by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
After a long and strenuous team season, the International Fight League is now set to begin crowning champions in five different weight divisions with its 2007 World Grand Prix, which is set to take place on Nov. 3 at the Sears Centre in Chicago.
What was once a promising card full of the IFL’s biggest stars vying for a championship belt in their respective weight division has now gone through drastic changes due to contract disputes and injuries.
One of the more notable absences in the Grand Prix is the promotion’s No. 1 heavyweight, Ben Rothwell, who along with Mike Whitehead and Antonio McKee is absent due to contractual disputes. Other stars like Andre Gusmao, Brad Blackburn, Pat Healy, Reese Andy and Mike Ciesnolevicz were forced out because of various injuries.
In what is the most competitive weight class in the Grand Prix, the lightweight division features a much-anticipated rematch of two of the IFL’s most popular stars in the Anacondas’ Chris Horodecki and the Silverbacks’ Bart Palaszewski. In their first meeting, Horodecki won a close split decision victory over Palaszewski, who at the time was undefeated in the IFL. Expect another war from these two fighters in what will likely end up being the fight of the night.
In the other half of the lightweight bracket, Wagnney Fabiano of the Dragons takes on the Lions’ John Gunderson. Fabiano is undefeated in the IFL with all three of his victories coming by way of submission in the first round. Gunderson has only tasted defeat once in the league, losing a controversial split decision to Palaszewski in a fight many thought he won. Gunderson needs to keep the fight on the feet in order survive the submission onslaught of Fabiano on the ground.
The welterweight division features rematches of two fights that went to decisive finishes the first time around. The Pitbulls’ Delson Heleno submitted the Dragons’ Gideon Ray by Kimura when they first met back in June of this year. Ray needs to keep the fight on the feet in order to avoid the same fate as their first fight.
Fan favorite Jay Hieron of the Anacondas rematches the Razorclaws’ Donnie Liles in the other welterweight semi-final. They met for the first time in March with Hieron submitting Liles with a choke. Hieron is coming off a shocking loss to Brad Blackburn and will want to prove a point in this fight. Not much has changed since these two last met; so expect the fight to play out much like their first encounter.
In the middleweight division, heavy favorite Benji Radach of the Anacondas faces off with the Dragons’ Brent Beauparlant. Radach is undefeated in the IFL, finishing all four of his opponents within the distance. Beauparlant has looked like a new fighter since moving down to middleweight, but it will be a big upset if he can pull off the win over Radach.
Eccentric Wolfpack middleweight Matt Horwich takes on the Razorclaws’ Brain Foster in the other divisional match-up. Horwich has had an up and down career in the IFL, but he is a dangerous submission fighter that can strike at any time. Foster has been the most consistent fighter on the Razorclaws and has been rewarded with a spot in the Grand Prix. As long as he keeps this fight on the feet, he can stop Horwich. This is an even match-up that should be decided by whoever is able to take the fight to their comfort zone.
Due to an abnormal amount of injuries, a champion will be determined in the light heavyweight division in Chicago, skipping the semi-final round altogether. In a battle of Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans, the Sabres’ Vladimir Matyushenko face Alex Schoenauer of the Anacondas. Matyushenko has dominated the 205-pound division and winning this fight would be the crowning achievement of his IFL career. Schoenauer has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been inconsistent throughout his career. He needs to be at his best here. Look for Matyushenko to continue his dominance and become the first divisional champion in the league’s short history.
The heavyweight division is without its biggest star in Rothwell, which now leaves it wide open with two contenders sticking out. In the first match-up, Antoine Jaoude of the Condors faces the Dragons’ Shane Ott. Jaoude has put together an impressive run this season, but has been unable to finish off his opponents. Ott made an impressive debut in the IFL, but lost in his second fight to Roy Nelson. Look for Jaoude to use his slow technical ground game to grind out another dominant decision victory.
In the other half of the heavyweight bracket, Roy Nelson of the Lions takes on the Pitbulls’ Bryan Vetell. Nelson has been impressive with his only IFL loss coming to Rothwell in a fight that many believe could of gone either way. Vetell has had a mixed career in the league, losing to the top heavyweights but holding his own against lesser-experienced fighters. Look for Nelson to use his superior striking skills and experience to overcome Vetell.