As a Philadelphia native, you could say it is in my nature to frown upon most anything that has to do with New Jersey. However Friday nightâ€™s IFL show in East Rutheford definitely brought the Garden State up a notch in my book. The IFL, though heavily criticized by many (including myself) since its inception, managed to put together a very solid card for “New Blood New Battles” and they also took care of us press folk very well. After bouncing around the Izod Center lobby for about 15 minutes I found Jerry Milani, manager of IFL public relations, who tells me that press credentials should be out shortly and that he just needs to run downstairs somewhere to get them. Sure enough, Jerry comes back a few minutes later credentials in hand, and starts dishing out the press passes.
From there we head downstairs to a concourse area where Pat Miletich and Shawn Thompkins are signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans. Before I could try to get near Miletich he was whisked away to some other room, so my photographer buddy and I moseyed on inside the arena. There I was able to shake hands with Bas Rutten and I have to admit, I was a bit star struck, though he was not as big as I imagined. Sadly he didnâ€™t have much time to chat because of his commentating duties. It was also funny watching Bas and Ron Kruk do the pre-show packages because on television you only see it once, but in person you watch Bas utter his heavily accented words over and over again until they get the take right. There must have been over half a dozen takes and at one point, everyone walking around the arena at the time was politely told to â€œshut upâ€ so they could get a good take in.
After a few rounds of scenic picture taking I was told by a random IFL rep that my press booth area was assigned and good to go with power outlets, bout sheets, media guides, etc. But I wasnâ€™t about to head up there just yet, so my friend and I politely asked if we could head backstage to speak with some of the fighters. I was impolitely told by one of the security guards â€œNo wayâ€ so I did what anyone in my position would do. I crept back while no one was looking. Once in the dressing room area no one seemed to care about my presence, I think the security guards out front just liked giving us press kids a hard time. Any how I managed to score two very quick chats with Chris Horodecki and Jamal Patterson.
Patterson, a Jersey boy who definitely had the crowd on his side last night, was slated to face Vladymir Matyushenko in light-heavyweight title match. Hereâ€™s what Patterson had to say before things kicked off.
Are you nervous about tonightâ€™s match up against Vladymir Matyushenko?
Of course Iâ€™m nervous, who wouldnâ€™t be nervous for a fight, you know Iâ€™m nervous to fight anyoneâ€¦
So where would you like tonightâ€™s fight to end up? How do you see it ending?
Oh I really donâ€™t care I just want to win, I need a win badly.
Does the fact that this fight is for the LHW title make it more stressful for you?
The title is the furthest thing from my mind right now, whatâ€™s more important is just winning this fight, showing my teammates that all my hard work paid off.
Is there a weakness you see in Matyushenkos game that youâ€™d like to exploit tonight?
Maybe standing a little bit, I think thatâ€™s probably the weakest part of his game. Heâ€™s tough, but I think on his back heâ€™s not very good either so I think if I can take him down he might be in some trouble.
And what would you say is your biggest strength as a fighter?
Iâ€™m a ground guy, Iâ€™m actually a black belt under Renzo Gracie.
So how long have you been training for this fight?
Iâ€™ve had a good amount of time. About two, three months, helps my get my fat ass in shape (laughs).
Do you have any predictions for any of the other fighters competing tonight?
I think all of our guys are going to do well. I think Delson and Wagney will do well, I think Jimmy Miller is going to fight really well.
Patterson couldnâ€™t talk for more than a few seconds before heading off to his pre-fight medical exam. Luckily enough Chris Horodecki walked by as soon as Patterson had to leave, so I sort of yelled to get his attention without trying to scare him. Chris was also getting his pre-fight medical issues together, but had a couple seconds to talk about his light-weight bout against Nate Lamotte.
How are you feeling tonight?
Feeling great man, relaxed and ready to go.
I have to ask you, whatâ€™s itâ€™s like to be 11-1 in MMA at only twenty years old?
Well it might not be the ideal thing my parents thought Id be doing, but theyâ€™re used to it, you know Iâ€™ve been doing this for years.
Coming off of that single loss to Ryan Schultz at the Grand Prix, how anxious are you to get back in there tonight?
You know, I was back in the gym man, working hard and its going to pay off tonight for sure.
Can you tell me about your training for this fight?
Iâ€™m down in Vegas for six weeks, prior to that Iâ€™m in training two, three weeks before that just to get in shape before that so I donâ€™t go to Vegas out of shape, you know Iâ€™m always training.
Not to dwell on anything too negative before your fight, but looking back can you say why you ran into trouble with Schultz?
Itâ€™s the grand prix, just the format of the grand prix it takes its toll on a fighter. Those fights are real close, only eight weeks apart. One fight was a war you know that first fight. Its just wear and tear, you know I think Iâ€™m invincible but everybodyâ€™s got limits.
And how do you see this fight with Lamotte ending tonight?
Me on top, you know I canâ€™t promise you nothing I donâ€™t like to promise, but Iâ€™m going to come out on top.
Are you looking for a K.O, submission, anything particular?
I just want to get those fans off their feet.
And that was all Horodecki could say before kindly allowing us to snap a photo. After that my photographer friend and I tried to discreetly snap pictures into other fighters rooms, but once anyone saw us that door closed pretty damn quick.
At last, the preliminary bouts of the evening were about to kick off, and this was about the time we were supposed to head to our press area to do, you know, press stuff. But since hardly any of the ringside chairs were taken at this point, we decided to plop down in the closest seats we could find. As fans moved into the aisles we simply moved over to accommodate, but there were still plenty of available seats to move around to. And so the prelims begin. First up was a 205lb bout between Alex Schoenauer and Brendan Barrett. The first two rounds of this fight were great, but by the third both guys were clearly gassed and some boos emerged from the crowd in the closing minutes. Schoenauer won this one with a split decision.
More importantly, it was during this fight that I noticed the most out of shape ring girl I had ever seen.Â Now, I donâ€™t mean to say that ladies with a couple of extra pounds canâ€™t be pretty. My point is that this venue was just outside of NYC, a veritable smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of aspiring models and actresses, not to mention hot bartenders, waitresses and strippers. I just donâ€™t think there is any excuse for a sub-par ring girl given the amount of variety the IFL had to pluck from. Though to be fair, the other ring girl was pretty much a knock out. So I guess theyâ€™re 1 for 2 in terms of ring girls. Additionally, sitting somewhere behind me were a small clan of over-dressed adolescents, commonly referred to in this part of the country as â€œguidos.â€ These gents sported a large amount of jewelry, fresh blowout haircuts, Armani exchange t-shirts, and way too much cologne. This was the first time I had ever really seen that many of those types at MMA events, but hey, when in North Jerseyâ€¦.
The next fight between L.C. Davis and Rafael Dias had a nice back and forth to it, but I have to admit at one point I was sort of paying attention to other things, looking around, etc. Then all of the sudden I hear this awful smack and see Rafael Dias knocked out cold on the canvas. Apparently this happened just 4 seconds before the end of the final round. Thankfully my buddy got a decent pic and I cranked my neck around to catch the instant replay on the jumbo-tron (if jumbo-tron is not the proper name please feel free to correct me.) Also let me tell you, that jumbo-tron had the clearest picture I had ever seen, and for the fans in the cheap seats it was probably better than watching the action inside the ring. I remember feeling a little unnerved as I caught the big screen replay which zoomed in to show Diasâ€™ eyes rolling to the back of his head like a zombie.
There were supposed to be two more fights following the Dias-Davis bout, however the schedule got screwy because the ambulance that carried away Rafael Dias had not returned for a while. For those who donâ€™t know, every bout must have an ambulance on hand in case those services are needed. Since there wasnâ€™t one present for the next bout, Emyr Brussade and Jesse Lennox, who were already in the ring and ready to go, were instructed to go back to the dressing room.
After this little mishap there was a bit of an intermission so we walked around the main concourse to get some refreshments. If you happened to desire a beer at the Izod center on Friday night you could have purchased one (1) bud light bottle for the reasonable price of $7.25. Also the tee shirts were ridiculously over priced even by arena standards. The vendors were charging upwards of 30 bux for a plain tee with nothing but the letters I.F.L. on it. God forbid you wanted a graphic tee or a hoodie….
So we finally make our way to the designated press area and the HDNet broadcast begins with the Horodecki-Lamotte bout. I honestly thought Lamotte earned the decision in that one, but I guess the judges thought differently.
It was also at this point that I first saw the jumbo-tron commercial for the head-shaving unit known as the â€œHead Wayâ€ which is apparently endorsed by Frank Trigg. The icing on the cake was when the announcer had to plug the product â€œThis bout sponsored by Head-Way, the official head-razor of the IFL.â€ I just thought that sounded hilarious at the time.
The remainder of the bouts were, as many of you already know, pretty damn entertaining.
Brad Blackburns fighting style being announced as â€œbadnessâ€ followed by him kicking the snot out of Delson Heleno.
Vladymir Matyushenko coming back to score the TKO over Jamal Patterson while fans booed him the entire time.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of them all, Waggney Fabiano, a ground guy in every sense of the word, knocking out Shad Lierley just 37 seconds into the fight.
Jay Hieronâ€™s picking apart of Mark Miller just two minutes into the first round.
Watching Emyr Bssade destroy Jesse Lennoxsâ€™ leg with a sick knee bar.
Hearing the crowd roar boos and â€œbullshitâ€ over and over again after the Carmelo Marrero-Mike Ciesnolevicz no contest. I found it funny how loud the arena became since half the crowd had left at this point because this bout, along with the Bussade-Lennox fight, took place after the nights main event.
Lowlights: After the nights main event, the announcer came on and said something to the effect of â€œDonâ€™t go home yet, we still have two fighters from different teams who have grudges to settleâ€¦â€ I understand they want the fans to stay put after the main event, but clearly there is no grudge between the fighters, and the fact that they are on opposite teams does not imply that there exists some sort of grudge between the two. Bit of a cheap tactic to hype a fight, in my opinion.
Not that this is anything new, but its still sad to see that Randy Couture’s name isn’t allowed to be mentioned at all at any other MMA events. If you didn’t see Randy with your own eyes on Friday, you would have never even known that The Natural was there cornering his Xtreme Couture fighters. Ah the repercussions of a losing legal battle.
After things settled and most everyone but press and die hard fans cleared out of the arena, I managed to get a hold of Carmelo Marrero who was still standing around the main floor, waiting to be looked over again by the doctors. Hereâ€™s what Marrero had to say.
Obviously things didnâ€™t turn out ideally for you tonight, the doctors called the fight very early because of your cut leaving the fans pretty upset, whatâ€™s your take on the whole thing?
Well I was really excited to get an opportunity to fight for the IFL. Iâ€™m in great shape, I with the best team in the world right now, American Top Team, were doing all the right things, and its just one of those things-hey shit happens in the fight, you come back and Iâ€™d love the opportunity to fight him again. I can definitely do it again, well see what the schedule is and weâ€™ll try to schedule something.
Did you fell like you got cut right after that head butt ?
I felt the head butt and when I first saw the blood I got excited cause I thought it was him bleeding, then all the sudden I saw all this blood dripping on his face and I thought â€œshit.â€
So whatâ€™s next from here, do you take some time off or would you like to get right back into the gym?
Yea you know you party it up for two weeks and relax, kick back at the pool down in Florida, then yea, hop in the gym and get ready to do it again.
Once Marrero had to bounce we headed over to the press area where I was able to catch up with Renzo Gracie. For those who donâ€™t know, Renzo Gracie is a pretty funny guy and would probably make for a great interview, unfortunately like everyone else he didnâ€™t have all the time in the world to chat, but I got a few words in.
Everyone on your team fought well tonight so are you pretty happy with your teams performance?
Very happy, you know winning or losing is just consequences of getting in there you know, but everyone fought really well.
Do you think your team will be able to snag the IFL championship again?
Hell yeaâ€¦hell yea, were just beginning right now, were making the teams more entertaining.
Are you happy with your experience with the IFL so far?
Oh yea, itâ€™s been an unbelievable experience with them.
Is there anyone in particular we should look out for from team Renzo Gracie this year?
We have a lot of good people, were putting a very strong team together. Watch the next one, youâ€™re going to like it.
And when does your team compete again?
I donâ€™t know, they have one in May which will have some of our guys in it, then I think a month and a half later weâ€™ll be fighting again.
And when do you think you might compete again?
My friend, if you meet my wife youâ€™ll understand that I compete every day! From the moment that I wake up until the moment that I go to sleep!
I also heard youâ€™re getting involved with acting lately, whatâ€™s that all about?
Yea I just did a movie. I did a movie with C. Thomas Howell. I choke himâ€¦.in the movie I was supposed to choke him. In the movie he represents George Bush, and he trained jiujitsu in my academy, it was fun.
Of course one of your students Matt Serra has a big fight coming up, are you going to be there in Montreal cheering for him?
Oh I will be there with him to give him a hug right on the back.
Serra is known to be a ground guy yet he knocked out GSP, did that surprise you at all and do you think he can do it again?
He did it once, nothing is impossible in this business my friend. See thatâ€™s the good thing everybody thought it was a surprise when he knocked him out- I made $12,000 on it, betting on that fight!
After checking out the post fight press conference, my buddy and I starting casually talking to someone in the lobby area about nothing really important. Only a few minutes into our convo did I realize that this was Brendan Barrett, who had fought Alex Schoenauer earlier in the evening. Barrett proved to be an interesting character so midway through our conversation I flipped on my recorder.
So have you always been into fighting or is this a more recent venture for you?
Man I used to be real out of shape, smoking three and a half packs of cigarettes a day for a couple years, then one day I saw season 1 of â€œThe Ultimate Fighterâ€ and I thought â€œI could do this.â€
So the TUF series really inspired you to fight, and you didnâ€™t have any training at all prior to that?
Nah I didnâ€™t train at all before that, I wrestled in high school but thatâ€™s it. I had my first pro-fight like 3 or 4 months after I started training I was training on my own at the time. I didnâ€™t even have a sparring partner until before my fourth fight, and that was on 4 days notice.
So you took tonightâ€™s fight on short notice which obviously isnâ€™t anything new for you, but for your next fight wouldnâ€™t you prefer to have a thorough training period?
Well my first year of training I fought six times, and I had three title fights in my first year of actual training. I mean I keep saying Iâ€™m going to take some down time and work on fine tuning some things, but then people offer me fights and I canâ€™t say no.
So are you signed to the IFL or was this a one time deal?
It was a one fight deal with an option, so weâ€™ll just see what happens from here.
So whatâ€™s your next move if the IFL chooses not to re-sign you?
I guess whatâ€™s really next is Iâ€™m looking to go up to Boston for The Ultimate Fighter tryouts and see what happens. Hopefully I can still go there, I didnâ€™t get my application in there on time cause itâ€™s due tomorrow, but I think if I show up with the application and try out it should be alright.
Are there any MMA promotions out there that youâ€™d like to get involved with?
Iâ€™d love to fight in K-1 Heros, Iâ€™d love to fight in Japan. I think it would just be an awesome experience being over there.
So youâ€™ve never fought outside the U.S.?
No not yet, Iâ€™ve been looking to but itâ€™s hard enough just trying to get good training. I mean Iâ€™m getting four days notice for a fight or like a week or two weeks. My last fight was Tim Boetsch and I had a week and a half notice. I went in there and dominated him and then got caught in a guillotine, so thatâ€™s why there was no way tonight I was tapping to a guillotine. Iâ€™m like â€œyou take my head home with ya, Iâ€™m not tapping to a guillotine.â€
So are you a full time fighter or do you keep a day job somewhere?
Iâ€™m kind of half and half. I basically sacrifice everything just to train, you know I work with a friend on some cars here and there, I do basically anything I can that I can drop at the moment. I was doing some security and bouncing and I actually was waiting to hear on this fight. I was supposed to hear about it seven or eight weeks ago, I finally heard something two weeks out and they ask me if I wanted to fight still, I was like uhhhhhâ€¦.sure. So I told my boss that I might be getting a phone call tonight about a fight that I cant miss, and I donâ€™t have service in the club. And he didnâ€™t like to hear that so I said I guess thatâ€™s it, and I quit. But if I wasnâ€™t fighting Iâ€™d probably be finishing law school (laughs.) Yea, Iâ€™m probably the smartest, dumbest looking guy in the world.
And so concludes my IFL experience. I say if the IFL can keep up the good work, they just may be around for the long haul. For those concerned, the next IFL show will be on Friday, May 16, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT.