by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy April Pishna / ACF)

There are few fighters who have yet to get their shot at big time MMA that are as exciting as Colorado’s Donnie Liles…for whatever reason he has been snake-bitten and have yet to showcase his skills on the biggest stages possible.

That may change after this weekend however as Donnie looks to take the next step forward as he faces off against MMA veteran and former UFC fighter Brian “Mandingo” Gassaway at the XFO show in Chicago, Illinois on Saturday.

Shortly before heading to the Windy City, Liles spoke to MMAWeekly to discuss his upcoming fight, the downfall of the ACF, and the opponent he would like to fight but has yet to get the opportunity to.

MMAWeekly: First off Donnie, tell us about your upcoming fight this weekend.

Donnie Liles: I’m going to be fighting on the XFO show in Chicago against Brian Gassaway, a UFC vet, it’s really cool and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s an opportunity for me to move up to a different level, and that’s the whole point of the game. I’m just really looking forward to it, I’ve been training hard…I know he’s got a ton of experience and he’s fought a lot of tough guys…so I’m really looking forward to it.

MMAWeekly: Brian’s background has mainly been striking-oriented, do you plan on standing with him to maybe make a statement or do you want to take it wherever it goes?

Donnie Liles: I’m just going to take it wherever it goes. I’ve seen a little bit of tape on him – not as much as I would have liked to – but I saw a little bit of tape and I feel comfortable with anywhere he wants to go. If he wants to stand, I think I’ll be fine, on the ground I think I’ll be fine…so I’ll just go out there, play it by ear and see how it goes.

MMAWeekly: Now you spent much of the last few months out of the scene fallowing the demise of the highly-hyped ACF promotion in Colorado, of which you were one of the showcase fighters. Can you give us your thoughts on that and tell us what you’ve been up to since the promotion seemingly closed up shop?

Donnie Liles: Well the ACF was just a really great idea that was just really poorly executed. A lot of the ideas they had were good and some of them was not so good. They wanted to add a lot more…I don’t know…WWE almost feel to it and that seemed like it was started to go in directions that myself and a lot of other fighters weren’t sure about to begin with. Then as you said the whole thing fell apart at the end anyway which might have been a blessing in disguise.

Ever since then I’ve just been trying to get into the gym as much as I can of course. As soon as they stopped paying us, we had to go back and get the whole 9-5 gig working again, all that good stuff. So since then it’s kind of starting to rebuild and get back in the swing of things…working the 9-5 and training full-time again.

MMAWeekly: With only two months left in the year do you plan on fighting again or waiting until 2007 to make your push?

Donnie Liles: I feel really healthy, strong and in good shape. The cardio and all that is coming along nicely, so as long as I stay healthy I want to keep fighting as much as I possibly can, as much as my body will allow me. So hopefully [I’ll fight] on a Ring of Fire show or maybe a Kick Down or something before the end of the year…get another prep fight in and then maybe go after another big name after that.

MMAWeekly: Basically though you’re looking to take another step up in competition regardless of when you fight again?

Donnie Liles: Definitely…I’ve fought a lot of guys – and not to take anything away from my prior opponents – a lot of them were really tough guys. The last two guys I fought were both undefeated before I fought them and they’re all good fighters but I want to step up to the next level. I honestly feel I have the potential to compete and a world class level and that’s definitely where I want to compete.

MMAWeekly: Before the ACF folded you were slated to face John Cronk for their Welterweight Championship. I know that’s a fight a lot of people in the Colorado fight scene have been anticipating for a long time. Is that a fight you’d be interested in sometime soon?

Donnie Liles: I would fight John Cronk anytime, anywhere. We’ve planned it a few times, I’ve talked to John and it’s supposed to happen on two or three shows and just for some reason it never happens. That’s not a fight by any means that I’m ducking, I’ll take that fight anytime, anywhere and John feels the same way. I’m friends with John but neither one of us is going to back down from that challenge at all.

MMAWeekly: Last time we featured you we got a lot of great response from a lot of the hardcore fans and interest from some of the newer ones. Even though you haven’t gotten that big shot yet, it must feel good to know that the fans are behind you.

Donnie Liles: The fans are everything for me. When you go out to the shows and you get to talk to the people – especially little kids – I love signing autographs and just talking to little kids. It just makes you feel so good about what you’re doing that maybe you’re influencing people, especially kids, maybe to do something positive in their life…get into a sport that can take them somewhere rather than leave them out there to maybe get mixed up in drugs or God knows what else.

The fans are everything; the whole sport would be nothing without the people that are interested in it. I draw a lot of energy from the people that cheer for me. Oddly enough though, going into Chicago and fighting the hometown boy and that’s not going to be the case to say the least [laughs]. In prior experiences I seem to draw just as much energy, if not more, from being booed than from being cheered [laughs]. As long as the fans are into it I’m all for it. As long as the crowd is enjoying themselves then that’s what it’s all about, then it’s worth it.

MMAWeekly: Good stuff Donnie, is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Donnie Liles: Definitely come check us out…it’s going to be the XFO show at the Sears Center on Saturday, November 11th, I think the showtime is like 7:30PM there in Chicago. I just want to thank all my trainers…everybody that’s helped me get ready for this fight…everybody at The Tool Shed in Colorado Springs, Drew Lawrence, Kieth Wilson, Chilo Gonzales for helping me get ready, Nick Sedrakian…just everybody that’s been there for me in the past and especially all the fans. Come out and check it out…win, lose or draw I’m definitely going to put on one hell of a show, so don’t miss it.