by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
Since the IFL debuted last year the promotion has had its share of surprises at both the team and individual levels. In particular one fighter that was possibly one of the bigger surprises last year was Portland Wolfpack light-heavyweight Aaron Stark.

Stark, a wrestler by nature, had just begun fighting a year previous before joining the IFL, with mixed results as a professional after a stellar, albeit brief, amateur career in fighting.

Immediately Aaron knocked Seattle Tiger Shark Reese Andy out of the ranks of the undefeated, handing Reese the only loss of his MMA career. Stark then fallowed that up in somewhat controversial fashion when he beat Alex Schoenauer of the L.A. Anacondas two months later.

After suffering his only loss in IFL competition to Mike Ciesnolevicz of the Quad Cities Silverbacks in the World Team Tournament Finals in December, Stark was looking to rebound in 2007 and help lead the Wolfpack back to the promise land, when injuries struck.

Not once, but twice this season Aaron was forced to miss Wolfpack team battles. However undaunted, Stark had worked his way back to health and is poised to make his 2007 IFL debut against one of the league’s other surprising bright spots, Tokyo Sabres’ 205-pounder Vladimir Matyushenko this Friday night in Everett, Washington.

“I feel good,” said Aaron of his health heading into Friday’s action. “I was feeling a little bit better as it got closer to those last few fights, but at the same time I wasn’t able to prepare and do the kind of training I needed to do to be ready for it. So, it was probably in everyone’s best interests that I didn’t take them, and just wait until I was fully healthy.”

Even though he takes missing over six months of action in stride now, Stark by no means enjoyed his time off.

“Well, you know, Matt [Lindland, Wolfpack Head Coach] wasn’t really pushing me, but I still feel a certain [amount of] pressure [to fight],” commented Aaron. “So I feel bummed out and pissed off about the situation; that I wasn’t able to fight.”

When it comes to how he feels his team did without him in their match-ups with the Toronto Dragons and New York Pitbulls, Stark feels proud of his team and believes that their 1-1 record heading into this Friday’s action could actually be different than it is.

“I knew that John Krohn, who subbed for me [against the Dragons], was a good fighter and I was confident in his abilities to step up, and he did,” said Aaron. “In Connecticut [against the Pitbulls] it was a little bit different situation. Gerald Harris, who stepped in at 185, I think he did a great job. It’s my opinion, he won that fight [against Fabiano Leopoldo], and at the same time the fact that he did as well as he did – win or lose – I was very impressed by him.”

Stark continued, “I’m a little disappointed, not ‘in’ Matt Horwich, but ‘for’ him, because I know he was excited for the rematch [with Jamal Patterson], but it didn’t turn out anywhere near where he wanted. I felt we won [the last team battle], but it’s water under the bridge and nothing you can do about it now.”

Water under the bridge indeed, as the Wolfpack now turns its attention towards the undefeated Tokyo Sabres with a possible World Team Tournament playoff spot at stake.

“The Sabres are definitely a completely revamped team from what they were last year,” exclaimed Aaron. “There’s some good match-ups that should provide for some pretty entertaining fights, but, at the same time, they’re all going to be tough fights too.”

“I’m excited for it, I think our team’s up for the challenge, and that the same time, and it will be a challenge. We well aware of that and I think we’ve prepared accordingly,” further stated Stark.

As stated earlier, Aaron will be facing one of the league’s most dominant fighters this year in MMA veteran Vladimir Matyushenko.

The fight will represent Stark’s toughest challenge to date, and it’s a challenge he’s more than willing to step up to, and in fact relishes for a multitude of reasons.

“I think it will be an interesting fight, just because in watching Matyushenko’s fights on tape, we have a very similar style,” explained Aaron. “So, it will just be interesting to see who can execute better and come out with a win.”

Stark added, “I won’t say I’m his Number 1 fan, but I definitely fallowed him loosely just when I was an MMA fan, before I got into competition, and it’s nice to be fighting somewhere where people actually know who the hell he is. [Laughs] It gives you a good gauge where you are, and it will allow me to better position myself in my mind where I stand in this whole MMA scene.”

This Friday represents a must-win situation for the Wolfpack. Either they win as a team, and take as many individual battles as possible, or they go home and don’t make the World Team Tournament.

When asked if the returning Coach Lindland [who missed the team’s last battle due to being in Russia for his own fight against Fedor Emelianenko in BodogFight] has been putting any additional pressure on the team to win, Aaron refuted the notion, pointing out that Matt always expects the best out of his team, regardless of the situation.

“I wouldn’t say he’s putting extra [pressure] on us,” said Stark. “I think Matt expects a lot out of us any time we go out there, so I don’t see that much difference [this time around]. Obviously he wants to win and for us to perform to the best of our individual abilities, but I don’t think there’s any added pressure as such.”

“His biggest thing is having a game plan for each individual fighter and their match-up, and fallow that game plan. He expects that out of us every time, so it’s no different now,” continued Aaron.

This Friday night in Everett, Washington will go a long way in determining who makes this year’s edition of the World Team Tournament. If Wolfpack light-heavyweight Aaron Stark has any say in it, it should be an evening not to be missed, as he and his team looks to return to the finals and reach their goal of becoming IFL Champions.

“I want everybody to be out there,” exclaimed Stark. “Like I said, its two tough teams, and some great individual match-ups. I think it’ll be a good show and it’s kind of close to home, so it’ll be nice to have some of the home crowd there for us.”

Aaron concluded, “I want to thank ChokFightGear.com, they’re friends of mine and they’ve made some t-shirts for me, so I want everybody to check their website out.”