Going into Friday's International Fight League card in Everett, Wash. the Los Angeles Anacondas find themselves leading the pack and are all but assured of a slot in early-August's post-season.
To a man, the Anacondas (2-0) seem to have embraced the team concept, and many observers think camaraderie amongst fellow warriors is a big part of their success.
Easier to identify as a major reason for the team's success can be traced to its Canadian contingent: lightweight Chris Horodecki (Pictures), heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski (Pictures), and the team's head coach, Shawn Tompkins (Pictures).
Chris Horodecki (Pictures)
Perhaps the most unassuming of the Anacondas is a 19-year-old fighter whom the IFL often promotes as looking "five years younger than that."
Chris Horodecki (Pictures)'s youthful appearance can be a blessing in disguise.
"You've just got to take it for what it is," he said. "I probably look pretty young, but I think I make up for it. It's like a tactic you can use, you know? If people don't know what to expect it's kind of a surprise at first."
This successful tactic may no longer be a valid one, as going into tonight's bout against Seattle Tiger Shark Shad Lierley (Pictures), Horodecki's tally is a perfect 9-0, and people are starting to realize that his baby-face is merely camouflage.
"People don't know that I fought already as an amateur in MMA and kickboxing," Horodecki said. "I had my first amateur MMA fight when I was 14 down in Chicago. I had a lot of fights; I had 30 some fights. So switching over to MMA was what was meant to be."
One could wonder how someone at Horodecki's point in life could be so accomplished. The answer, he said, is simple: Shawn Tompkins (Pictures).
"I met Shawn when I was 13 when he came to my karate school and gave an MMA seminar," recalled the undefeated lightweight. "I fell in love with the stuff right away, and luckily a few months later he started a kickboxing program out of a gym, and the rest, they say, is history.
"I just grew up with him after that."
As an amateur Horodecki fought from Ontario, Canada, the American Midwest, to New York.
"When I was coming in [to MMA] originally, when I was 18, it was no real big change for me cause all these guys might have had a lot more experience than me on paper, but they didn't see all of the competitive experience I had coming into this sport."
Then he chuckled, "But they learned real quick."
Call it what you will, luck, destiny, or happenstance, but at around the time that Horodecki joined Tompkins, a few other fighters entered the fray, making up the most highly-touted fight team in Canada.
"Stout, Hominick -- yeah, we all started out at the same time, and yeah, we all grew up together," said Horodecki. "It's pretty crazy seeing all the changes we've made and how we've matured into what we are today -- it's pretty cool."
"Chris Horodecki (Pictures) is an unbelievable fighter. He's already a superstar," said Team Tompkins fighter and Anacondas heavyweight Krzysztof Soszynski (Pictures).
Although Horodecki was training with Hominick and Stout, due to his age he wasn't competing. It wouldn't be long before he had his chance to fight professionally.
"Sam and Mark were already fighting in TKO, and I was hungry and couldn't wait to get my hands on it," he recalled. "So six days after my 18th birthday I fought in my first TKO."
Horodecki's debut came against the much more experienced Stephane Laliberte (Pictures) (6-5 at the time) in the Province of Quebec in October of 2005. A year and a half and eight fights later, Horodecki is arguably one of the biggest stars in the IFL.
"I really do like it," he said of the MMA league. "And the team concept wasn't a big change for me. With Team Tompkins we've always been a real close team, and we've always had fights where there are five to eight guys fighting on one show.
"Right when you've been done your fight, you'd be running to the back and getting the other guy warmed up because Shawn wouldn't leave the ring, because our guys would always be fighting next."
Life as a professional mixed martial artist seldom pays all of the bills, and Horodecki is going to college to become a paramedic. With school and fighting, the youngster said his life is pretty hectic.
As we spoke on the phone the distinct sound of another telephone receiver being picked up could be heard. Then came the inevitable beep-beep-beep-beep, as someone tried dialing an outgoing number.
"Hey!" Horodecki shouted.
The beeping continued. "Hey!" he shouted, louder.
More beeping, then Horodecki shouted something in what I assume was Polish and the beeping stopped.
"Sorry about that," he laughed, "the house is full."
Horodecki has recently left the friendly confines of home to follow Tompkins' migration to the new Team Quest location in Temecula, Calif.
"It opens up a lot of opportunities for myself and my teammates to get some really good quality training in," he said. "It's given Shawn a lot of exposure that he's really deserved, because the guy has worked so hard in the way he's come up."
This loyalty to his mentor is reciprocated by Tompkins, who boldly claimed, "Chris Horodecki (Pictures) will be a world champion someday."
Before Horodecki can reach those lofty heights he first needs to keep his eyes on tonight's opponent.
"I know he's a really good wrestler and he's coming from Maurice Smith (Pictures)'s team, so he'll have decent strikes on his feet and he's probably going to be really hungry," Horodecki acknowledged about Lierley.
"It's a big shot for him and for their team," he continued. "Knowing Maurice Smith (Pictures), he's always got something to prove, especially against us, so we're training as hard as we can right now, and we're going to prove that we're the team that's on top this year."
On having several Canadians representing Los Angeles, Horodecki said, "It's kind of cool actually that we're representing such a big city like L.A. It's awesome to fight in The Forum. It's a great crowd and has a great bunch of fans."
When asked who his toughest opponent to date has been, Horodecki answered immediately with a name.
His match against Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) in February of this year was an all out war that opened many eyes to the young Canadian's capabilities.
"That was a battle and I've had a lot of battles," he said. "The fight with Bart was really memorable to me because you had two guys that were tough, and I'd trained with him before so I knew what to expect. So I was ready for a war, and he was ready for a war, and that's what it was. I think we really impressed the crowd, and it was a barnburner for sure."
On his perfect record, Horodecki is both proud and pragmatic.
"It's awesome," said the kid. "It is credit for the hard work I put into this. It's great to have a perfect record; I hope to keep it as long as I can, and I'm going to ensure I do everything I can to keep it."
Then he added: "In the end records really don't mean too much. There's a lot of records that hide stuff. There's records that don't tell the whole story behind a fighter."
Then the old question was put to him: whether or not he'd like to fight in the UFC.
"The IFL is treating us all really well right now, and I have absolutely nothing to complain about. There are pros and cons to the UFC buying everybody out, but we need competition in the sport. We can't just have one organization running the entire world, cause then it's not going to give us fighters what we should be getting. It can't be a monopoly, that's the main idea.
"I'm pretty young and I can't really say where my future's going. I'm going to honor myself to the International Fight League just for what they've done for me. I love fighting there, and I'm going to plan on staying there for a little bit, so we'll see where it goes basically."
But that's the future. What about now?
"MMA is my passion," he said. "I think if you want to be in this sport you have to love it, and that's exactly what I do. I do love what I do everyday. I love the fights. I love the sport. I want to take this sport as far as I can, and hopefully once my career is done I can take this sport to others in other ways, not just as an athlete."
The interview had drawn to an end, and Horodecki wanted to ensure his parting words would be noted.
"I want to thank all my fans for their support and to keep your eyes open for me. If you think we're hot now -- we're just getting started. We're taking the title this year, and the Anacondas are here to stay."
Krzysztof Soszynski (Pictures)
When most first eyeball Canadian Krzysztof Soszynski (Pictures), their immediate thoughts are, Wow. He's big.
It's not a WWE type of big, with huge muscles whose primary purpose is for show. Soszynski's physique is utilitarian, with nothing that doesn't benefit the whole. When seen in print or on TV, he always seems so much larger than his actual six-one, 225-pound frame.
Perhaps surprising due to his size and excellence in inflicting physical damage to other human beings in a ring, where testosterone is rewarded by cheers and applause, Soszynski is pleasantly humble and respectful, ending his sentences with either yes, or no sir.
When contacted, Soszynski was still basking in the glow of the latest successful mixed martial arts show that he co-promotes in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba: Ultimate Cage Wars.
"UCW 7 was probably our best show," he said. "It had incredible fights, the best of which was undoubtedly between Ryan Maceachern and Victor Daycheif. It was an amazing fight, and the crowd gave a standing ovation at the end of every round."
An amazing fight is what Soszynski hopes that he Reese Andy (Pictures) will share with Seattle fans.
"I know Reese Andy (Pictures) is a great wrestler and he has conditioning, and he is training with some great fighters," said Soszynski. "And I'm excited to be finally fighting someone who's a little smaller than me. My last six fights were all against monsters. My last fight was against a six-foot-eight, 265-pound monster named Dan Christison (Pictures)."
Against Christison, a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter, Soszynski was awarded a unanimous decision victory, for which he humbly gave all of the credit to Tompkins.
"He's the one who said, ‘Let's go to the body,'" said Soszynski. "I just kept doing what Shawn was telling me, and we came out with the win."
Surely Soszynski must be willing to claim some of the credit for his success.
"If it wasn't for Shawn Tompkins (Pictures), I wouldn't be where I am today," he said. "He's the one that took me from Winnipeg, introduced me to Bas Rutten (Pictures), and trained me. He's one of my closest friends.
"One of my weaknesses was my mental game, and Shawn, along with Bas, helped it improve tremendously. To me, personally, Shawn Tompkins (Pictures) and Bas Rutten (Pictures) are the exact same person. Shawn was under Bas for eight years -- these two guys, if you ever meet them, they are the exact same person."
When asked about how he and his teammates balance the desire for personal accomplishment with that of wanting to see their team emerge the winner, Soszynski responded: "Personally, I'm never happy with a loss. We all train extremely hard together, and it's great to have a bunch of guys in your corner cheering for you. It just makes you want to win, and fight, and cheer for them so much more. It's difficult, but it's exciting."
Then he revealed a bit of information about the end of the IFL season, which will feature an all-star tournament. The top four fighters in each of the five weight classes will vie for IFL championship belts.
"It will happen over two nights for all weight classes, so 20 fighters in the semifinals the first night, and 10 fighters in the finals," he said.
When asked where he ranks amongst the league's heavyweights, Soszynski answered: "I'm working my way up there. My goal is to be one of the best in the world."
"I've improved so much," he continued, "I'm 5-1 in my last six fights, with my one loss coming to Mike Whitehead (Pictures), and I feel that I won that fight. I feel that I'm in the top half of the bracket, but there are some extremely talented fighters in the IFL."
Soszynski then ended the conversation with the same phrase he ends his e-mails: "I love MMA!"
Shawn Tompkins (Pictures)
Tompkins is on top of the world.
The acclaimed striking coach and leader of Team Tompkins out of London, Ontario, Canada, has taken the MMA world by storm over the past year. No other trainer, with the possible exception of Greg Jackson, has recently helped so many fighters burst through their self-imposed limitations to reach for glory and victory.
Perhaps the feat that was foremost in showcasing his capabilities was in guiding PRIDE multi-weight champion Dan Henderson (Pictures) to his victories over Vitor Belfort (Pictures) and Wanderlei Silva (Pictures).
Since then, Henderson, a long-time member of Team Quest, invited Tompkins to come south with him to Temecula, Calif. to take up residence as the striking trainer.
Tompkins didn't hesitate.
Team Quest Temecula has slowly created a lot of buzz amongst MMA aficionados, due in part to Tompkins but also to the wealth of talent that resides there, including Henderson, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures), and three-time BJJ world champion Vinicius Magalhaes.
"I'm keeping real busy right now," the trainer said. "I'm sweating a lot. I'm real fortunate to be training with all of these great fighters."
While he's in California, Tompkins stays at a Team Quest fighters' house with several roommates, including Sokoudjou and Soszynski.
Of Soszynski and his Anaconda teammates, Tompkins expounded: "The beauty of my situation is that from the start Bas (Rutten) went out and built the strongest team of fighters within the IFL."
Tompkins started with the IFL as an assistant to Rutten, and when the Dutch legend moved on to other duties within the IFL, the Canadian was the natural pick to take over.
Going into tonight's match, Tompkins exuded confidence, stating that not only did he think his team would emerge victorious, but that he thinks so highly of his team that he predicted at the end of the season they would be champions.
If the Anaheim By Way Of Canada Ducks can do it, why not the Los Angeles Anacondas?