by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
One of the surprises of the second season of the IFL has been the emergence of Portland Wolf Pack light-heavyweight Aaron Stark.
Heading into his stint with the Pack, Stark had only been actively fighting for just over a year, far less than his teammates. Yet during his time with the IFL Aaron has performed well each time out, winning both of his fights, helping lead the Pack to the World Team Tournament Finals this coming Friday, December 29th at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
At the finals, the Wolf Pack will be taking on the defending champion Quad City Silverbacks, coached by Pat Miletich, with Aaron himself matching up against Mike Ciesnolevicz.
While many teams and fighters might be intimidated going up against the defending champs, Stark feels that the Matt Lindland-trained Wolf Pack is more than ready to dethrone the raining kings of the IFL.
“I think everybody’s looking good as a team and I’m feeling good,” said Aaron to MMAWeekly. “I think in general we’ve prepared pretty well [for the Silverbacks]. I don’t think there’s any fight that’s not winnable, obviously myself included.”
Stark continued, “I’m just kind of looking forward to fighting out of town for the first time as a team really. It should be good, I don’t know what kind of turnout their expecting as far as that goes, but as far as the fights go, it should be a good, exciting showdown.”
When it comes to taking on Ciesnolevicz – whose only two losses have come in the IFL – Aaron feels his best strategy is to do as he always does, push the action and not make it a fight where he’s reacting to what Mike wants to do.
“I’m just going to try to stay after him, stay aggressive,” explained Stark. “I want to take the fight to him and try to impose my will. More or less it’s the same every time I go out there. Obviously there are some adjustments; some guys are more proficient in one area or another, but in general the fight plan stays the same for me.”
“I think he appears to be a pretty well-rounded fighter. Nothing really sticks out, it appears to be even across the board, there aren’t any glaring weakness, but what I can exploit, I will and [I’ll] definitely come out with a win,” further commented Aaron.
Prior to this season of the IFL, many had predicted that the Silverbacks would once again be in the finals due to a presumed weaker draw in the tournament. Conversely people were split on the Wolf Pack’s chances being bracketed with the much-improved Los Angeles Anacondas, whom the Pack eventually beat in the semi-finals.
According to Stark, people shouldn’t be surprised his team has done well and made it this far.
“It feels good [to make the finals], but then again it doesn’t really shock me,” admitted Aaron. “I think a lot of teams are kind of a hodgepodge. We’ve been together as Team Quest pretty much the whole time leading up to it [the IFL]. You look at some of the other teams, they went all over the place and I don’t see that as a real good formula. I think that as time goes on with the IFL, you’ll see more and more teams training together.”
Then there is Stark’s coach, top-ranked middleweight Matt Lindland, whom Aaron credits for keeping the ship on course the entire way.
“Yeah he’ll definitely stay on top of you,” exclaimed Stark. “If you’re not doing whatever it is he thinks you need to be doing, he’ll let you know. He’s not too bashful in those regards.”
When it comes to Aaron’s own success, it may have been a big surprise to many considering his lack of experience that he’s undefeated in the IFL and doing as well as he has been, but it’s no surprise to him.
“If it surprises other people, good, great, whatever, I don’t care, but it’s not shocking to me in any regards,” said Stark. “I had a really short amateur career, under different circumstances I might have been able to extend that a little further, but I wasn’t able to get fights and this, that and the other, an opportunity came up, so I jumped into the pro thing.”
Aaron continued, “I was just waiting on the opportunity. I obviously brought wrestling skills to the game and I realize I obviously have a ways to go with the other stuff, but I just need to push forward and grow as a fighter. That’s all you can do.”
Should all go well at the IFL finals, it will cap an already big year for Stark, to which he hopes will build momentum heading into next season and allow him to continue his evolution as a fighter.
“I feel really good about the year,” exclaimed Aaron. “I was able to expose myself to a wider audience, the team is shaping up well – we’re a cohesive unit – and I think it’s going to be a tough match up. With Quest/Miletich, two of the biggest names in MMA fight teams, going head-to-head with their guys, so it’s going to be an exciting deal, at the same time that we’re anxious to win and that will give us a little momentum to go into 2007 and keep a good thing going.”
“I want to add more wins. [Laughs] That’s all you can do. I don’t know that I’ve ever been good at setting long-term goals, but if you’re always getting better with each practice, competition, etc…it will bring you to a higher plane of fighting. That’s the only thing I ask for, for myself, to get better with each passing day,” added Stark.
Aaron closed out the conversation by wanting to thank those who’ve helped him have such a year and career overall, and to remind the fans that come December 29th, there’ll be excitement at the Mohegan Sun, and if Stark has any say in it, new champions crowned.
“I want to thank my friends, family and team,” said Aaron. “Thanks to the opportunity to the IFL for giving a no-name a shot at becoming a little more well-known and showing everyone what Team Quest and the Wolf Pack are all about.”
“I think the fans should definitely come check it out. What it boils down to is Team Quest versus Miletich Fighting Systems, and you can’t ask for anything more than that as far as a team battle goes, so it will definitely be something to see. I do this because I enjoy it – when I stop enjoying it, I’ll stop doing it – but if they want to give me some money on top of that, I’m all for it…I mean I can get some more extravagant Christmas gifts if I expect on winning,” concluded Stark with a chuckle.