Joe Warren, eager for more competition, took a novel approach last fall.
Warren, the featherweight champion for Bellator Fighting Championships, dropped to his natural weight class and entered the promotion's bantamweight tournament. A pre-tournament favorite, Warren figured the extra fights would be beneficial.
"(The layoff is) too much for me," said Warren, a 35-year-old Michigan native with a 7-2 record. "I need to be in the ring. I need to be learning. I still haven't had 10 fights yet. What I'm hearing is after 10 fights, you almost mature into a better fighter. You've seen everything. You've done everything."
Unfortunately, Warren's gambit did not pay off when he was defeated by Alexis Vila in the quarterfinals. Another avenue for a fight was scuttled when Patricio Freire, who won Bellator's featherweight tournament in Season Four, was unable to compete due to injury.
On Friday night, Warren will get just his third fight since he won the title in September 2010 when he makes his first career title defense, against Pat Curran in the main event of "Bellator 60." The card, which will be held at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind., can be seen live on MTV 2 at 8 p.m. EST and on tape delay at 8 p.m. PST.
"I could wait for Patricio, but he keeps breaking his hand," said Warren, who qualified for the U.S. Olympic team wrestling trials on April 20 at both 60 and 66 kilograms. "I need to fight, and I want to fight. I said I'd be happy to fight Curran. He's a great fighter. You can't really get two better fighters than that for me to get to fight."
Curran, a 24-year-old with a 16-4 record, won Season Two's lightweight tournament before he lost to Eddie Alvarez via decision. Whereas Warren will look to his wrestling for an advantage in the title fight, Curran -- who won the 2011 Summer Series featherweight tournament with a knockout of former Sengoku champion Marlon Sandro to earn the title fight -- plans to utilize his striking.
"He's a wrestler, a clinch fighter and likes to take people down and grind them out," Curran said. "I would think, coming off a knockout and just because of the size advantage that I have over him and the reach, that he's going to want to close distance really quick and get on the inside, just clinch with me right away, try to take me down and just try to grind me out. It's really hard. I'm thinking he's probably going to be working on his head movement, keeping his hands up, working his boxing and just timing his shot."
The event will also feature the four quarterfinal fights in the Season Six featherweight tournament. The opening matchups are: Sandro and Roberto Vargas; Ronnie Mann and Mike Corey; Alexandre Bezerra and Genair da Silva; and Daniel Straus and Jeremy Spoon.
The preliminaries, which can be viewed live at 7 p.m./4 p.m. and 10 p.m./7 p.m. at www.bellator.com and www.spike.com, include: bantamweights Cory Galloway and Jake Nauracy; 215-pound catchweights Travis Wiuff and Anthony Gomez; featherweights Lance Surma and Eric Oria; 280-pound catchweights Sean McCorkle and Richard White; and 165-pound catchweights Shamar Bailey and Josh Shockley.
"The Ultimate Fighter Live" debuts with a new format, night and network on Friday night, live, at 9 p.m. EST and 9 p.m. PST on tape delay.
The show, which ran as a taped program for 14 seasons on Spike TV, will now air weekly on FX as part of the UFC's recent seven-year deal with the Fox networks.
Thirty-two lightweight fighters will compete in the two-and-a-half-hour premiere. The show will shift to 10 p.m. in subsequent weeks and conclude with a live, three-hour finale on June 1.
UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and top contender Urijah Faber will serve as coaches this season. Cruz and Faber split two previous fights and will meet for the title at "UFC 148" on July 7 in Las Vegas.
As a bit of counterprogramming, Spike TV will air a three-hour block dubbed "The Ultimate Fighter Fridays." The block, which debuts Friday and begins at 9 p.m. EST/PST, will feature some of the top episodes in the program's 14-season run on Spike.
Kimbo Slice, who went from a street-fighting phenom to cast member on the 10th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," will host the premiere.
Ronda Rousey defeated Miesha Tate with a first-round arm-bar to win the Strikeforce women's bantamweight title last weekend.