by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
The International Fight League had high hopes of establishing itself as a major entity in the world of mixed martial arts at the beginning of 2008, but by mid-year the promotion underwent major financial strains before finally going out of business amidst major debt and inability to produce any further live shows.
While the IFL did go under in 2008, the short-lived promotion managed to produce a number of talented fighters who have gone on to compete in other organizations. From the crowning of new champions to the ill fated “Hex,” 2008 was a year of ebbs and flows for the now defunct IFL.
IFL CLOSES ITS DOORS
The night is always darkest before the dawn. Unfortunately for the IFL, dawn never came and the promotion essentially ceased operations in June of this year. In a meeting headed by IFL CEO Jay Larkin, he announced the cancellation of their planned August show. With that, the promotion never held another event again.
Larkin came to the IFL to help revive the business, which had struggled to gain a foothold in the MMA industry. Just weeks after the IFL had announced the formation of a new fight ring and an August show set to showcase a number of their champions, things were canceled and the show came to an abrupt halt.
“We’re trying to minimize with the heads that have to roll because everybody’s been in this together for a while and everybody has a great deal of respect and affection for each other, but if we don’t take some radical steps there won’t be a company,” Larkin told the media in June about the IFL’s downsizing.
Efforts to downsize and secure new funding were unsuccessful and, within months, numerous IFL athletes had been loaned out to other promoters. A few months later, more and more IFL fighters had signed exclusive deals with different organizations, and on Sept. 15, the IFL officially filed for bankruptcy.
The promotion eventually sold all of its assets to Mark Cuban’s HDNet group for $650,000, bringing an end to the International Fight League.
IFL KICKS OFF 2008 WITH NEW LOOK AND FORMAT
One of the first major changes that the IFL made in early 2008 was the debut of a new company logo to accompany a new “camp vs. camp” format that would debut at its next roster of fights.
The format change to “camp vs. camp” went away from the original idea the league had instituted with a “team vs. team” format that used different cities from around the world to field squads that battled it out in a series of five with the winner moving closer to a team championship. The team idea never seem to catch on with MMA fans, so the “camp vs. camp” idea was a way to introduce full MMA teams into the show.
Gone were the days of the Los Angeles Anacondas and the Quad City Silverbacks, now fans would just follow the fighters of Miletich Fighting Systems or Team Quest, which were simply more recognizable in the MMA industry.
Former coach, Bas Rutten, moved into a role of Vice President of Fight Operations for the IFL, and other teams formed around the new “camp vs. camp” format that did away with the old guard of the league.
IFL INTRODUCES THE “HEX”
Just about a month before the promotion canceled its August show and ceased operations, the IFL debuted plans for a new fight ring called the “Hex.” The new six-sided ring was made in conjunction with Throwdown Industries and featured a five-rope enclosure for the fights.
“From a production and live event standpoint, the ring has proven to be the most fan and media friendly environment, as well as providing the safest possible environment for our athletes,” said Larkin at the time. “The Hex allows for the larger surface that is utilized in other MMA organizations while still retaining the advantages we have enjoyed with the ring.”
The announcement did not exactly wow fans, who were seemingly lukewarm to the idea of a new ring being the future of the IFL. The Hex never saw the light of day, as the promotion canceled the show set for its debut. One can only wonder if the Hex will share a place in MMA history next to the Yamma?
IFL FIGHTERS FLOURISH IN NEW HOMES
Once the IFL officially called it quits for August, many fighters started popping up in new promotions looking to stay busy while waiting to see how their contracts would work with the struggling team-based brand.
Soon after the promotion announced that it was looking for partners or buyers, their fighters started appearing more and more in other shows and signing exclusive deals with companies like the UFC and the WEC, which signaled the end for the IFL.
The UFC cashed in with an influx of young talent by way of the IFL, adding new stars such as brother tandem Jim and Dan Miller, as well as Rory Markham, Brad Blackburn, Reese Andy, and Andre Gusmao. Zuffa’s other promotion, the WEC, added top featherweight Wagnney Fabiano, along with lightweight standout Bart Palaszewski to its roster.
Affliction cashed in by landing heavyweight champion Roy Nelson, as well as welterweight champ Jay Hieron. The promotion also added teenager turned superstar Chris Horodecki and light heavyweight champion Vladimir Matyushenko to its line-up.
Many other IFL fighters have popped up in promotions all over the U.S. and around the globe since the company’s demise.
Former coach and VP Bas Rutten spoke to MMAWeekly.com just after the company called it a day earlier this year.
“I thought it was a great ride,” he said. “I came to America to become an entertainer, to do something in the entertaining business; and I truly believe I had an opportunity to do this with the IFL. First coming in as a coach, then I went over to being a host of IFL Battleground with the beautiful Tiffany Fallon, Kenny Rice, Ron Kruck and all those guys. It was a great experience.”