It was the strong showing the IFL needed following a February event in Vegas that lacked energy and excitement. The promotion’s World Grand Prix finals that took place in Connecticut this past December could be considered its best show in its young history and last night’s telecast was on par.
A lot of people have written the IFL off for dead, and while no indication has been given by the company that they have the funds needed to exist past June, the product on display last night was one that was easy to watch and enjoy for a hardcore fight fan. If you have HDNet yet elected not to watch the show, you missed out on some great action. I highly recommend you check out some YouTube clips or try and catch a replay because it was a really good card.
For the benefit of HDNet, the IFL needs to remain in existence. HDNet has reached out to a lot of different promotions for content, but thus far I would have to label the IFL as its signature brand. Most of the fight cards on HDNet feature up and coming stars while the IFL can offer something in the way of star power with the likes of Chris Horodecki, Roy Nelson, Vladimir Matyushenko, Wagnney Fabiano, Jay Hieron and several others.
While the IFL put on a good show last night, there are some needed changes that should be made. The four minute rounds made sense when they were on MyNetworkTV and trying to appeal to a more casual MMA audience. However, MyNetwork is in the rear view mirror and the promotion is now playing to a hardcore audience on HDNet. Five minute rounds is just how it’s done in MMA and I see no reason for them to be deviating from the unified rules of MMA at this point in the game. On multiple occasions last night a round would end just as a fighter appeared on the verge of finishing his opponent. Yes, the same thing could happen with five minute rounds, but it’s an easier thing to accept when it’s the industry standard.
I just think that in this day and age it’s foolish not to use five minute rounds. Everyone trains for five minute rounds. Nobody trains for two, three, or four minute rounds unless you’re competing on an amateur level. I feel the same when it comes to female MMA. What does three minute rounds accomplish? It just sends a bad message. If you’re not confident enough in female MMA to send them out there under the same guidelines as you would for a male fight, then why put it on? I just don’t think it’s fair to a fighter that trains hard to limit the round time.
And while it was never an issue last night, it should be mandatory that all title fights last five rounds. It’s still difficult for me to accept that IFL title fights are just three rounds of four minutes. That’s 12 minutes of maximum cage/ring time as opposed to 25 minutes. I think such short title fights run the risk of taking credibility away from the titles.
It should also be noted that one of the bigger surprise performances last night didn’t come from a fighter, but from one of the announcers. Ron Kruck, normally the arena reporter for HDNet Fights telecasts, served as the play-by-play announcer while filling in for Kenny Rice. Kruck stepped up and did a solid job. I especially enjoyed when he spoke out at the end of the Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jamal Patterson light heavyweight title match that Matyushenko won. Matyushenko is one of the most overlooked fighters in MMA and Kruck did not hesitate to express his belief that the IFL’s 205 pound champ belongs in everyone’s top 10. Kruck is employed by HDNet and not the IFL and he works with a lot of different promotions via his HDNet affiliation. So when he went to bat for Matyushenko, it actually meant something.
As for the HDNet telecast itself, there were positives and negatives. One thing I liked was at the start of the show was how they presented storylines and explained what was on the line in some of the fights. I think Kruck and Bas Rutten did an especially good job adding some plot to the Chris Horodecki vs. Nate Lamotte opener by focusing on Horodecki’s upset loss to Ryan Schultz during the World Grand Prix in December. As I was watching the fight, I found myself feeling a sense of urgency on behalf of Horodecki whenever Lamotte had him on his back.
Another thing that is great about HDNet Fights is that as an HD telecast, the visual aspect is very pleasing to the eye. Just because the telecast says its HD, that doesn’t always mean it’s the case. If a promotion doesn’t invest and fully commit to the technology, then you’re not getting what you’re being promised. But HDNet is able to show camera angles that you just don’t see on other MMA broadcasts, with some of its overhead shots being perfectly suited for MMA.
While some of the camera work is good, it sometimes seems like the production truck is not doing a good enough job of anticipating the action. During the opening match featuring Nate Lamotte and Chris Horodecki, we were treated to the very large back of Dan Mrigliotta blocking out the action on at least two occasions.
Another production aspect that needs to be worked on, and this is more an IFL critique than anything else, are the fighter entrances. They try to keep the action moving during the early portion of the card by not showing ring entrances on TV and just cutting to the fighters already in the ring. I feel like this takes away from the energy and anticipation you experience before the fight. However, when they started showing full entrances before the championship fight, I almost wished they went back to the non-entrance format.
I have learned a lot more about the costs involved in using commercial music on broadcasts but the issue I have with the IFL entrances isn’t just the music, but also the timing. There doesn’t seem to be much coordination between when a fighter enters the arena and when ring announcer Tim Hughes calls out their name. The entrances themselves also seem rushed. And when I was at the IFL show in August, unless I was looking at a big screen, I found it hard to see the fighter coming out. Ensuring the fighters are visible to the live audience is key in order for them to garner any sort of reaction.
I really think the IFL needs to jazz up its entrances in order to help build their fighters up as stars. Overall, I think that the promotion could use a little more attitude. The IFL fighters are almost too polite and nice. I’d love to see a couple of more trash talkers and some guys that are more outspoken. That’s why I’m starting to dig Roy Nelson. The man isn’t afraid to express his opinion. I think it’s a lot easier for a fan to become more emotionally invested in a fighter if they can grab onto a distinct personality.
Now, onto the fights.
* Chris Horodecki def. Nate Lamotte via unanimous decision – I can’t put my finger on it, but something just seemed off with Horodecki in this fight. I feel like it was set up as a showcase fight for him but Lamotte gave him a run for his money and had him in trouble in the second and third rounds when he had Horodecki on his back and was ground and pounding him. I can’t remember which round it was, but if it had been five minutes as opposed to four, Lamotte might have won because he was ground and pounding Horodecki right as the round ended.
Horodecki was throwing a lot of good combos, mixing up his kicks and punches very well. But Lamotte proved to be tough and ate a lot of shots. Usually when I see Horodecki go high with his kicks, he hurts his opponents. However, in this fight, Lamotte appeared composed the entire time.
I agree with the decision but the crowd didn’t, as Horodecki was heavily booed. He also received boos following his decision win over Bart Palaszewski during the MyNetworkTV telecast from Chicago this past November. I thought Horodecki won that one as well, but Palaszewski was playing to a hometown crowd. However, does the excuse fly here? Lamotte is more of a New England-based fighter and while I’m sure some of his fans made the trek down to Jersey to see him, I think a lot of non-Lamotte fans were booing.
The boos are not a good sign. The MyNetworkTV show did not do a great job of creating new stars for the IFL. But if the show helped anyone, it was Horodecki and Ben Rothwell. Rothwell has moved on but Horodecki is still a big-time player for the promotion. It was just strange hearing him booed like that because when I was at the show in Jersey this past August, Horodecki didn’t fight but he was cheered very loudly whenever he was shown on screen. There were also a lot of fans asking for autographs whenever he got up to walk around. The IFL needs Horodecki to be a star.
* Jim Miller def. Bart Palaszewski via unanimous decision - This was a very good fight with some awesome sequences. I especially loved it when Miller had Palaszewski in an anaconda choke. Palaszewski not only escaped, but reversed it and had top position momentarily. It was beautiful.
But the result was not good for Palaszewski, as he’s now lost three consecutive fights. He lost to Deividas Taurosevicius during the IFL finals in Hollywood, Fla. in September, dropped a decision to Horodecki in November, and then dropped another decision last night to Miller. I really don’t know what else to say because Palaszewski fought well. It was just a case of Miller fighting better.
Speaking of Miller, HDNet did a “news” segment where his brother, Dan Miller, was interviewed backstage. It was announced that Dan will be fighting for the IFL middleweight title against incumbent Ryan McGivern during the promotion’s May show at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. Roy Nelson and Ryan Schultz will also be defending their titles as well.
But it was a good performance for Jim and the biggest win of his career. He continues to emerge as a future star. It might not be long until he fights for the IFL lightweight title currently held by Schultz. I wouldn’t mind seeing Miller vs. Horodecki fight in a match to determine a number one contender.
* Brad Blackburn def. Delson Heleno via KO (strikes) at 1:50 of round 3 - There were some really good fights on the card but I liked this the best. Heleno was just dominating Blackburn in this fight and was cruising to a decision win. However, he wanted to put Blackburn away and took a risk going for a takedown. Blackburn defended it and just dropped Heleno. It was like seeing a team down by a run with two outs in the ninth and a man on base with the hitter at the plate belting a two-run walk-off homer.
Heleno also did a cool flying superman punch early in the fight while Blackburn was on the ground. He only grazed Blackburn’s head but kudos to Heleno for trying to finish the fight and give the crowd something to cheer for.
By the way, this was a camp-based fight between Midwest Combat and Renzo Gracie’s Jiu-Jitsu. However, the camp-based element is almost completely non-existent at this point and a lot of fighters are fighting on behalf of camps that they have no affiliation with. I think it’s time for the camp element to be dropped entirely and for the IFL to just focus on titles and contendership (I know, not a word but I’m using the term irrespective of that fact). They’ve got some talented champions and I’d like to see all the promotional focus put behind into making them universally ranked top ten fighters. If fans and the media start to hear that the IFL has a bunch of top ten fighters then they are going to feel more of a need to keep up with what’s going on and to stop ignoring the promotion.
* Vladimir Matyushenko def. Jamal Patterson via TKO (strikes) at 3:35 of round 2 - Another great fight. Patterson won round 1 and showed some improved striking. He put the heat on Matyushenko several times in the first but V-Mat kept his composure throughout. After the fight, he indicated to Bas Rutten that he was basically playing possum in the first round, as he wanted Patterson to gain a false sense of confidence in his striking. It’s a bold claim but based on the way Matyushenko weathered the storm, I am inclined to believe him.
But Matyushenko turned the tide in the second round and just beat down Patterson on the ground before the fight was stopped. He was already in my top ten light heavyweights and I’m going to have to give some consideration in regard to moving him up. I also think it’s time though for the IFL to go out and get Matyushenko some competition because I’m not sure if there is a light heavyweight currently on the IFL roster that can hang with him.
* Wagnney Fabiano def. Shad Lierley via KO at 0:37 of round 1 – Fabiano is an excellent wrestler and has world class submissions, but it looks like his striking is starting to really develop. Lierley is a legit yet Fabiano just put him away with a nasty looking right hook. After connecting, Lierley’s entire body went limp and he crashed to the ground. It was a scary looking knockout because it looked like the life had completely left Lierley’s body.
Like Matyushenko, the IFL could have a tough time finding competition on its roster that can push Fabiano. Now that he’s back competing at featherweight, I’m going to have to give strong consideration to moving him into my top ten featherweights. Not enough people understand just how good Fabiano is and that’s a shame.
Matyushenko and Fabiano are two prime examples of why it is a shame more promotions don’t work together. I’d love to see Fabiano take on some of the WEC’s featherweights and I’d love to see Matyushenko get a shot at some of the talented UFC light heavyweights. But if the UFC and IFL couldn’t come to an agreement to allow Jim Miller compete at UFC Fight Night 13, then there’s no chance we’ll ever see a kind of crossover where champions are involved. That said, I’d love to see some talent exchanges between EliteXC, Strikeforce, and the IFL. Renato “Babalu” Sobral vs. Matyushenko and Wilson Reis vs. Fabiano would be good fights.
* Jay Hieron def. Mark Miller via TKO (strikes) at 2:10 of round 1 - After the fight, Hieron plugged his after-party at “Soul” in NYC. I guess he wanted to get there early because he wasted no time in dismantling Miller. He just put the guy down in the corner of the ring and pounded on him until the ref stopped the fight. While I don’t consider Hieron to be as dominant over his peers as Matyushenko and Fabiano, it’s pretty close to getting to that point. But yes, he’s yet another IFL fighter being overlooked by pundits and fans