by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
“I would like to apologize on behalf of the IFL and MyNetwork if we upset or disappointed anybody in the MMA world. We’re all about MMA being seen in a positive light. In this instance, we dropped the ball and we promise to make everybody proud. We realize as a group that we made a mistake with some parts of the show, but we will learn from this and grow. We want to make this the best possible platform for the sport as possible. The IFL would also like to apologize to our athletes and our coaches. We promise that it will be corrected and we as a group will learn from this.”
Those were the words of International Fight League Commissioner Kurt Otto after facing a barrage of criticism and concerns following the debut episode of IFL Battleground on MyNetworkTV. As fans and viewers recall, the initial episode was edited in a way that promoted violence and was quoted to have “set the sport of MMA back many years.” The show has since made a dramatic change.
“We really pride ourselves on doing what we say we’re going to do,” said Otto, reflecting back on the first episode blunder. “It’s very, very important to us. That was something that was upsetting obviously. We did say that it would change and we made those modifications. The show is only going to get better.”
And it has. The show’s recent ratings broke all of MyNetworkTV’s records for 18-to-34-year-old male viewership.
Back in March, Bas Rutten announced that he was stepping down from his position as coach of the Los Angeles Anacondas. Rutten’s role with the IFL transformed from coach to the “Face of the IFL” in the broadcasters’ booth. In addition to broadcasting, the former King of Pancrase and UFC Champion now hosts the IFL Battleground series along side Tiffany Fallon.
Shawn Tompkins has taken over Rutten’s place as coach for the Anacondas. Tompkins is the head instructor at Team Tompkins Muay Thai and has trained with fighters such as Jeff Curran, Mark Hominick, Sam Stout and Carlos Newton.
“[Bas] He’s a great person. Don’t get me wrong, he loved coaching the Anacondas and he is still involved in a sense where he can’t help it. He’s very hands-on and he still trains with his guys because he loves to do it,” commented the IFL commissioner. “He owes a lot to Shawn Tompkins, the kid’s a stud and he produces champions. Passing the baton on to Shawn and leaving him to the Anacondas was a perfect transition. If he didn’t have Shawn, he would have never left the Anacondas.”
Recently, the IFL announced that Jeffrey M. Jagid, chairman and CEO of I.D. Systems, Inc., would join its board of directors. Jagid replaced Richard Kurtz who left the board to concentrate on his real estate projects. “Jeff is a serious guy; he’s a young guy. Gareb and I know of him. We trust his abilities. He’s a sharp guy and he’s going to bring another dynamic to our company,” complimented Otto. “He’s been to events, he loves it. I just think it’s going to be nothing but a positive move for us.”
With new organizations forming, competition in the MMA market has been rising. In a strategic move, Strikeforce, EliteXC, and K-1 have formed an alliance and will cross promote shows together in the future. The Fertittas’ purchase of Pride Fighting Championships has also dramatically changed the landscape of MMA. “[Referring to UFC/Pride] Those guys merging, I guess, makes sense. I don’t even know if it’s a done deal. They have very similar business models so I think they can pull it off. There’s a lot of talent there. I’m interested to see how the match-ups turn out and which talented guys collect dust on themselves waiting for the Pay-Per-View they’re probably not going to fight on. I think it’s a lot of stuff happening under one roof. My hat’s off to them but I don’t know how they’re going to juggle it. I don’t know if it helps or hurts the sport and I think the fans feel the same way.”
“In reference to us pairing up with organizations, it probably doesn’t make sense at this point,” explained Otto. “We have so much on our plate right now that we’re trying to get done, I think one more thing to distract us would hurt our overall gameplan. Not that it’s ruled out but we have a very unique situation here and that’s our comfort zone.”
On May 18th, UFC veterans Maurice Smith and Marco Ruas will face off in a headlining superfight at the Chicago, Ill. show. The two previously fought back at UFC 21 and Maurice Smith came out the victor. Seven years later, fans will finally get to see the rematch. The fight was originally scheduled for March 7th in Los Angeles but the California Athletic State Commission refused to sanction the match.
“We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t excited about it,” explained Kurt. “Marco expressed that he wants to fight and Maurice is always ready to fight. These guys are active and in great shape. They passed their medicals with flying colors. I’m excited to see these two guys go at it. Both of these guys want to win badly and they both have something to prove. They’re going to come out blazing.”
Back in November, IFL president Gareb Shamus revealed plans for a World Grand Prix tournament to be held after the end of each regular season. Since the announcement, fans have been waiting in anticipation. Otto provided a few details but wasn’t able to elaborate in depth about the specifics of the tournament.
“Top four guys in each weight class; two different shows, elimination. We’re going to wind up with the top five guys and give out five belts. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with those five athletes in the following season,” revealed the New Jersey resident. “I think it’s going to attract a tremendous amount of talent to the IFL. We’re going to be explaining the details on how that’s all going to work. Obviously it’s more money for those guys and more notoriety. Everybody loves a winner. There are so many good potential match-ups at the World Grand Prix.”
Gareb Shamus and Kurt Otto founded the IFL in 2005 and had hopes to establish a new precedence with their team concept along with an emphasis on making sure the fighters were well taken care of. So far, things have progressed well. “Not to be bias, but I think we’ve achieved some unbelievable things. A lot of other organizations and fans said that we wouldn’t last one year. We did. I’m very proud of where we’re at and what we’ve accomplished. Most people would quit; most organizations wouldn’t have the financials or the staff to accomplish what we’ve accomplished. The IFL owes a lot to our staff, athletes and coaches,” graciously stated Kurt.
“We’re the first league in Mixed Martial Arts. I think anyone that tries to start an organization that emulates the UFC is just a half-ass UFC, to be honest. I want someone to try and be a half-ass version of us, that’s our goal; and it will happen. Someone will try to start a league, it’s inevitable. As soon as you have success, people tend to emulate you and it’s really a compliment.”