Though you'd be hard-pressed to find proof on the streets of the city, Chicago is indeed the home of the Red Bears. The May 19 event will serve as both the home debut of Igor Zinoviev's Red Bears and the debut of the International Fight League in the Chicagoland area.
It is unfortunate that the Red Bears are already out of the playoff race but regional favorites, the Quad Cities Silverbacks, and the Southern California Condors are still alive.
Both teams stand at 1-1 on the season with the Silverbacks having the edge due to their 4-1 domination of the Reno Lions 4-1 in April. But if the Condors sweep the San Jose Razorclaws (which is entirely possible), the Silverbacks may be out of the playoffs even if they win.
It's not just "what have you done for me lately?" at this point in the season. No, it comes down to "how convincingly did you beat my team?" Ah yes, that's a conundrum facing Pat Miletich (Pictures) and his Silverback crew face heading into tonight's showdown at the Sears Centre.
We also see a pair of MMA legends return after six-plus years away from the ring. Marco Ruas (Pictures) and Maurice Smith (Pictures) met in a cage in 1999 but pre-existing injuries forced Ruas to withdraw in between rounds. It has been a long time coming but round two is about to start.
Condors (1-1 overall, 5-5 in matches) vs. Razorclaws (0-2 overall, 2-8 in matches)
Though the Razorclaws are mathematically eliminated from the IFL postseason, the Condors need this win to stay alive. The Condors will also be battling the tragic loss of teammate Jeremy Williams (Pictures) (Jeremy Williams (Pictures)' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures), who took his own life less than two weeks ago.
Donnie Liles (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL, 7-3 in MMA) vs. Rodrigo Ruas (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL, 3-4-1 in MMA)
The night will open with the welterweights, who both come off losses in their IFL debuts. Ruas, the only IFL fighter on his own family's team, comes off a decision loss to Antonio McKee (Pictures), while Liles comes in off a submission loss to the Anacondas' Jay Hieron (Pictures). With his uncle in action for the first time this decade, the young Brazilian should be fully charged to bring his team a victory and get on the board first.
Antoine Jaoude (Pictures) (2-0 in the IFL, 6-2 in MMA) vs. Dan Christison (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL, 8-5 in MMA)
Jaoude has been very impressive in his short stint in the IFL and returns to the ring off a KO victory in a losing team effort against the Tokyo Sabres. He was the only South American wrestler in the Athens Olympics and was a silver medalist in the Pan Am games. Christison recently lost a decision to Krzysztof Soszynski (Pictures) but holds a submission win over Ben Rothwell (Pictures). Though all of his losses have been by decision, the former TUF cast member has no takedown defense. Jaoude never fought anyone this big with skills so it will be interesting to see how he handles the big man.
Emmanuel Newton (0-0 in the IFL, 7-3-1 in MMA) vs. Jeff Quinlan (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL, 0-1 in MMA)
Newton makes his IFL debut but has looked solid in other promotions, stopping Kyacey Uscola (Pictures) with strikes. His wrestling and Muay Thai background should force the inexperienced Quinlan to dig deep. Jeff has just one fight under his belt: a majority decision loss against Dennis Hallman (Pictures).
Adam Lynn (Pictures) (0-2 in the IFL, 10-7 in MMA) vs. Josh Odom (Pictures) (1-2 in the IFL, 4-3 in MMA)
Lynn is a former Marine who hasn't tasted victory in the IFL yet, but may feed of the energy of his coach in action. Odom comes off a decision loss to one of the IFL's hottest fighters: the Anacondas' Chris Horodecki (Pictures). He will be equally pumped and a win here could save his team from being shutout.
Justin Levens (Pictures) (0-2 in the IFL, 9-5 in MMA) vs. Brian Foster (Pictures) (2-2 in the IFL, 8-11 in MMA)
Foster, a former Marine sniper, has his sights set on bringing down Justin Levens (Pictures). With a strong performance, Foster could still qualify for the year-end individual IFL Grand Prix. "The Punisher" Levens moves down from light heavyweight to middleweight and takes the place of his friend and teammate Jeremy Williams (Pictures) (Jeremy Williams (Pictures)' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures). Levens comes off a TKO loss to Tokyo Sabres' fighter Vladimir Matyushenko (Pictures), who is undefeated in the IFL. Having been slotted last in the five-bout team line-up, he knows he may have to close the deal and pull out the win that might keep Southern California alive in the 2007 campaign.
Silverbacks (1-1 overall, 6-4 in matches for ‘07) vs. Red Bears (0-2 overall, 2-8 in matches for '07)
The Red Bears have zero team wins in '07 but they are at home for the first time. Can "Chicago love" spoil a Silverback post-season birth or will the defending champs send the Bears into early hibernation?
Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) (6-1 in the IFL, 26-8 in MMA) vs. John Strawn (Pictures) (0-0 in the IFL, 31-8 in MMA)
Palaszewski comes off a decision win over the Reno Lions' John Gunderson (Pictures) and is unquestionably one of the biggest hitters in the league. With two KOs and a TKO in his six wins, he could conceivably start his team off with a bang. Strawn makes his IFL debut but he's been murder on the small circuit. While he's been in the ring with the likes of Din Thomas (Pictures), Spencer Fisher (Pictures), Clay Guida (Pictures) and Joe Jordan (Pictures), he was stopped by all of them.
Mike Ciesnolevicz (Pictures) (3-2 in the IFL, 11-2 in MMA) vs. Adam Maciejewski (Pictures) (0-1 in the IFL, 6-2-1 in MMA)
Ciesnolevicz has won three in a row with back-to-back submissions and a decision win over the Anacondas' Alex Schoenauer (Pictures). Maciejewski, in his lone IFL appearance, comes in off a submission loss to the Tiger Sharks' Reese Andy (Pictures). A win for Maciejewski could at least slow down what looks to be an avalanche of pain for his Red Bears.
Ryan McGivern (Pictures) (4-3 in the IFL, 10-4 in MMA) vs. Tim Kennedy (Pictures) (1-0 in the IFL, 7-1 in MMA)
McGivern is a former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler and beat the Lions' Daniel Molina last month. All of his IFL wins have come via decision, so he doesn't have the reputation of a finisher. Kennedy is a tough customer, having stopped four of his last five opponents with strikes. He also took the Extreme Challenge 50 eight-man tournament, which included a decision win over Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Both have good ground games but Kennedy, the new kid in town, has only gone the distance once. If he stops McGivern he may stop the Silverbacks all by himself.
Ben Rothwell (Pictures) (6-0 in the IFL, 28-5 in MMA) vs. Travis Fulton (Pictures) (0-0 in the IFL, 177-42-9 in MMA)
What can you say about "The North Star" Rothwell. He is on a 10-fight win streak with four of his six IFL bouts ending violently in the first round. Despite his efforts his team is still walking the fine line of elimination and needs not just a win, but also a dominating effort. Travis Fulton (Pictures) makes his IFL debut and has only fought three times this year. That seems normal for an average fighter but that could be one night or just another weekend for Fulton. His record looks like a typo and he hasn't lost a fight in two years (that's 17-0 with no decisions and 12 finishes by KO or TKO). If you saw the weigh-in pictures, Rothwell towers over Fulton, who may have been given an insurmountable task.
Josh Neer (Pictures) (0-0 in the IFL, 21-5-1 in MMA) vs. Mark Miller (Mark Miller' class='LinkSilver'>Pictures) (1-1 in the IFL, 7-2 in MMA)
This could be the highlight of the evening. It is Neer's IFL debut but at 21-5-1 he's far from a rookie. Given the fact the Silverbacks need to win convincingly to advance to the playoffs and separate themselves from the rest of the 2-1 pack, Neer will have a lot of pressure on him.
Miller, yet another former Marine, likes to trade and has not been stopped as a pro in MMA. He's considered the heart of the Red Bears team. Since the Chicago is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, he likely loves the idea of playing spoiler and stopping the defending champs from their post-season dreams. Plus with a strong performance Miller could still be selected for the year-end individual Grand Prix.
IFL Superfight: Marco Ruas (Pictures) (8-3-2) vs. Maurice Smith (Pictures) (9-9)
Open up the time capsule because it's taken eight years for round two to begin. These two met at UFC 21 in 1999, and even then they were already legends nearing the end of their careers. Ruas last fought Jason Lambert (Pictures) in 2001. It was Lambert's first year in the sport and the newcomer was submitted early in the opening round. Smith last fought in 2000 against Renato "Babalu" Sobral. Ironically Lambert knocked out Sobral at UFC 68 in both fighters most recent effort.
Smith's style has been criticized as being "outdated" and "over simplified for the modern MMA fighter." Who has seen Mo fight MMA for the last six years? No one. Striking will always be his strength. Just as Marco's strength will always be his ground game. The fact remains fighters and coaches evolve. They are under no obligation to continue fighting in the style they were known for years ago. There is something to be said about teaching old dogs new tricks (and no, I'm not calling them dogs), but to compete at this level fighters and coaches cannot close their eyes to adding new skills to their game.
Smith and Ruas are intelligent men. I'm confident they've added new wrinkles to their games.
Injury and fatigue can make the best fighter revert back to their basics and that is to be expected Saturday night. Marco ate two leg kicks and brought Smith to the ground in their first fight, but that was aided by an injury he carried into the cage.
He looks as fit now as he did then, and states he's injury free. Smith has shed some pounds since joining the IFL and maintains his trademark wit when dealing with the cameras.
However this one winds up, it is nice to see an evenly matched bout of legends and not some ridiculous one-sided affair to springboard the new young lion into the spotlight. Kudos to the IFL on that one.
Also in action Saturday night will be preliminary match-ups featuring Danny Suarez (Pictures) (Condors alternate lightweight, 1-1 in the IFL, 5-3 in MMA) against Clint Coronel (Pictures) (Razorclaws alternate lightweight, 1-1 in IFL, 2-1 in MMA), and Jay Estrada (Pictures) (0-0 in the IFL, 17-7 in MMA) versus LC Davis (Pictures) (0-0 in the IFL, 6-0 in MMA).