With only 12 active bantamweights on the roster, which includes three fighters who have either failed to record a promotional win or have yet to compete, Bellator MMA is losing value with its 135-pound division. So much so, that 39-year-old mixed martial arts doyen Joe Warren has locked down yet another title fight. He will take on current bantamweight king Eduardo Dantas at Bellator 166 this December in a rematch from their Bellator 128 meeting, which saw Warren capture a unanimous decision over the young Brazilian.
While Warren is one of the founding fathers of Bellator MMA and has won countless championship fights before, his 2-2 record since defeating Dantas back in 2014 suggests Warren may have needed a little more meat on the bone to secure a rematch. Even though he looked great in a September win over Sirwan Kakai and still remains a ground-and-pound wizard, Warren has shown signs of a decline as he nears his 40s. But despite the mid-level success and recent submission losses to Darrion Caldwell and Marcus Galvao, Warren has been granted another shot at bantamweight gold.
Speaking of Caldwell, he was supposed to be the next guy in line to challenge for the 135-pound title. After submitting Warren back at Bellator 151 via rear-naked choke to extend his undefeated professional record to 9-0, “The Wolf” unexpectedly lost to Joe Taimanglo at Bellator 159. It rattled his title hopes. As a result, Warren was able to move into position, jockey past a guy Caldwell, who he lost to earlier in the year, and use a victory over Kakai, who had lost his previous two, in order to get back into the divisional driver’s seat. It’s quite the turnaround for Warren, especially considering he couldn’t buy sponsorship for his last fight in September.
That said, one win should never be good enough to lock down a title fight. Win streaks, incorporating at least more than one victory, rule the way. That’s common knowledge. But in a division struggling like the Bellator bantamweight crop, relying on old faces to produce older results is really the only move to make. Twelve fighters might seem like a lot when planning a one-night, win-it-all tournament, but not when perennial title reigns, divisional switcheroos and prospect pilgrimages are expected to take form. A lack of depth is a serious issue for any weight class, let alone one which is now relying on an elder statesman like Warren to create even more magic.
But again, after looking at the slim pickings in the 135-pound class, “The Baddest Man On The Planet” was simply in the right place at the right time. Galvao, who submitted Warren in 2015 to claim the undisputed title, just lost to Dantas at Bellator 156 via decision. Had he not lost their initial meeting back at Bellator 89 in 2013 via vicious knockout, Galvao may have had enough ammo to push for a trilogy with Dantas.
While Taimanglo, who beat Caldwell and Kakai since the beginning of March, would have made an excellent choice to challenge Dantas in his first title defense of his second championship reign, missing weight before his meeting opposite “The Wolf” back in July prevented him from cashing his No. 1 contender rights in. Instead, the Guam-born juggernaut will have to win another fight after successfully hitting the 136-pound limit before he gets his hands on a title fight. After Taimanglo, and Galvao, you run into Brandon Bender (12-1) and Kin Moy (6-2), who have either shown too many inconsistencies since making their promotional debut or don’t carry the marketability of a Warren.
Win or lose later this year, Warren isn’t a name Bellator can continue to count on to spark a rather soft division. With a premier champion like Marlon Moraes lurking around the open bantamweight market (but likely to re-sign with WSOF), the promotion may want to set aside gimme signings like Chael Sonnen and Rory MacDonald and work on one of its most needy divisions.