by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Grudge matches between longtime rivals are always huge in MMA. Whether it be on a national, worldwide, or even local level, when two fighters that have long been names within weight classes or regions finally come together it can be explosive both in a physical and financial sense.

Case in point was the recent Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz rematch in the UFC. Their second meeting produced record breaking numbers for the UFC and fueled some of the biggest buzz the industry has seen in a long time.

While not on such a big stage as the aforementioned battle, this weekend’s fight between Colorado’s youthful standout Donnie Liles and old school veteran John Cronk – at the Red & Jerry’s Events Center in Sheridan, Colorado for the Rocky Mountain Bad Boyz promotion – could become one of the state’s most frenzied events ever.

MMAWeekly caught up with one half of this long-awaited Colorado throwdown, Donnie Liles, to discuss his recent successful return to the sport from injury, his future aspirations, and finally getting a chance to get into the cage with a man that he’s been on a collision course with for some time, John Cronk.

MMAWeekly: First off Donnie, tell us your thoughts on the past year and how you feel it turned out for you.

Donnie Liles: 2006 was a pretty decent year. I came off of surgery [which] I had in December of ’05, had some warm up fights against some pretty decent opponents and finished up the year with a win over Brian Gassaway – which was a pretty cool boost for me. So overall it was a pretty decent year. I would have like to have fought more than just three times in a year… but you take what you can get, I guess.

MMAWeekly: You mention the win over UFC veteran Brian Gassaway, with the momentum you’ve built off of that, where are you looking to head in 2007?

Donnie Liles: I’m going to make it up to the big show, come hell or high water. I’ve to get on the UFC. If you’re not fighting in the UFC, you’re just spinning your wheels. That’s where I wanted to be, that’s where I had in mind when I started fighting initially years ago, and that’s the goal for this year. I’ve got to get into the UFC, no matter how many people I have to beat or what I have to do [to get there], that’s the goal I have to make by the end of the year.

MMAWeekly: One of the steps you can take towards achieving that goal is beating a veteran like your opponent this weekend, John Cronk. I know from talking to you in past interviews that this is a fight you’ve wanted for a long time and which has come close to happening in the past, but never quite made it.

Donnie Liles: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. Like you said, it’s been in the works for a couple years now and it just never came to pass. Now I’ve talked to John through my manager and we’re both really looking forward to it.

I think it’s going to be an awesome show and a great fight. John’s like a pioneer in this sport, he’s a great guy, he’s got one of those “love me or hate me” attitudes and a big fan base because of it…so I’m looking forward to getting in the cage and see how we match up.

MMAWeekly: Having been very familiar with John over the last several years, what do you expect in your fight with him?

Donnie Liles: I’m looking for him to probably counter-punch a lot. He’s going to probably wait for me to close the distance. I don’t think he’s going to get over-aggressive because he’ll be looking for a takedown. Definitely looking to defend against some high kicks and stuff like that. I know John’s got really decent high kicks.

I’ve been working a lot of stand-up getting ready for this fight. This guy’s knocked out a who’s who of fighters around here. He knocked out Joe Serna in 14 seconds, who was a knock-out artist before that…he knocked out Pete Spratt, so he’s definitely dangerous when he’s standing up. My goal is to obviously get him to the ground and pound him out.

MMAWeekly: As you mentioned, John has a big fallowing in the state, as do you. Do you feel this fight has the potential to be just as explosive outside the ring as it will be inside?

Donnie Liles: I hope so, I really hope so. A lot of the shows you see, you see so many that I don’t know if it’s poor match making or what the deal is, but every single fight seems to end in the first round. You go and pay your money and don’t get much of a show for what you pay for. So [for this show] hopefully there’ll be a big turn out because I intend on putting on a hell of a show.

MMAWeekly: You’re entering into your fourth year of fighting. How do you feel about the progression you’ve made so far as a fighter and how that will help you this year?

Donnie Liles: I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. Of course I look on TV and see the biggest one or two that I look at [and want to emulate] are probably Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. He [Silva] exploded on the UFC in the last year and so those are two guys that I’m looking a lot at [to fallow in the same path].

I’m trying to get away from the old [adage of] “you’re either a grappler or you’re a striker.” I’m trying to become a more well-rounded fighter and I’ve been pushing myself towards that. As far as training is going, I’m getting better; I’m feeling stronger now than ever before.

I just, for the first time in my life, started lifting weights – heavy amounts of weight – in trying to build up my strength. I feel strong, healthy and am definitely ready for this fight.

MMAWeekly: Thanks for taking the time out for the interview Donnie. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Donnie Liles: Definitely people should come out and check out the show. It’s going to be at Red and Jerry’s [Event Center] on [Saturday] the 13th of January, doors open at 7pm, show starts at 8pm.

I’d definitely like to thank my family for being supportive – especially my wife Jennifer. She’s always great in understanding, helping me get to the gym, helping out with the kids and everything.

Thanks to the guys at The Tool Shed Fight Team: Keith Wilson, Drew Lawrence, Tori Adams, George Ransom, Chilo Gonzales, Eric Fagyas, all those guys. I really appreciate the work they give me and all the time they put into getting me ready for the fight. For the fans – you’re going to see a hell of a show.