Tonight’s show has a lot of promise with Jay Hieron, Wagnney Fabiano, Vladimir Matyushenko, Shad Lierley, Bart Palaszewski, and Chris Horodecki all slated to fight. The IFL has taken its lumps with pundits and fans over the course of the last year, but I firmly believe that the aforementioned fighters are capable of fighting for any promotion in the world.
Featuring three title matches, a best-of-three series between Midwest Combat vs. Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu, as well as an appearance by Horodecki, I will go out on a limb to say that tonight’s IFL show could prove to be one of its best since its inception in 2006.
If you base your MMA viewing choices on SEC reporting results, maybe the IFL isn’t for you. However, if you’re just looking to see some free fights on a Friday night, tonight’s IFL show fits the bill.
Here’s a look at tonight’s televised bouts.
Jay Hieron vs. Mark Miller for the IFL welterweight title
People love to bag on the IFL but they overlook the fact that the promotion has plenty of talented fighters. If people were a little more open minded, they’d be able to see it for themselves.
At the top of the underrated list in the IFL is none other than Hieron. Some might remember Hieron from his two fights in the UFC; one in 2004 at UFC 48, where he lost to Georges St. Pierre and another in 2006 at UFC Fight Night 2, where he lost to Jonathan Goulet. But it wouldn’t be prudent to judge Hieron based on his two unsuccessful stints in the UFC because he’s improved leaps and bounds since then. Heck, Hieron is not even the same fighter he was when he first entered the IFL in 2006.
As one of the leaders at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Hieron has become a well-rounded fighter, no longer relying heavily on his wrestling background. He is now a plus striker and is someone I consider to be a top ten welterweight in the world.
Miller began his IFL career in 2007 and lost his debut to Delson Heleno. He rebounded with good wins against Brad Blackburn and UFC veteran Josh Neer. Miller is one of the only fighters from Frank Shamrock’s San Jose Razorclaws to be retained, as he out-performed his team last season and offers plenty of upside.
While Miller has a lot of potential, I just don’t think he’s ready to defeat one of the top welterweights in the world right now.
Wagnney Fabiano vs. Shad Lierley for the IFL featherweight title
I think Lierley has everything needed to be a superstar in this sport: the amateur credentials with his wrestling background; natural athleticism; a competitive attitude; an ability to communicate; and a good look. He’s very new to MMA but he proved against Chris Horodecki last June in Everett, Wash. that he’s ready to compete at a top level.
I’m expecting a great fight tonight but I’m not sure Lierley is ready to beat a fighter such as Fabiano. Fabiano is undefeated in the IFL (5-0) and is now competing in his best competitive weight class, 145 lbs. Lierley’s standup is solid and he has the wrestling advantage, but I think Fabiano’s submissions could cause a major problem for him.
Lierley is certainly capable of winning this bout by my concern is that his inexperience could cause him to be submitted by Fabiano.
Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jamal Patterson for the IFL light heavyweight title
Matyushenko, the first individual champion in IFL history, returns to the ring for the first time since winning his title last November. He’s one of the IFL’s biggest success stories after going into semi-retirement following a stint in the UFC that concluded in 2003.
Matyushenko, 38, might be best known for his fight vs. Tito Ortiz at UFC 33 in Las Vegas. The show was one of the first cards held upon the UFC’s return to PPV and Matyushenko was tapped as a late replacement vs. Ortiz. The fight itself was pretty boring but Matyushenko forced a decision, which was a moral victory considering that Ortiz at the time was considered by many to be the top light heavyweight in the world.
The native Russian was a top ten light heavyweight earlier in his career, and based on his dominance since joining the IFL, I believe he has regained top ten form. He entered the sport with a strong wrestling base but has really established himself as a big puncher. While he’ll never be known as a submission master, his ability to fight on both his feet and on the ground make him very dangerous.
Patterson has gotten a lot of press this week but I would consider him to be a sizable underdog. He’s 4-1 lifetime in MMA with all of his fights having taken place in the rings of the IFL and he’s shown to be an excellent athlete. He’s done well for himself with two career victories over Matt Horwich and a previous win over Alex Schoenauer but Matyushenko qualifies as a major step up in competition.
If Patterson makes it past the second round, I would consider that to be a moral victory for him.
Brad Blackburn vs. Delson Heleno in a welterweight bout
Blackburn will be representing the Midwest Combat camp against Heleno, who will be fighting on behalf of Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Matyushenko vs. Patterson is not only a title match, but it will also serve as the third and possible deciding bout in the best of three camp series scheduled for tonight between Midwest Combat and Renzo Gracie’s.
I consider Heleno to be the second best welterweight in the IFL, right behind Hieron. In fact, Heleno was actually the number one seed in last year’s welterweight Grand Prix and considered by many the favorite to win.
Heleno finds himself trying to work his way back up the latter and hopes to put himself in position to fight the winner of tonight’s fight between Hieron and Miller so I expect him to come out strong vs. Blackburn.
Consistency has been the biggest issue in Blackburn’s career thus far. Blackburn, 11-9-1, holds impressive victories over the likes of Chris Wilson and Jay Hieron. But he’s also lost to Mark Miller and Rory Markham — fights he could have and probably should have won.
Blackburn will need to bring his A-game tonight, otherwise he could get submitted early.
Bart Palaszewski vs. Jim Miller in a lightweight bout
Palaszewski will be fighting for Midwest Combat while Miller will be repping Renzo Gracie’s.
The fight was originally supposed to pit Palaszewski vs. Deividas Taurosevicius but the fight was scrapped after Taurosevicius had to pull out with an injury. I was really looking forward to the fight because Palaszewski was looking for revenge after being upset by Taurosevicius in September. However, Miller is a very strong replacement.
One of the best lightweight fighter on the Eastern seaboard, Miller has drawn interest from the UFC and EliteXC already this year. In fact, he reportedly had signed with the UFC to fight Marcus Aurelio at UFC Fight Night 13 but the contract was never finalized after it was learned that Miller had an existing three-fight deal with the IFL.
Aurelio would have been a tough fight for Miller but Palaszewski is no pushover, either.
While he’s no longer fighting for the Iowa Silverbacks/Miletich Fighting Systems, Palaszewski is the quintessential MFS lightweight. He’s a good wrestler with solid boxing who has good stamina and a strong competitive motor. In short, Palaszewski may not be dynamic but he’s one of the most fundamentally sound 155 lbs. fighters in the world.
Miller’s game is very similar to that of Palaszewski so tonight’s fight could definitely steal the show. Even though he’s in the prospect category, Miller is ready for this fight and I expect him to hold him own vs. Palaszewski. I don’t see Palaszewski being able to finish Miller, but I do see him winning the decision.
Chris Horodecki vs. Nate Lamotte in a lightweight bout
Lamotte made a good point during a recent interview with NewEnglandFights.com podcast where he said he’s a bad matchup for Horodecki because Ryan Schultz upset him last December and that his style is similar to Schultz.
Lamotte is right that Schultz was able to take Horodecki out of his game during the IFL World Grand Prix finals and able to pull off the upset. But it’s important to note that Horodecki had previously recorded a second round TKO over Schultz in ’06 in which Schultz ended up needing to be taken out of the ring on a stretcher.
While Horodecki has never made excuses for his loss to Schultz, he was coming off an injury and had to endure four opponent changes leading up to the December fight. While Horodecki hasn’t had long to prepare for Lamotte, he should be well-rested and focused coming into this fight.
Lamotte deserves credit for going into this fight with the right outlook, but I just don’t see him pulling off the upset.