HOUSTON, Feb. 1— The International Fight League made its Texas debut last night with a crowd of just over 4,500 at the home of the Houston Rockets, Reliant Arena.
It seemed like more than a few fans showed up just to catch a glimpse of mixed martial arts luminaries like Bas Rutten (Pictures) and Don Frye (Pictures) and along the way, were treated to some considerably good fights.
The night began with the Pat Miletich (Pictures)-coached Silverback's receiving championship rings for last year's IFL domination. I wasn't able to get close enough to inspect the rings but they were big, gold and the team looked pleased as punch to get them.
Next came the match-up of Tokyo Sabres versus Tucson Scorpions, a contest that saw the Ken Yasuda-led squad to a 3-2 win. I haven't seen Don Frye (Pictures) in person in 10 years but I have to tell you that the mustache hasn't aged a day.
The marquee fight of the night had old vet, yet still young Carlos Newton taking on the always-dangerous Matt Lindland (Pictures) in a battle of IFL coaches. Right away these two clinched up and Matt is able to stifle any takedown attempt, putting the Canadian on his back where began to work the ground-and-pound game.
While Lindland is able to throw hard shots and land a few, Newton is also able to cover and deflect fairly well, but has no defense for Matt in the first round.
The second round begins and Lindland comes out swinging, connecting with a few lefts before letting loose. Newton started to fade and Lindland got on top and secured a guillotine. For a moment it looks like Newton, a former UFC welterweight champion, might be able to sweep him. But they are tangled near the ropes and before long Carlos was forced to tap.
Earlier fights proved to be more entertaining to say the least. The Tokyo Sabres Antonio McKee (Pictures) started off the night with a dominating performance over Tucson Scorpion Gabe Rivas (Pictures).
McKee was able to control Rivas and push the pace until the Scorpion welterweight hollered out in pain from what appeared to be a leg injury following a kick. Antonio seized the moment with a kick to the stomach and Gabe went down and the ref stepped it to stop the bout due to injury.
The next bout was another Sabres’ triumph as Vladimir Matyushenko (Pictures) took out Dwayne Compton (Pictures) early, scoring an easy mount and armbar only minutes in the first round.
The first real scrum of the night came when Chad Griggs (Pictures) of the Scorpions took on John Marsh (Pictures) in a heavyweight battle that was real feisty at times.
Unfortunately the few times that Marsh might have been in positions to do some work, he would drop down for the heel hook/ankle lock and would give Griggs another chance to do more damage. Griggs was able to work Marsh over in the third round and the referee stepped in to save the exhausted fighter.
Savant Young (Pictures) (Sabres) met Ed West (Pictures) (Scorpions) in a fine lightweight battle that showcased the fighters’ explosive speed and power. When Savant wasn't throwing bombs on Ed, he was getting head-butted in the midsection to soften his guard. Savant was able to outwork West and win the decision.
One of the better fights of the night came from the alternates, Masaaka Izena (Sabres) took on Matt Ver Halen (Pictures) (Scorpions) and a quick slam by Izena had the crowd on its feet.
Izena looked brilliant at times, but Ver Halen was just as punchy and after three action-packed rounds, Ver Halen distributed too much damage and was awarded the decision.
Taking what he called the true 2006 IFL season final, Bas Rutten (Pictures) charged his Los Angeles Anacondas past the champion Quad Cities Silverbacks.
Heavyweight Ben Rothwell (Pictures) (Silverbacks) has had quite a run through the IFL, so far remaining undefeated. Matt Thompson (Pictures) (Anacondas) is a fighter I'm familiar with since I've seen him fight a few times in Austin, Texas.
From what I remember, Matt's fairly new to the game and is severely inexperienced when compared to Rothwell. I was pleasantly surprised as he put forth a great, albeit losing, effort against the Big Ben.
Rothwell spent most of the first round banging away at Thompson's left side. At the beginning of round two his ribs were pink as gum, but he kept battling and at times seemed to make Rothwell stop and think. Rothwell didn't think too long as he was able to rock Thompson with a right and put him on the ground where the Silverback continued pounding until the referee was forced to stop the fight.
Jay Hieron (Pictures) of the Anacondas was able to quickly dispatch of Silverback Victor Moreno (Pictures) by beating the replacement for Rory Markham (Pictures) down, forcing the welterweight to give up his back for the rear-naked choke.
Middleweight Ryan McGivern (Pictures) (Silverbacks) looked like he was going to make quick work of IFL newcomer Benji Radach (Pictures) (Anacondas) by dropping him with the first punch he threw.
But Radach weathered the storm and came back hard, winning the fight with an uppercut that stunned the former University of Iowa wrestler and allowed Radach, a veteran of the UFC, to wail on him in the corner until the ref was forced to step in. Benji's corner bum-rushed him, ecstatic over his comeback.
The fight of the night belonged to the lightweights, 19-year-old Canadian Chris Horodecki (Pictures) (Anacondas) and undefeated Silverback Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) (Silverbacks) put on quite a show.
These two went right at it with Palaszewski getting the better of the exchanges. Horodecki, also undefeated in the IFL, face displayed the wear and tear, and once Bart sunk in a guillotine it appeared to be close to over.
Horodecki fell through the ropes onto one of the judge’s tables and looked lost as he tried to get back in the ring. Fortunate for him, the bell rang and he was given another chance.
Rounds two and three saw Horodecki come back like nothing had happened in the opening four minutes. The baby-faced lightweight responded to his corner's advice and delivered the crisp striking combinations they requested. He fought back hard to earn a split decision.
Alex Schoenauer (Pictures) (Anacondas) found himself on the wrong end of a decision, as he lost a close battle to Mike Ciesnolevicz (Pictures) (Silverbacks). Alex showed some life at times but since Mike C spent most of the rounds on top, he was awarded the win.