Let's face it, being a sports fan can really waste a lot of your time. Not everybody can check box scores all day or care to memorize stats. Most of us don't really care about paying much until the playoffs begin. Suddenly, I find myself caring about Lebron's shooting percentage and who will be covering the perpetually doe-eyed Tim Duncan.
The International Fight League is no different as we have major playoff implications going into fights this Saturday in Las Vegas. While you might not have cared if the Condors beat the Silverbacks back in February … you might want to start paying attention now.
Seattle, Portland, Tucson, San Jose, Chicago and the Condors of So Cal have all been eliminated from the field. The Los Angeles Anacondas and Tokyo Sabres have already secured their spots in the semifinals by going 3-0 this year.
Nevada, Toronto, New York and Quad Cities are all on the chopping block going into the final regular season event this weekend. The Quad Cities Silverbacks (2-1 as a team while winning nine of 15 fights) is the only squad in the hunt that won't fight this week. Instead, Ben Rothwell (Pictures), Roy Markham and crew will sit at home rooting for Renzo Gracie (Pictures)'s New York Pitbulls to put away the Toronto Dragons.
A Pitbull win would put the Silverback's in fourth place and at worst put them in a tie with the Nevada Lions, whom they beat head to head back in April. A loss might not be such a bad thing either.
If the Toronto Dragons get lucky and beat New York handily -- like 4-1 or a 5-0 sweep -- the Pitbulls would be thrown out and Quad Cities would end up sitting snugly in third place. That scenario would most likely have Toronto facing the Anacondas, who narrowly defeated the Dragons earlier this season.
Nevada Lions versus Tucson Scorpions
The Ken Shamrock (Pictures) coached Nevada Lions (1-1, 4-6) find themselves pitted against Shamrock's nemesis Don Frye (Pictures) and his Tucson Scorpions (0-2, 3-7). Tucson has been knocked out of the running already but they can certainly play the role of spoilers.
Nevada is still holding on to the slim chance that they could squeeze their way into the playoffs, but that would require a clean sweep against the Lions on Saturday. As we look at the match-ups, it's clear that a sweep won't be easy.
John Gunderson (Pictures) last fought in a tough decision loss to Bart Palaszewksi and will be looking to get back on the winning track against Gabe Casillas. Gunderson, fighting at 155 pounds, is battle tested and should be able to rely on his experience to help get him a win and the Lions off to a good start.
Welterweight Pat Healy (Pictures) (Lions) will need to rely on his hands early if he's going to have any luck against Mike Guymon (Pictures) (Scorpions), who has yet to have a fight go past the first round. Healy's got the experience in his corner but Guymon is a finisher whose only loss is to some guy named Diego Sanchez (Pictures). The Lions' chances of going undefeated will be seriously tested in this bout.
Dan Molina (Pictures) (Lions) has had a hard time in the IFL thus far, losing his first two bouts. His opponent, Seth Baczynski (Scorpions), last fought against Brent Beauparlant (Pictures) (Dragons) and ended up on the wrong side of the ledger. Both men will try to finish out the regular season with a win. Teams be damned, these two are fighting for pride.
The Lions-Scorpions light heavyweight bout will probably be the most anticipated match of the night, as two of the best-known names in the IFL will square off. Mike Whitehead (Pictures) (Scorpions) has popped off nine wins in a row but will have his work cut out for him when he meets Vernon "Tiger" White (Lions) on Saturday.
White certainly needs no introduction and despite the fact that he will probably be giving up some size, he will probably be the toughest opponent Whitehead has faced in the IFL. This fight could pretty much go anyway you could imagine. Whitehead is typically known for submissions, so it would behoove him to get White onto the ground as soon as possible if he wants to continue with his winning streak.
Nevada's Roy Nelson (Pictures) lost a heartbreaking split decision against the IFL's top heavyweight, Ben Rothwell (Pictures), back in April. I'm sure he's been stewing in "what could have been" scenarios for the past month or so and will be looking to get some revenge this week against Shane Ott (Scorpions). Ott is undefeated so far, but Nelson and his submission skills will be a big test for the fighter this early in his career.
Toronto Dragons versus New York Pitbulls
The Toronto Dragons are still in the driver's seat for a spot in the playoffs, but it will be hard to steer since the New York Pitbulls will be on the roof punching them through the window. Carlos Newton (Pictures)'s team has looked good this year, narrowly losing to the Portland Wolfpack and then rebounding by curb stomping the Tucson Scorpions in their last outing.
Renzo Gracie (Pictures)'s Pitbulls haven't been too shabby either. They easily dispatched the Chicago Red Bears to start their 2007 campaign and grinded out a tough victory against the Portland Wolfpack in April.
As long as they don't get swept or lose 4-1 to the Dragons, New York is assured a spot in the playoffs. Of all the teams competing for the final two spots, they have the best chance considering the match-ups and the recent addition of BJJ monster "Pe de Pano" as their heavyweight.
Wagnney Fabiano (Pictures) (Dragons) has been a submission beast so far in the IFL but his opponent Erik Owings (Pictures) (Pitbulls) may know a thing or two about the ground game having trained with Renzo Gracie (Pictures). The Pitbulls are loaded for bear in every weight class but Wagnney is no pushover and this lightweight fight could make the Pitbulls awfully nervous if they were to lose this match.
Gideon Ray (Pictures) is a lot like Jose Canseco at the plate: he can go yard with ease or strike out wildly. He'll definitely need to be at the top of his game when he faces Delson Heleno (Pictures) (Pitbulls), who has won eight of his last nine fights.
The only loss Heleno suffered during that span was a disqualification against Dennis Hallman (Pictures) in the IFL finals last year. Ray, fighting out of Chicago, will need to take it to the Brazilian while they are standing if he wants any shot of winning.
Another IFL star in the making is Fabio Leopoldo (Pictures), whose only professional loss happened outside the IFL at the hands of Portland coach Matt Lindland (Pictures). Brent Beauparlant (Pictures)'s IFL career that has been up and down along the way. The Toronto Dragon could really make a name for himself if he can get past the first round with Leopoldo and force this fight from early submission to late decision.
Light heavyweight Wojtek Kaszowski (Pictures) hasn't had much luck in the IFL, going 0-4 so far. But with losses to guys like Travis Wiuff (Pictures) and Ben Rothwell (Pictures), it's not like he's facing pushovers. Kaszowski isn't getting a pass this week either as he'll see New York's Jamal Patterson (Pictures) standing across from him. Patterson is a fearsome athlete who's made the switch from football and wrestling into MMA with aplomb. His two victories over Matt Horwich (Pictures) are proof enough that he's got skills and he alone should be able to help make sure his team makes it into the semifinals with a win here.
What do you do if you're an IFL coach and your grappling stud at heavyweight has to serve an injury suspension? You do what Renzo Gracie (Pictures) did and get yourself an even bigger stud grappler. With the late addition of Marcio "Pe de Pano" Cruz to his team, Gracie has to like his chances to get his team into the semis in Jersey. "Pe de Pano" is a world-class jiu-jitsu expert and although his MMA career is about 50/50 you can't go wrong by pairing him with this already sick Pitbulls team. Rafeal Custodio can ruin Cruz's coming out party and shake up the math with a win here.
It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out this weekend. No matter who wins, they will be at somewhat of a disadvantage to the Tokyo Sabres and Los Angeles Anacondas, who will have had over a month to rest and heal before the semifinals in August.
Other IFL news
Following up on their successful visits during "Fleet Week" in New York, the IFL sends head coaches Pat Miletich (Pictures) and Don Frye (Pictures), along with reigning PRIDE champion and Portland Wolfpack assistant coach Dan Henderson (Pictures) to the Persian Gulf for a USO tour. These legends will be participating in meet and greets along the way and will probably be giving some pointers to any MMA practitioners they meet.
USA World Grappling Team trials were held in Las Vegas this past weekend and Matt Horwich (Pictures) of the Portland Wolfpack and Bryan Vetell (Pictures) of the New York Pitbulls both qualified for the 2007 U.S. Grappling Team. The World Team Championships will be held in Ankara, Turkey this September. Exciting news for people who want to see the submission game get more respect and make it to the Olympics.
The IFL has also come to a licensing agreement with the Topps Company to create collectible cards for IFL fighters and coaches. "The sport of mixed martial arts is exciting and rapidly growing, and we are proud to partner with the IFL, their world-class coaches and rising stars to make our entry in the sport," said Ira Friedman, Topps' vice president of publishing and licensing. "We have looked for the right entry point for the MMA category from a collectible standpoint, and feel that the IFL model is the best fit for both now and for the long term." Soon you'll be able to brag to all your friends about your unopened 2007 IFL box set and how you have a signed Ben Rothwell (Pictures) rookie card that is in mint condition.