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'Baddest man on the planet' primed for an encore performance

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner won Olympic and World titles in back-to-back seasons in 2000 and 2001.

But the United States has never had a Greco-Roman wrestler win back-to-back titles at the World Championships.

Joe Warren plans to change that.

The supremely confident, high-energy Warren, the reigning Greco-Roman World Champion at 60 kg/132 pounds, is set for his return to the mat at the Dave Schultz Memorial International on Feb. 8-10 in Colorado Springs.

Warren will compete for the first time since he won a World gold medal last September in Guangzhou, China.

"I'm a lot hungrier than I was last year," Warren said. "I'm still getting better and I want to win even more now. After you win the first World title, you're even hungrier to get another one. I want to be in the spotlight and I want to be on top again. It's all up to me. I've got great coaches and great workout partners. I have everything I need right here. I just have to go out there and do it again."

Much has happened in the time since Warren last competed.

The past All-American from the University of Michigan was honored this fall before 100,000-plus cheering fans at the Michigan-Michigan State football game in Ann Arbor.

He earned nationwide acclaim for his breakthrough win in China from a number of newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's been asked to do a number of camps and clinics. He also was selected to be an awards presenter at March's NCAA Championships in Auburn Hills, Mich.

And he celebrated his 30th birthday shortly after his win in China.

More recently, Warren and his wife, Christy Cech, learned they were going to be parents for the first time. Their baby is due Aug. 7.

"We're really excited about this," Warren said. "We planned it and we couldn't be happier. The baby is due about a month before the World Championships."

Warren's immediate plans involve coming out on top in a loaded Dave Schultz tournament field at 60 kilos that includes legendary Greco-Roman wrestler Armen Nazarian of Bulgaria. Nazarian is a three-time World Champion and two-time Olympic Champion. Warren and Nazarian have never met in competition.

"The Schultz will be a real good test for me - there is a great field of competitors at my weight class," said Warren, who competes for the New York Athletic Club. "I took a couple months off after the World Championships, but my weight is back down, I'm refocused and I'm ready to rock and roll again. I am making improvements every day. My coaches, Momir (Petkovic) and Anatoly (Petrosyan), have me going forward."

Warren, who plans to wrestle at least through the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, said he's constantly looking for an edge.

"I'm a lot nastier than I've ever been on the mat," Warren said. "My technique is improving and I am continually adding moves to my arsenal."

USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser said he is looking for another big season out of Warren.

"Joe is looking very strong in the room," Fraser said. "His confidence and his focus have greatly improved over the last year. Joe realizes he needs to keep improving to be the best at the Olympics."

Warren, who trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, said he also won't take trying to make his third straight U.S. World Team lightly.

"60 kilos in the United States is very tough," he said. "I know I can't overlook anybody in the U.S."

The U.S. finished third in a tight team race at the 2006 World Championships. Americans Lindsey Durlacher and Harry Lester both won bronze medals in Greco-Roman, and Warren struck gold on the first day of the competition.

The American Greco-Roman team is scheduled to compete in the World Cup on Feb. 24-25 in Antalya, Turkey. The 2007 World Championships are scheduled for Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

"Our Greco team has been together a long time," Warren said. "We all believe in our training and we all believe in each other. Lindsey Durlacher, people wrote him off, but he can definitely win a World title. Justin Ruiz, Dremiel Byers and Harry Lester, all those guys have won World medals. Then you have T.C. Dantzler and Brad Vering, two guys we all know can win medals. We're really focused on winning the team title at the World Championships."

Warren, who kept repeating he was "the baddest man on the planet" as he warmed up just before each of his matches at the World Championships, now has his own T-shirts with his favorite message printed on them.

"I can't wait to get back on the mat and prove that I'm the best again," Warren said. "I just have to stay confident and stay focused. I'm looking to win a World Championship this year and finish with a gold medal in the Olympics in 2008. I'm anxious to get out there. I'm physically and mentally ready to go. I'm on top of my game again."
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