Jim Miller landing a punch on Bart Palaszewski. Photo courtesy of the International Fight League.
The International Fight League returned to the Izod Center in New Jersey tonight, presenting what may very well have been the deepest fight card in the promotion’s history. It turned out to be very exciting night of fights that included some massive knockouts along with a vicious submission toward the end of the night.
With the IFL just opening up the lower level of the Izod Center while curtaining the upper, it looked like a great venue. It was set up a bit differently than the last time the IFL was in town for the League semi-finals last August. And while the crowd ended up filling 2/3 of the bottom bowl, it was a good deal less than last year’s. The theme of the night within the crowd seemed to be cheering for the underdog, as each had some very vocal supporters in the crowd. To my happiness, I had the pleasure of sitting next to some extremely knowledgeable fans who really knew and appreciated the sport. Thankfully, I didn’t have to sit next to the guy 3 sections over screaming “use the elbows!”, something that is illegal in the IFL. I’d like to thank Drew and friends for their conversation and knowledge of the sport. On to the action!
The night started a little earlier than the advertised 7:30pm start time. The first fight, between Alex Schoenauer and Brendan Barrett kicked off to an pretty barren arena. While the first round was rather even, Barrett likely winning the round on takedowns, Alex began to take over in the second stalking his opponent. The third and final round was all Schoenauer as Barrett was visibly gassed. I scored it 29-28. the judges came back 29-28 (2x), and 28-29 for a split decision, Alex Schoenauer.
The two combatants were barely out of the ring when LC Davis and Rafael Dias. A fairly back and forth battle ensued and it really looked like it was going to be a razor thin decision. With 15 seconds left in the bout, the two were stood up. Davis faked throwing a right hook which caused Dias to bend away, right into a huge head kick. Dias was out cold before he hit the canvas. He remained that way for several minutes before being stretchered out of the arena. The IFL cameras had a great overhead shot of Dias on the mat with his eyes completely open yet rolled into the back of his head.
Next up was Emyr Bussade vs Jesse Lennox. Both fighters were in the ring with the ref ready to get them started when a delay was called. Apparently, the ambulance that was taking Rafael Dias to the hospital was required to be present for the event to continue. While I agree with the rule, it was very shortsighted on the IFL’s part to not have a second ambulance on standby for this type of occurrence. After making the fighters wait in the ring for close to 7 minutes, they were removed and sent back to the dressing rooms. The event was held for 25 minutes waiting for the ambulance and then waiting for the live HDNet broadcast to begin. This was poor planning on the IFL’s part in my opinion.
The live broadcast began with the IFL’s golden boy, Chris Horodecki taking on Nate Lamotte. A fairly exciting fight ensued with Horodecki reverting back to some of the tactics of holding the ropes to prevent a takedown that have earned him a fair amount of criticism in the past. In the end, Lamotte controlled the majority of the action, taking the first and third rounds on my scorecard, making it 29-28. Most of the crowd felt Lamotte won rather convincingly, which made the 29-28 Horodecki decision rather unpopular. It was slightly surprising just how many people really dislike Chris Horodecki and this decision did not help. In fact, during the post fight interview, Horodecki’s comments were roundly booed.
Into the ring stepped Jim Miller to take on Bart Palaszewski. This was one heck of a fight. The first round saw Miller lock in a tight Anaconda choke but the “Bartimus” refused to tap, eventually wigging his way out. While Palaszewski tried a few guillotines of his own, Miller showed an array of submission attempts and takedowns. In the end, it was too much Miller, as he took home the unanimous decision, much to the delight of his hometown crowd.
Brad Blackburn and Delson Heleno stepped in and waged war next. Boy was this a one sided beatdown. Helson took down Blackburn at will and punished him from the dominant position for two and a half rounds. A few times, the referee took a serious look and thought about stopping the fight. But with just under two minutes to go in the third, Blackburn finally struck. He caught Heleno with a head kick as Delson looked for the final takedown. The strike slightly wobbled Delson, But it was the follow up right cross to the temple that KO’d Delson Heleno in stunning fashion! Amazing turnaround and further proof of no matter how dominant an MMA fight looks, it can all change in a nanosecond.
With the crowd still buzzing, the Light heavyweight Championship followed, pitting the champ, Vladimir Matyushenko, against Hoboken NJ native, Jamal Patterson. This one was a wild swinging affair with Patterson swinging for the fences. Vladimir controlled the takedowns though once he got caught in a tight guillotine choke. Finally in the second, Matyushenko took the dominant top position, something he is excellent at, and began to unleash the bombs. After a few minutes of punishment, Matyushenko connected with a nasty right that made Jamal turn away in obvious pain and the fight was halted.
The second championship fight of the night featured featherwieght starv Wagnney Fabiano against former NYU wrestling star, Shad Lierley. This one didn’t last long. Fabiano landed some beautiful kicks early, including one to the upper thigh that completely took Lierley off his feet. Shad jumped back up. But a dozen seconds later, he may have been still thinking about that kick when Fabiano landed a right cross that instantly KO’d Lierley at 37 seconds into the first round. For the third time this night, a huge KO had occurred. Lierley was okay, but Fabiano showed devastating striking to go along with his ever impressive submission game.
The final championship fight of the night stepped into the ring in the form of champ Jay Heiron and Mark Miller. With Shawn Tompkins, Randy Couture, and Chris Horodecki in his corner, Heiron went to work early. Scoring an early takedown, Heiron was more than happy to stay in miller’s guard while posturing up. He unleashed dozens of unanswered blows, garnering the stoppage a little over 2 minutes into the first round.
At this point, clearly two thirds of the crowd left the building while Emyr Bussade and Jesse Lennox. This fight was the classic wrestler vs submission grappler. Lennox was in dominant position and really winning the fight rather easily into the second round, but Bussade was constantly looking for the submission. Sure enough, Emyr locked on a tight kneebar which caused a standing Lennox to scream in pain and collapse. Great submission win for Bussade in a fight he was losing.
The final fight of the night featured UFC vet Carmelo Marrero and IFl stalwart Mike Ciesnolevicz. Marrero scored an early takedown and was really bombing away from the top position. But somehow in the midst of the takedown, Marrero suffered a significant cut on the top of his head. Much to the dismay of the remaining sparse crowd, the ringside doctor called the fight. While the initial announcement gave the win to Ciesnolevicz, it was soon overturned and made a no contest.
Overall, the night featured some of the best KO’s in IFL history. With some reports saying the IFl may return to NJ 2 more times this year, the promotion seems to really like the venue. One thing that helped attendance last year was the usage on the undercard of Team TSK fighter (Tiger Schulman Karate). The franchised company had a large representation last year that was missing this time around.
With EliteXC’s initial CBS offering scheduled to take place in Newark NJ, MMA’s presence on the East Coast appears to be increasing significantly.
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