by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
The International Fight League has had to make a few changes to its World Grand Prix scheduled for Nov. 3 at the Sears Centre in Chicago. Heavyweight Ben Rothwell and light heavyweight Mike Whitehead will not be fighting as planned.
According to commissioner Kurt Otto, the situation stems from contract negotiations for the 2008 season. He indicated that both sides agreed that neither should fight for a belt in the organization – which is the focus of the Grand Prix’s four-man tournament format – if they were not guaranteed to remain in the IFL for the next season.
Rothwell and Whitehead are both represented by Monte Cox.
“We had confirmation [from their management] that they were going to stay and they would sign, so they would stay in the Grand Prix,” said Otto. “The terms were agreed upon and the message was clear. … Their management changed gears. We said that if they don’t sign by [a certain] time, then we would be forced to pull them from the Grand Prix.”
And that is exactly what has happened. Both fighters have been removed from their respective brackets.
“We couldn’t let our Grand Prix be held hostage,” Otto stated.
In the case of the heavyweight division, Rothwell’s removal means that Reese Andy will face Roy Nelson in one half of the bracket and alternate Bryan Vetell will be inserted to face Antoine Jaoude in the other half.
The matter is entirely different in light heavyweight division. In addition to Whitehead, several of the other top 205-pounders in the league are unable to compete on Nov. 3 for various reasons, so fans will be treated to the first individual title fight in the IFL’s history at the Sears Centre.
Vladimir Matyushenko will face Alex Schoenauer for the light heavyweight belt without having to fight through the tournament format.
“It’s arbitrary, but it’s great to have a title fight on the line,” said Otto. “We’ll be showing it live on TV.
“We’ll have Benji Radach vs. Brent Beauperlant, Chris Horodecki vs. Bart Palaszewski, and then Vladdy vs. Shoenauer on the live broadcast [on MyNetworkTV]. And if we have some fast finishes, we’ll [show] even more fights for free.”
There had also been recent speculation that welterweight Jay Hieron, also represented by Cox, may be leaving the IFL. Otto stated that Hieron has signed for the 2008 season and remains in the Grand Prix.
His initial opponent, Mark Miller, has re-injured his hand, however, and had to withdraw. The re-shuffled 170-pound brackets now pit Hieron against Pat Healy, as Brad Blackburn steps in to face Delson Heleno.
“At the end of the day,” said Otto, “Monte has to do what he thinks is right for each athlete individually, but I’m disappointed.
“We’re in this for the long term. This isn’t a hotel. You can’t just check-in and then check-out. We want consistency in our league.”
Despite not signing to the initially agreed upon terms, Otto indicated that he would still like to have Rothwell and Whitehead back for the 2008 season and remains hopeful that it will happen. He also said that both fighters are still under contract with the IFL for the remainder of the year. They have not been released.
Representatives for Rothwell and Whitehead were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.