Next Saturday (11/3) is without a doubt the biggest night in the short two-year history of the International Fight League. The league will be holding its first-ever Grand Prix event with the semifinals emanating from the Sears Centre outside of Chicago, IL and the finals on 12/29 from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. When everything is said and done, the IFL will finally crown a champion in each of its five weight classes. The IFL’s team concept is a novel one and I can potentially see casual sports fans gravitate towards it but this event is long overdue. Surely it will help elevate some new stars and give fans a reason to root for specific fighters and not just teams. (Jarry Park will be previewing the GP all week long with tons of interviews so keep it locked here for the latest)
Sadly, though, this event has a few black clouds hovering above it. First, two of the IFL’s top stars – Heavyweight Ben Rothwell, Light Heavyweight Mike Whitehead will not be competing in the event after the league first announced they would be a part of the GP. The reason behind their absence is because the IFL wanted all the fighters competing in the GP to sign a contract for the 2008 season. Makes sense. The league would be foolish to crown an unsigned champion and then have them jump ship to another organization (see: Hart, Bret). Interestingly enough, both men are represented by MMA super-agent Monte Cox and apparently Cox was willing to have Whitehead and Jay Hieron (whose participation in the GP was in doubt for some time but not anymore) sign their extensions but not Rothwell. You see, Rothwell is in the midst of a 13 fight winning streak and is by far the top Heavyweight in the IFL. Cox believes Rothwell will command a lot of money from other organizations once he enters the free agent market at the end of 2007. Clearly, the IFL is aware of this because they have decided to treat this situation as a package deal and if Rothwell didn’t sign they didn’t want to sign Whitehead. Fiveouncesofpain.com’s Sam Caplan spoke to Cox and he had this to say regarding the situation:
“…I called back and I said ‘Whitehead’s in and Hieron’s in’ and they said, ‘What about Ben?’ I told them we’re not going to do anything with Ben (and) that I’m going to wait until the season ends. And they said that ‘If Ben doesn’t sign then these other two guys are out.’ I go ‘What do you mean?’ They said ‘If Ben doesn’t sign then the other two guys can’t fight in the Grand Prix.’…We 100% absolutely said we would sign with (the IFL) and Hieron and they wouldn’t let either guy sign and then they backdoored to get Hieron in and decided not to get Mike.”
We’ll never really know who is truly in the wrong here but the bottom line is the IFL is suffering the biggest consequences because a portion of next week’s GP semifinals will air live on MyNetworkTV at 8 p.m. EST/PST (7 p.m. CT/MT). IFL events have been airing on MNTV and Fox Sports Net for over a year but this will mark the first ever live telecast in the promotion’s history. While the telecast will only run for an hour (hardly enough time to make an impact), its imperative that it draws a solid audience. A good television rating could lead to the 12/29 finals airing live on MNTV but, more importantly, a new TV deal. You see, MNTV and the IFL have yet to agree on a new deal for 2008. You have to believe the MNTV executives will wait to see what next week’s ratings look like before committing to another deal.
Ok, now that we got all that business out of the way let’s look at who will be fighting in the first-ever IFL Grand Prix. Keep in mind that injuries to Brad Blackburn, Andy Reese and Andre Gusmao have changed the card a little bit. There will be two fights in the Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight divisions. The winners in each bout will then move onto the 12/29 finals. However, due to injuries, the Light Heavyweight division will only hold one fight. Thus, a new Light Heavyweight champion will be crowned next week. Onto the card:
***Denotes fights airing live on MyNetworkTV
The fight I’m most looking forward to is Horodecki vs. Palaszewski II. Their first fight on February 2 2007, won by Horodecki via split decision, is definitely a candidate for fight of the year. Hopefully the rematch won’t be decided by the judges (highlights of their first fight can be found below). I’m really excited to see the IFL live on television for the first time in this new format. Again, keep checking back here for tons of fighter interviews leading up to the event.