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Fight Critic: Breaking down the IFL’s Mohegan Sun show

millermcgivern2.jpg It was another strong night of fights from the IFL during Friday’s card at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT. This show was not as strong as the April show at the Izod Center in New Jersey, however, it was still very enjoyable for the hardcore fight fan.

There are still some tweaks that must be made prior to when the IFL has its next show in August at the Izod. First, they need to institute five minute rounds instead of four minutes. I could buy into the argument of the four minute rounds when the company had a deal with MyNetworkTV. With MNTV, they were exposed to a lot more casual MMA fans and the idea of giving them a faster-paced show was a good one. But HDNet is now their primary television partner and HDNet appeals to the hardest of the hardcore. Adopting the unified rules is something that will be appreciated by the IFL’s current core fan. I don’t think we’ll see the institution of elbows on the ground because of concerns over cuts, but I see no reason at this stage to continue using four minute rounds.

Also, there were several re-starts last night because fighters were too close to the ropes. As much as I enjoyed PRIDE, one of my biggest pet peeves were the re-starts. It really can compromise the integrity of the match. I realize the idea is to re-start them in the exact same position, but it’s never completely the same. So I have a problem with re-starts, something you don’t have to worry about with the cage. But the introduction of “The Hex” during the August show will have no impact whatsoever on this issue. So really, how is the six-sided ring going to help from a functional standpoint? I think it’s obvious that “The Hex” is purely being brought in for cosmetic reasons in an attempt to give the promotion a distinctive look.

But as far as quality of fight cards, the IFL is building some momentum. With the way the product is now, I can’t help but wonder how differently things could have gone for the IFL from a financial standpoint if they were under Jay Larkin’s leadership from day one. While the promotion still wouldn’t be a rival to the UFC, they also likely wouldn’t be in a position where they needed to openly seek a merger or acquisition in order to serve their long-term survival.

The issue is that IFL co-founders Kurt Otto and Gareb Shamus had to do a lot of learning on the job. They weren’t MMA neophytes when they started the IFL, but they had never operated an MMA-related business before. Both were successful businessmen outside of the sport, but the MMA industry is not a forgiving place and mistakes can be costly. They brought in experienced MMA people such as Keith Evans, who had been with the UFC, but I don’t think they listened to their MMA people enough.

Case and point: the team concept. During last night’s show, there was absolutely no trace of the old team-based format. Even the camp-based format was non-existent last night, and I don’t think anyone really noticed or cared.

In regards to the production, the IFL did a much better job with the ring introductions for the title fights. Still, I think the IFL has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to production and how it highlights its key players to the audience. I also think they need to give every single fighter on their show the courtesy of a ring-walk entrance instead of just cutting to them in the ring. It comes off the same way a pro wrestler does in a dark match, in that novice fans are conditioned not to care about a guy who doesn’t even get the benefit of having music when they enter the arena.

Doing ring-walk intros for every fighter would add to the duration of the broadcast. So why not go with five minute rounds and ring-walk intros for every fighter and show five fights instead of six? With the team and camp format out of the picture, they have the freedom to do something like this.

For the second consecutive IFL show, Ron Kruck handled the play-by-play and he did another solid job. There were some very dramatic finishes and he called them with great enthusiasm. Maybe I have a problem, but it’s a lot easier for me to get excited about a fight if the announcer is excited about it.

Kruck also seems to be very familiar with the backstory of a lot of the fighters. For example, when talking about Matt Horwich’s wife, he mentioned that it was a whirlwind courtship and that they had only known each other for six months when they got married. I realize it has nothing to do with the fight, but information such as that has a lot to do with the fighter. And if you care about the fighter, then you care about their fight. But the IFL has always done a good job (even on MyNetworkTV) of showing the family of the fighters on-camera. I always enjoyed this because I felt it was a great way to humanize the sport and show newer fans that hey, these are real people and not a bunch of blood-thirsty barbarians with a deathwish. I’d really like to see CBS do this on May 31. Show the world that these are real people that have people who care whether or not they get hurt.

I also liked how they carried the audio of Team Quest coach Matt Lindland talking to one of his fighters. Once the round began again, they cut to Andrew Falzon, the arena reporter for the night, who was interviewing Lindland while the round was taking place. The timing was perfect, as the match was going pretty slow. Getting content while a match is in a lull is always appreciated from my perspective. There is such a tactical element that is prevalent in MMA and I don’t understand why other promotions haven’t followed the IFL’s lead and done a better job of getting corner audio on mic and incorporating the corner people into the telecast. MyNetworkTV did a lot of this, and when MMA is presented in such a fashion, it feels like a mainstream sport.

There were still many production glitches during the telecast. The transitions from the locker room to commercial weren’t always seamless. And at one point, Kruck did a read to promo Roy Nelson’s heavyweight title defense and then a Ryan Schultz interview fired. Maybe it was intentional? But I’m not so sure because when they came back, they fired the same Schultz interview and then cut to comments from his opponent Deividas Taurosevicius .

Another issue I had was that during the post-fight interviews they would ask the fighter to analyze the end of the fight through replay. However, the replay would air on the big screen and we had to watch the fighter and announcer watching the replay. So instead of cutting to the replay as the main camera shot, we saw the backs of people watching a big screen. I realize HDNet doesn’t have the biggest budget in the world, but we know they have replay because they would show it right after the fights. Maybe this was intentional? I don’t know. Whether it was or it wasn’t, I don’t particularly care for watching people watching a replay.

Also, just like with the April show, there was an instance where fighters were both wearing the same shorts. I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. The state of Nevada makes it mandatory that you bring two different pairs of shorts for a fight so that if someone else has the same trunks, you can wear a different pair. Fighters wearing the same trunks wasn’t as evident for this show in comparison to April, but it’s something so minor that it just shouldn’t happen. The IFL has a deal with Premier Fighter for their shorts, but I think Premier Fighter has enough different styles of the shorts that someone can step in and tell a fighter “Hey, you’re opponent took the white and black shorts, you need to go with a different design.”

Now, onto the fights:

1. Matt Horwich def. Joey Guel via decision (unanimous) - Kruck made it a point to let everyone know that Horwich and Guel were friends, and to be honest, they fought like they were friends. Horwich controlled the fight from bell-to-bell, yet seemingly did little damage. I know his style is unconventional, but he was throwing punches from side control and made no effort to try and achieve mount. If these two guys are friends and are reluctant to pummel each other, why match them up if it’s not a title fight? Bad fight. However, Horwich’s entertaining post-fight interview made up for the lack of action during the bout. Horwich is so unique that he looks like a star.

2. Josh Souder def. Zac George via TKO (punches) in round 1 – This was an upset in my mind. This was the highest-profile fight of Souder’s career but I didn’t see any nerves whatsoever. He just came out and punched George in the eye and then went in for the kill. Short fight, but very exciting. Also, Kruck told a story that Souder has a thick beard because he’s engaged in a bear growing contest with some friends back at Cincy. It anecdotes like that in which I really enjoy. I know it’s minor, but it’s content. And when Souder gave a shout out to his buddies in Cincy during his post-fight interview, we knew the inside story.

3. Danillo Villefort def. Mike Massenzio via submission (kneebar) in round 1 - This was a wrestler vs. grappler fight and it went exactly the way you would think a fight between fighters with those styles would go. Massenzio controlled the position and had Villefort on his back. Villefort went for multiple submissions and even fell into an inverted guard position — something you really only see in grappling tournaments because an inverted guard position really leaves you open to punches and elbows in MMA. Out of the inverted guard, Massenzio’s legs were exposed. Villefort kept grabbing and grabbing until he caught Massenzio’s leg and finished. Villefort didn’t show the well-rounded MMA skills that I saw from him in New York during the IFL Draft tryouts this past fall, but a win is still a win and I’d like to see him again on the August show.

4. Dan Miller def. Ryan McGivern via submission (kneebar) in round 1 - It was very surreal seeing back-to-back fights end via kneebar. Something like this hasn’t happened on a major show in years because people know how to defend against kneebars now. It’s hard to say Miller looked impressive because the fight was short, but he didn’t look bad in the win, either. In regards to the IFL middleweight title, if Miller comes back in August and defends it, he will automatically become the most dominant 185 lbs. champ in IFL’s history because no one who has held the title has been able to make a successful defense. Miller vs. Benji Radach would be a great fight for the August show.

5. Ryan Schultz def. Devidas Taurosevicius via decision (unanimous) - This was the fight of the night, without question. It wasn’t as good as last week’s DREAM.3 fight between Joachim Hansen and Eddie Alvarez, but for my money, it wasn’t too far off. Both of these guys were really lighting each other up and they showed great chins. You could hear the smacking with some of the punches to the face. Taurosevicius is no joke, but Schultz is improving with each passing fight. When Schultz upset Chris Horodecki during the finals of the IFL lightweight Grand Prix, I considered it a fluke. Yet if the two were to rematch, Schultz would have to be considered the favorite.

6. Roy Nelson def. Brad Imes via TKO (punches) in round 1 - This fight wasn’t bad for what it was. I still don’t know why this was the main event instead of Schultz vs. Taurosevicius, because that would have been a much stronger match to close with. Mike Huckaby pointed out that the decision likely was made because Nelson and Imes are heavyweights and the masses love the heavyweights. That’s probably the reason, but it still doesn’t make sense to me. Your best fight should be the main event. Granted, Schultz and Taurosevicius are 155’ers but again, HDNet appeals to the hardest of the hardcore.

I would have preferred more of a back-and-forth exchange in what was the night’s main event, but Imes was a late replacement and looked like it, as he was overmatched. It was strange because Imes gave Rashad Evans all he could handle during the TUF 2 heavyweight final and he is much better now than he was back then. Yet Nelson just dominated him and made it look like he didn’t even belong. Kruck raised the issue that Nelson is a top ten heavyweight, and while I don’t yet agree, it’s a point that is hard to dispute. He’s a very underrated fighter with good punching power and better than average wrestling. He’ll never be a submission master, and unless he drops weight, he likely won’t become a versatile striker anytime soon. But he’s a very tough guy who can push the pace. With the current state of the heavyweight division in MMA, that alone makes him a legitimate threat.

I consider Nelson to be a top-15 heavyweight right now and the only thing he needs is a win over a top-ten opponent. He’s not going to get that in the IFL though. As such, I really hope promoters start taking IFL CEO Jay Larkin up on his offer to use some of the promotion’s fighters. This way we can see if Nelson is just an IFL mirage or if he truly belongs in the top ten. I wouldn’t mind seeing Nelson vs. Paul Buentello or Nelson vs. Antonio Silva. I’d love to see a 145 lbs. fighter between Wagnney Fabiano and Wilson Reis. Jay Hieron vs. Jake Shields would be a killer matchup, as well. And how exciting would a fight be between Gilbert Melendez and Chris Horodecki? Melendez is better than Horodecki on the ground, but you know he’d have no problem indulging Horodecki in the standup. With the IFL on hiatus until August, there is a brief window for promoters to schedule some of the IFL’s top fighters for shows in late-June or early-July. But the promoters will need to pick up the phones and start making calls right away.

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