet.
Either way, he's in for a credible-by-skill threat, provided he gets by—or with any luck, winds up not facing—Patricio Freire.