MAMARONECK, N.Y. - Nearly 150 mixed martial athletes residing in 20 U.S. states – hailing from at least 10 other countries – came to the L.A. Boxing gym in Mamaroneck, N.Y. today, looking for spots on International Fight League teams at the IFL 2008 Draft.
It’s likely that none of those had a more rewarding trip to the New York suburb than Levon Maynard, a civilian Air Force computer technician who drove all night from Norfolk, Va., sleeping in his car before standing out among the more than 30 welterweights with an impressive showing in all phases that earned him a spot among the pool of 18 athletes selected by the coaches.
“I would have done anything for this opportunity,” said Maynard, who was joined by his girlfriend on the eight-hour one-way excursion. “Getting to see where my skills are against a lot of other guys in my weight class with my own level of skill and experience was the best part.”
Under the watchful eye of IFL Commissioner Kurt Otto, “IFL Battleground” host Bas Rutten and Toronto Dragons coach Carlos Newton, each athlete participated in a preliminary session which included takedowns, jiu-jitsu and sparring/kick boxing, contested on mats.
About 50 moved on to the final round of MMA sparring in the ring. Current IFL athletes Deividas Taurosevicius of the Pitbulls and Shane Ott of the Dragons served as referees.
The 18 athletes selected join a pool of potential IFL competitors. They may serve as full team members, alternates, training partners, or potential replacement or Superfight performers as well.
While a quick look at the parking lot outside L.A. Boxing revealed license plates from states as far away as Ohio, Maryland and even Indiana, the crowd of supporters inside the facility was decidedly in the corner of several local athletes, notably Dennis Racanello, 35, of Larchmont, N.Y., and Dyrell Walker, 26, of New Rochelle, N.Y. Racanello, a faculty member at nearby Iona College, trains at the Mamaroneck L.A. Boxing gym, and his early success in drills and jiu-jitsu produced the loudest cheers. Walker, a Western Connecticut State University grad who was born in Jamaica but grew up in New Rochelle, went one step further, showing quick moves in the drills and strong sparring skills to impress the coaches.
“There was a great energy in the building today,” said Otto. “There were some very spirited sparring sessions and I think guys really fed off the energy.”
Another pairing of note was the light heavyweight finals matchup between Armin Mrkanovic, a native of Bosnia who made the Chicago Red Bears roster at the beginning of 2007 but was injured before he could compete for Coach Igor Zinoviev’s squad, and Constantinos Phillipou, another area product who brought an extended contingent of training partners and friends to support him. Mrkanovic and Phillipou battled it out in an entertaining sparring session which ultimately resulted in both athletes being selected for the pool.
Heavyweights Lenard Terrence of Akwesasne, N.Y. and A.J. Xhudo of Yonkers, N.Y. gave their all in their matchup as well, earning loud applause and spots in the both the qualifier pool and the hearts of the coaches.
“The light heavies and heavies really showed us something today,” said Newton. “I look for heart. I want to see how they react when they’re hit. These guys were ready to go to battle to win us over, and they did.”
The last of three IFL 2008 Draft sessions is set for next Saturday, October 27, in Schaumburg, Illinois. Last week, more than 250 athletes competed at the session in Costa Mesa, Calif., at which 27 were selected for the athlete pool.
Here are the qualifiers as selected by the coaches in Mamaroneck:
James “Binky” Jones