by Al Yu – MMAWeekly.com
In only its second season, the International Fight League is enjoying success with two solid shows in Portland, Oregon and Moline, Illinois. The IFL’s president and co-founder Gareb Shamus recently appeared on MMAWeekly’s SoundOff Radio to speak about the organization’s success and revealed a few new surprises.
As the first organization to have a team-based MMA league, critics speculated whether the idea of teams could be successful and accepted by fans. With some great shows under their belt, fans are beginning to embrace the IFL’s team concept.
“Whenever you do something new, you’re always going to get people who want to prejudge what it’s going to be before it gets started. It’s very typical, it’s very common and it’s to be expected,” responded Gareb. “The first time we really felt this incredible team atmosphere was the first time we were in Portland. We literally had 5500 fans chanting ‘Wolfpack, Wolfpack, Wolfpack’. It was an incredible feeling…finally, fans are here, they get it, they’re really behind it and they understand it.”
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.
“We certainly knew where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. Right now we’re getting so much support from the industry; way more than we could have expected,” elated Shamus. “It’s a great industry and it’s great to be a part of it. We’re definitely having a lot of fun too.”
“We’re actually ahead of schedule in terms of where we would be,” added Gareb. “We’ve been very lucky with the people that we have backing the company to really help accelerate our plans…we’re very excited. We didn’t think we would be at twelve teams already this year coming up.”
Major MMA events have been prevalent in Nevada and more recently California. However, fans live all throughout the U.S. The IFL has plans to “really bring Mixed Martial Arts to as wide of an audience as possible,” said Shamus. “We’re going to be releasing our schedule for the next season coming up soon and people are going to get a real glimpse as to the cities that we want to be in.”
Recently, the IFL announced Marco Ruas and Don Frye as two new coaches for two new teams in the upcoming 2007 season. “Right now we only have ten teams that have been announced; we’ve got two more left to go. They’re going to be announced shortly,” said Gareb.
The IFL currently has two teams that aren’t based in the United States; the Toronto Dragons and the Tokyo Sabres. “We’re definitely going to be adding more international teams as the league and years go on,” stated Gareb. At the weigh-ins for their November 2nd event, the IFL announced that UFC and Cage Rage veteran Ian Freeman will be the coach of the English team in the 2008 season aptly named the British Bulldogs. The news marks the first expansion of a Mixed Martial Arts league into Europe.
In addition to the regular team championship, the IFL president revealed plans for a Grand Prix tournament.
“After the season, we’re going to have a Grand Prix tournament. We’re going to take the top four guys in each weight class and have one event that narrows it down to the top two guys in each weight class. Then we’ll have a finals where we’ll narrow it down to the top guy in each weight class. This way we will have our champion.”
In early September, the IFL put together a great show in Portland, Oregon that was highlighted by a superfight between Matt Lindland and Jeremy Horn. The fight was one of the biggest middleweight match-ups outside of the UFC in recent history.
“If we have the opportunity to put two guys in the ring together that people want to see or that hasn’t been done before, we’re going to try to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Shamus. “We’re all about delivering a tremendous and exciting fan experience.”
The International Fight League has grown exceptionally since its introduction and continues to garner new fans with each successful event.
“It’s all in an effort to do things differently, make it exciting, and make it interesting. Here’s an opportunity to bring in a lot of new ideas…anytime we have the opportunity to do something unique and different, we’re going to do that.”