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Full review of IFL semifinals in New Jersey

If you’re one of those irrational haters out there that inexplicably roots for the IFL to fail, you’ll be sad to learn that the IFL is alive and well.

The IFL put on a first class show last night in the swamps of Dirty Jersey. I don’t know how else to describe it other than by saying it had a big event atmosphere similar to what you would feel at an NBA conference championship playoff series.

Count me among the many who scoffed at the IFL’s team concept when it first came about but the new TV format began changing my perspective several weeks back and last night’s show has made me a believer.

Will the IFL overtake the UFC as the number one promotion in the world anytime soon?

No, of course not. Big main events are what rules the PPV world and that’s where the big money is to be made.

But can the team concept allow the IFL to be a viable number two?

No doubt about it.

The crowd was pretty good. The IFL benefited from having Renzo Gracie’s New York Pitbulls fighting in their backyard as there were a ton of red Pitbulls jerseys in the crowd.

They also put a couple of fighters on the undercard from Tiger Schulman’s Karate and the annoying “T-S-K!” chants were in full effect. While I hate the chants and not a big fan of TSK’s involvement in MMA, it was a good marketing strategy for the IFL.

I really liked the celebrations after when a fight would end by TKO or submission. The teams would celebrate after the fights and I felt it added a lot to the importance of the outcomes. Yes, teams celebrating after matches is nothing new in MMA but sometimes it seems gratuitous in non-team formats (Chute Box, anyone?). In a team format, it seems like a natural reaction.

According to the IFL, the overall attendance was 7,077. The official number will come from the New Jersey control board and I have no idea how much, if any, papering was done.

The arena was sectioned off so that there weren’t any major pockets of empty seats. I think I remember Gareb Shamus or Kurt Otto saying in a conference call that the arena would be cordoned off to accommodate between 6,000-8,000 fans. I really didn’t see many empty seats so you’ve got to hand it to them for a solid turnout on a Thursday night.

It was a hot crowd with the fans reacting to all the major spots in the matches. I’m not a TV executive, but my assumption is that the show will come off very well on TV.

There were some boos but they were primarily directed at the referees for when they felt the fight should be stood up. Overall, a very knowledge and well-behaved crowd. The crowd at the Bodog show appears to be an aberration as far as MMA shows in the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia area.

Another thing I noticed was that the fans recognized a lot of the fighters so it appears the IFL is doing a good job of establishing stars in the NJ/NY market. There were a lot of people asking for pictures and autographs. Ben Rothwell appeared to be a very busy guy and seemed real good with the fans. Also, Chris Horodecki got big reactions whenever he was shown on screen.

Also, there was a TON of media in the building. So much so that my assigned seat at ringside was occupied and I got bumped to the media section that’s used for NHL and NBA games. I’m not complaining because I finally got to meet Pramit Mohapatra from the Baltimore Sun and MMAMadness.com as well as Jeff Hamlin from the Wrestling Observer and MMAMadness.com. They are real good guys and you should all check out the re-design at MMAMadness.com.

Based on pure conjecture, I would have to say last night’s show at the Continental Arena was almost as big of a success as their show in Everett, WA. Now, I have no idea how it did from a dollar and cents standpoint and instead merely commenting from a attendance, crowd interest, organizational, and production standpoint.

After watching how well organized last night’s show was I am convinced that those who are predicting that the IFL won’t make it will be proven wrong. If they stick to the current TV format and keep building up the team concept while also learning from their mistakes when it comes to where they hold their live shows, they are going to eventually turn the corner from a business-perspective.

Speaking of organized, props go out to Jerry Milani, the IFL’s PR guru who had a great handle on the media last night.

With more shows like the last six episodes and more events like last night and the one in Everett, Wash., the IFL is only going to grow. If their business is truly stabilized, they can then start looking at ways to move forward. And with a strong product, even if they run out of cash then you’d have to think they will become an attractive buyout candidate.

Now, I can’t let the IFL go completely unscathed. I had a couple of issues.

One, the event was anti-climatic in a lot of ways.

The Silverbacks won the first three matches and clinched a berth in the finals. At that point I felt all the energy leave the building for the final two matches between the Silverbacks and Anacondas. It kind of felt like a baseball team at home going to at-bat in the bottom of the ninth even though they already have the lead.

The energy came back into the building when the hometown Pitbulls made their way to the ring for their match against the Sabers. But the energy was killed again after the Pitbulls clinched with wins in their first three matches.

There’s no obvious solution to the problem and I guess the IFL is a victim of fate in the same way the NFL, NBA, and MLB are. They can’t control the outcome of the matches just like the NFL is helpless if the Super Bowl is a blowout at half-time. But it’s an area where promotions that don’t use a team format have an advantage over the IFL.

Now, if the matches were tied 2-2 heading into the fifth, I probably wouldn’t even be bringing this up.

One thing they could do is take away the coin flip that allows the coaches to choose match lineups. The promotion could try and project outcomes and schedule the matches in an order that could increase chances of a 2-2 tie heading in the fifth match. Yes, it’s hardly an exact science but you have to think that the coaches are trying to set the fight lineups so that they win 3-0 right out of the gate.

Also, I think having individual champs next year will help alleviate some of these issues. For example, last night’s heavyweight bout between Ben Rothwell and Krysztof Soszynski was fifth in the order and was a meaningless match in regard to the team concept. However, if Rothwell was the heavyweight champ and Soszynski had been approved as a contender, it would have been a championship match, thus significant implications would still be at play.

Also, what the hell is going on with the lightweight Grand Prix!? For the past six weeks I swear I’ve heard Kenny Rice say the top four finishers in each division advance to the GP.

Well, why is it that Bart Palaszewski is in and not Shad Lierley? If you follow the correct order of tiebreakers, Lierley should be in based on the fact that his total match time this year is less than Palaszewski’s.

But the bigger issue is that when the matchups were originally announced last week Palaszewski was supposed to be fighting Chris Horodecki and John Gunderson was supposed to be fighting Wagnney Fabiano.

Then, last night they showed a graphic on the big screen with the matchups for the GP and Horodecki and Palaszewski are no longer scheduled to meet in the first round.

Was it a misprint or is the IFL trying to save a rematch between Horodecki vs. Palaszewski for the finals on 12/29?

I’m not the only one who thinks something is up because I went to the bathroom on my way out I heard fighters that shall remain nameless making a big deal about it with one labeling it “an IFL conspiracy.” He didn’t appear to be in a kidding mood, either.

Look, the IFL is a young league so I can understand that they want to make matchups that draw an optimum amount of interest. That’s cool, just be up front about it. Instead of saying the top four finishers get in, say that the top three qualify and that the fourth spot in each GP will be an at-large bid voted on by an IFL-approved selection committee.

Would at-large bids create a lot of politics? Yes, it would, but the NCAA has built a cottage industry around its selection process for its college basketball tournament.

The at-large process makes perfect sense for ’08 but what about now? Well, level with the fans and explain why the parameters previously given as the criteria for qualifying for the GP have been ignored and why the seeding of the lightweights has been changed. A fan who has invested time into the concept deserves an explanation.

I guess the silver lining is that I’m complaining about the politics in the IFL the same way I would with the NBA, NFL, or MLB. Hey, this team concept seems to be catching on…

Now, onto the matches…

Light HeavyweightMike Ciesnolevic (Silverbacks) defeated Alex Schoenauer (Anacondas) via split decision in a match that was very slow paced. I expected a lot more out of these two.

Welterweight - Rory Markham (Silverbacks) recorded a TKO over Chris Clements (Anacondas) at 1:17 of round one. Clements threw some decent kicks but Markham’s hands were too heavy. I was really surprised with Markham’s accuracy. You could hear a few thuds with his punches. Impressive showing.

Lightweight - Bart Palaszewski (Silverbacks) submitted Harris Sarmiento (Anacondas) with a guillotine at 1:06 of round three. Palaszewski hit takedowns in rounds one and three and showed decent standup skills, as usual.

Middleweight – Benji Radach (Anacondas) defeated Gerald Harris (Silverbacks) via TKO at 3:03 of round one. The fight was stopped after Harris couldn’t continue after getting hit with a legal, but inadvertent knee from Radach. Harris went in for the takedown and when Radach’s legs went up in the air, Harris got hit.

Heavyweight - Ben Rothwell (Silverbacks) TKO’d Krzysztof Soszynski (Anacondas) at 0:13 of round one. Rothwell looked to be in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. Both fighters came out swinging but Soszynski couldn’t eat Rothwell’s shots. If you don’t believe that Rothwell is a top 10 heavyweight in the world right now, you need to wake up.

Silverbacks win 4-1.

MiddleweightDan Miller (Pitbulls) caught Dave Phillips (Sabers) in a standing guillotine and submitted Phillips at 1:30 of round one. I don’t believe Phillips tapped. I think he passed out and the ref stopped it.

HeavyweightBryan Vetell (Pitbulls) hit a ton of knees and just wrecked Wayne Cole’s (Anacondas) lower body and earned a unanimous decision. Cole showed poor technique in that when Vetell would clinch him up, he really didn’t do anything to break the clinch and he didn’t try to bring Vetell closer in order to limit the extension for the knee strikes. He kept Vetell and at an optimum distance and Vetell tore him up. Cole had a lot of trouble moving in the third. The match got interesting at the end when Cole achieved top position following a sloppy takedown attempt by Vetell. Cole was throwing some strikes from the ground as the final bell sounded.

LightweightDevidias Taurosevicius (Pitbulls) upset Savant Young (Sabers) by earning a unanimous decision victory. This match earned FiveOuncesOfPain.com’s “Match of the Night” honors. I didn’t have any cash on me but I went backstage in an attempt to award them an entire case of nothing but I couldn’t find either fighter. Taurosevicius’ win sent the Pitbulls to the finals and they celebrated as if Devidias had just scored a game winning touchdown in the NFC Conference Championship game and earned the team a trip to the Super Bowl. It was pretty cool. Taurosevicius looked real impressive. So impressive that if I was Renzo Gracie, I would think about benching Erik Owings for the finals.

Welterweight - Antonio McKee (Sabers) defeated Delson Heleno (Pitbulls) via split decision. This was a huge disappointment. Both guys spent a lot of time trying to feel one another out. A slow match came to a screeching halt when McKee took a nasty crotch shot from Heleno. There was a long pause in the match while McKee tried to compose himself. Heleno then hit another low knee that took McKee’s breath away but it appeared to be on the inner thigh and not the crotch. McKee hit a big slam at one point but Heleno made a nice transition and got top position.

Light HeavyweightVladimir Matyushenko (Sabers) defeated Tim Boetsch (Pitbulls) via unanimous decision. I thought Boetsch would be overmatched but I was completely wrong. The kid was not intimidated in the slightest and more than held his own. He got in some decent offense and fought like he had been fighting in the IFL for the past two seasons. The guy earns extra points for fighting on short notice after having just fought this past Saturday in West Orange, NJ for Combat in the Cage. Tim Boetsch is the man. The WEC should fly him out to Vegas for Sunday’s card so that he can have three pro fights in eight days.

Pitbulls wins 3-2.

5 COMMENTS
  • says:

    This was my first live show and I agree that the show felt first-class. Its too bad that MyNetwork and FSN’s poor-resolution broadcasts make the show look low-rent on TV. That’s really not the case live (recent Battleground broadcasts in HD have helped).

    One thing I disagree with is the energy really wasn’t there until the second half. The fans were very vocal for the hometown Pitbulls and only stood up and cheered the second half. Prior to that, the crowd was pretty sedate. Ben Rothwell, one of the more heavily promoted fighters, got next to no reaction from the crowd. The biggest pop in the first half was when the show Andre Arlovski on the big screen. This really underscores one of the problems with the IFL: the lack of star power.

    Everyone seemed to get the whole team concept and got behind the local team, but the problem is that there’s too much going on. Its Renzo’s team (people wore Renzo Academy shirts, not Pitbull ones). They’re called the Pitbulls and there’s a bunch of fighters we don’t know. Most of the fans that were around me just refered to the color of the shorts (ie. red team, blue team).

    The place was pretty packed so they must be doing something right, but as you said with the 3-0 results, the energy flies our the door and many people exited early. There’s still many kinks to work out with the format. I enjoyed the show, but I don’t see IFL making more waves without some of their guys becoming bigger stars or stealing some from the UFC.

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  • says:

    I would also add that Taurosevicius (what a name!) is a stand-out. The guy sitting to my left already knew that he was non-stop action and he wasn’t kidding. Savant Young is bad ass and DT managed to beat him and put on a show in the process. I hope we see more from this guy.

    Antonio McKee and Delson Heleno should be ashamed of themselves. Compubox numbers would probably have the punches and kicks in single digits! You would think that since that since the playoff implications were over, these guys would try to put on a show to excite the loyal fans who stayed. It was the exact opposite. The funniest thing was McKee’s smoking hot wife got more cheers than her husband.

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  • says:

    hey sam: what about allowing coaches to alternate picking the bout order? seems like that would lead to the most 2-2 ties. also, it would add a lot of strategy to that aspect. flip a coin to see who picks first, or let the “home” team pick first. home team gets first and last pick. pretty straightforward. all awards and medals can be sent to my home.

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  • says:

    Let me start with, I like the IFL. I think the main problem that the IFL has, is that the fights are not broadcast live on T.V. Could you please ask Kurt Otto if they plan on Live shows for next season, or even the Grand Prix?

    I all honesty, that is what is holding the IFL back, they NEED to do LIVE SHOWS. Seriously, it would increase thier veiwership by 50% and that is no joke. A savvy move by the IFL would be to show the Grand Prix, all the best fighters in the IFL, Live on FSN & My Network T.V. at the same time. It would make some serious waves and would be awesome to watch live.

    I want the IFL show the fights live, like on Monday nights, Monday night MMA. The IFL could triple it’s profits in 1 year if they started showing all the fights live. They need to start asap.

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  • says:

    Good recap Sam. Its basically exactly what I saw.

    The crowd was well behaved and also pretty on top of MMA in general. I roamed alot during the show and I heard at least 5 separate conversations about Dana White’s interview with ESPN regarding steroids from the day before. And most knew a decent amount about the specific IFL fighters as you pointed out. It was a good crowd.

    As soon as I entered, I walked in with dozens of people wearing the TSk Fight Team shirts. They were there early to see the two TSK fighters in the prelims. The first thing I thought about was your rant about TSK a week ago. They were certainly loud.

    Some of my negatives. The fighters will have been announced and the seconds would leave the ring. only then would the ring girls be instructed to prance around the ring holding the Round 1 sign. This 20 seconds with the fighters raring to go and the ref just standing there was pointless. Have the ring girls walk around as the ring is being cleared.

    Due to the TV tapings, sometimes the fighters and ref would stand there post fight waiting for the decision while the ring announcer held it in hios hand for 20-40 seconds. The rest of the time between fights was very fast paced with little time in which there was not fighters in the ring.

    You are right about the energy draining out of the crowd when a team match was clinched. It looked like 20% of the crowd actually left after the Pitbulls clinched. While it was a bummer, I guess it shows how much the team aspect of the league is catching on.

    I noticed right away as well that the graphic showed that Horodecki and Palaszewski were suddenly not scheduled to fight each other in the GP despite the announcements earlier in the week. Weird.

    Overall a pretty damn good show.

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