The following article is a special contribution to FiveOuncesOfPain.com from Philadelphia-based freelance sportswriter Eric Shapiro. In the article below, Shapiro shares his first-hand account of covering the IFL’s most recent show this past Friday at the Izon Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
By Eric Shapiro
As a Philadelphia native, you could say it is in my nature to frown upon most anything that has to do with New Jersey. However Friday night’s IFL show in East Rutherford definitely brought the Garden State up a notch in my book.
The IFL, though heavily criticized by many (including myself) since its inception, managed to put together a very solid card at the Izod Center and they also took care of us press folk very well.
After bouncing around the Izod Center lobby for about 15 minutes I found Jerry Milani, manager of IFL public relations, who tells me that press credentials should be out shortly and that he just needs to run downstairs somewhere to get them. Sure enough, Jerry comes back a few minutes later credentials in hand, and starts dishing out the press passes. From there we head downstairs to a concourse area where Pat Miletich and Shawn Thompkins are signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans.
Before I could try to get near Miletich he was whisked away to some other room, so my photographer buddy and I moseyed on inside the arena. There I was able to shake hands with Bas Rutten and I have to admit I was a bit star struck, though he was not as big as I imagined.
Sadly, he didn’t have much time to chat because of his commentating duties. It was also funny watching Bas and Ron Kruck do the pre-show packages because on television you only see it once, but in person you watch Bas utter his heavily accented words over and over again until they get the take right. There must have been over half a dozen takes and at one point, everyone walking around the arena at the time was politely told to “shut up” so they could get a good take in.
After a few rounds of scenic picture taking I was told by a random IFL rep that my press booth area was assigned and good to go with power outlets, bout sheets, media guides, etc. But I wasn’t about to head up there just yet, so my friend and I politely asked if we could head backstage to speak with some of the fighters. I was impolitely told by one of the security guards “No way” so I did what anyone in my position would do. I crept back while no one was looking.
Once in the dressing room area no one seemed to care about my presence. I think the security guards out front just liked giving us press kids a hard time. I managed to score two very quick chats with Chris Horodecki and Jamal Patterson. Patterson, a Jersey boy who definitely had the crowd on his side last night, was slated to face Vladimir Matyushenko in light heavyweight title match.
Patterson briefly discussed his opponent’s weaknesses as well as the thought of capturing the IFL’s 205 pound crown.
“Maybe standing a little bit, I think that’s probably the weakest part of his game,” said Patterson. “He’s tough, but I think on his back he’s not very good either so I think if I can take him down he might be in some trouble…The title is the furthest thing from my mind right now, what’s more important is just winning this fight, showing my teammates that all my hard work paid off.”
Patterson couldn’t talk for more than a few seconds before heading off to his pre-fight medical exam. Fortunately, Horodecki walked by as soon as Patterson had to leave, so I sort of yelled to get his attention without trying to scare him.
Chris was also getting his pre-fight medical issues together, but had a couple seconds to talk about his training and rebounding from a recent loss to Ryan Schultz.
“You know, I was back in the gym man, working hard and its going to pay off tonight for sure,” Horodecki began to tell me. “I’m down in Vegas for six weeks, prior to that I’m in training two, three weeks before that just to get in shape before that so I don’t go to Vegas out of shape, you know I’m always training.”
I also asked Chris what it was like to be so accomplished in MMA at only 20 years of age, to which he responded, “Well it might not be the ideal thing my parents thought Id be doing, but they’re used to it, you know I’ve been doing this for years.”
Horodecki also provided some insight on what made his last fight so trying. “It’s the grand prix, just the format of the grand prix it takes its toll on a fighter. Those fights are real close, only eight weeks apart. One fight was a war you know that first fight. Its just wear and tear, you know I think I’m invincible but everybody’s got limits.
When asked how he would like to see his fight end, Horodecki simply responded “I just want to get those fans off their feet.”
And that was all Horodecki could say before kindly allowing us to snap a photo. After that my photographer friend and I tried to discreetly snap pictures into other fighters rooms, but once anyone saw us that door closed pretty damn quick.
At last, the preliminary bouts of the evening were about to kick off, and this was about the time we were supposed to head to our press area to do, you know, press stuff. But since hardly any of the ringside chairs were taken at this point, we decided to plop down in the closest seats we could find.
As fans moved into the aisles we simply moved over to accommodate, but there were still plenty of available seats to move around to. And so the prelims begin. First up was a 205 lbs. bout between Alex Schoenauer and Brendan Barrett. The first two rounds of this fight were great, but by the third both guys were clearly gassed and some boos emerged from the crowd in the closing minutes. Schoenauer won this one with a split decision.
More importantly, it was during this fight that I noticed the most out of shape ring girl I had ever seen. Now, I don’t mean to say that ladies with a couple of extra pounds can’t be pretty. My point is that this venue was just outside of NYC, a veritable smorgasbord of aspiring models and actresses, not to mention hot bartenders, waitresses and strippers. I just don’t think there is any excuse for a sub-par ring girl given the amount of variety the IFL had to pluck from. Though to be fair, the other ring girl was pretty much a knockout. So I guess they’re one-for-two in terms of ring girls.
Additionally, sitting somewhere behind me were a small clan of over-dressed adolescents, commonly referred to in this part of the country as “guidos.” These gents sported a large amount of jewelry, fresh blowout haircuts, Armani Exchange t-shirts, and way too much cologne. That was the first time I had ever really seen that many of those types at MMA events, but hey, when in North Jersey…
The next fight between L.C. Davis and Rafael Dias had a nice back and forth to it, but I have to admit at one point I was sort of paying attention to other things, looking around, etc. Then all of the sudden I hear this awful smack and see Dias knocked out cold on the canvas. Apparently this happened just four seconds before the end of the final round. Thankfully my buddy got a decent pic and I cranked my neck around to catch the instant replay on the jumbo-tron (if jumbo-tron is not the proper name please feel free to correct me.) Also let me tell you, that jumbo-tron had the clearest picture I had ever seen, and for the fans in the cheap seats it was probably better than watching the action inside the ring. I remember feeling a little unnerved as I caught the big screen replay which zoomed in to show Dias’ eyes rolling to the back of his head like a zombie.
There were supposed to be two more fights following the Dias-Davis bout, however, the schedule got screwy because the ambulance that carried away Dias had not returned for a while. For those who don’t know, every bout must have an ambulance on hand in case those services are needed. Since there wasn’t one present for the next bout, Emyr Brussade and Jesse Lennox, who were already in the ring and ready to go, were instructed to go back to the dressing room.
After this little mishap there was a bit of an intermission so we walked around the main concourse to get some refreshments. If you happened to desire a beer at the Izod center on Friday night you could have purchased one Bud Light bottle for the reasonable price of $7.25. Also the tee shirts were ridiculously over priced even by arena standards. The vendors were charging upwards of 30 bucks for a plain tee with nothing but the letters I.F.L. on it. God forbid you wanted a graphic tee or a hoodie.
So we finally make our way to the designated press area and the HDNet broadcast begins with the Horodecki-Nate Lamotte bout. I honestly thought Lamotte earned the decision in that one, but I guess the judges thought differently.
It was also at this point that I first saw the jumbo-tron commercial for the head-shaving unit known as the “Head Blade” which is apparently endorsed by Frank Trigg. The icing on the cake was when the announcer had to plug the product “This bout sponsored by Head Blade, the official head-razor of the IFL.” I just thought that sounded hilarious at the time.
The remainder of the bouts were, as many of you already know, pretty damn entertaining. I say if the IFL can keep up the good work, they just may be around for the long haul. For those concerned, the next IFL show will be on Friday, May 16, at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.