BETTENDORF, Iowa (1997) -- One of the top mixed martial artists in the world is beginning his coaching career. Pat Miletich (Pictures) will soon become welterweight champion for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but to do so he first must coach for the simplest of reasons: he needs better training partners.
Miletich does not know it, but his Miletich Fighting Systems will play a bigger role in shaping MMA history than any one fighter ever could. His reign as UFC champion will last from 1998-2001, but his status as America's top MMA coach will continue far longer.
"I always envisioned big things for this sport," he said. "I didn't know it was going to take off so quickly, but I was one of a few guys at that time that saw the sport for what it was. We were just driving around in rusty cars and holding onto a dream."
Ten years later, only the car has changed.
While Miletich Fighting Systems has placed more than 70 fighters on television and pay-per-view (including former UFC champions Matt Hughes (Pictures), Tim Sylvia (Pictures) and Jens Pulver (Pictures)), the success of the Quad Cities Silverbacks, said Miletich, has been the most rewarding.
"When you think about coaching one guy or helping five guys win the world championship at the same time, there's no comparison," he said. "When you can put smiles on five guys' faces -- it doesn't matter if it's the UFC or the IFL or what -- if you can change the history of five guys' lives for the better, it's a great feeling."
On Thursday, Miletich's squad will vie with the New York Pitbulls for the IFL title at the Seminole Hard Rock & Casino in Hollywood, Fla. The Silverbacks are gunning for their second title, which would cement their status as an IFL dynasty in the league's short tenure.
New York was considered an also-ran at the start of the season.
"I always planned to win the whole thing," Pitbulls coach Renzo Gracie (Pictures) said. "I put all the team under one roof and we worked towards winning the championship."
The gregarious Gracie is a counterpoint to Miletich's no-nonsense style. He laughs easily and has no bones about making use of his famous surname.
"It gets everyone to listen," he said.
Rubes and amateurs imagine that revenge plays a part for IFL coaches. Forget that Renzo Gracie (Pictures) beat Pat Miletich (Pictures) in the ring last September. As coaches, neither cares.
"We don't have any animosity," Miletich said. "All that behind the scenes stuff is crap anyway. We ignore it. It doesn't change anything. We're trying to win no matter what color the other guy's shorts are."
However, Miletich, who is retired from fighting, said he would return to fight Gracie. "It's only because I have great respect for him," he said. "He is a great fighter."
Both men are simply too busy with coaching and managing duties to put much effort into fighting.
Gracie is opening a new gym and buying property.
Miletich is, well, Miletich.
Just as the coaches have contrasting personalities, the teams are contrasts in continuity. The bulk of the Silverbacks team has remained the same since the IFL began. The Pitbulls, however, retain just two fighters from the Aug 2. semifinals -- and one of those, Deividas Taurosevicius (Pictures), was a replacement himself.
"You end up with so many injuries because guys are fighting every six weeks and they don't have time to rest," Gracie said. "It takes a toll."
Miletich's squad will feature only one replacement, welterweight Jake Ellenberger (Pictures).
"We've always done a good job of keeping guys healthy," Miletich said. "Injuries do happen, but at this point their bodies are callused. Leading up to a fight, we taper the workouts. We've got to come up with creative ways to keep their strength and endurance up without getting hurt."
Despite the injuries, the Pitbulls appear to be the favorites on paper, particularly after adding heavyweight Ricco Rodriguez (Pictures).
New York middleweight Fabio Leopoldo (Pictures) has beaten Ryan McGivern (Pictures); New York light heavyweight Andre Gusmao (Pictures) has beaten Mike Ciesnolevicz (Pictures); and welterweight Delson Heleno (Pictures) should be a favorite over Ellenberger.
But appearances can be deceiving.
"It's tougher to beat a guy for the second time than it is to avenge a loss," Miletich said. "My guys are chomping at the bit. McGivern was dominating that entire fight before getting caught in a kneebar. Mike C didn't know what to expect and got bum-rushed. This time he will be ready."
By the same token, Silverbacks' lightweight Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) should appear to be the favorite over Taurosevicius, who filled in for Erik Owings (Pictures) in the semifinals and scored an upset win over the Tokyo Sabres' Savant Young (Pictures).
"Deividas is a tough guy," Gracie said. "He had some training sessions with us, so we knew he was good. But he came out and was better than we thought he'd be."
The most interesting match, however, will be at heavyweight where Ben Rothwell (Pictures) should get the stiffest test of his unblemished IFL career. Rodriguez, a former UFC champion, has beaten the likes of Randy Couture (Pictures) and Jeff Monson (Pictures).
But Rodriguez has had issues with conditioning and was a late replacement for injured Tom Sauer (Pictures) (bicep), who was a replacement for Brian Vetell (wrist, eye).
Gracie admitted to knowing next to nothing about Sauer.
"My first choice was to put Jamal Patterson (Pictures) at heavyweight," Gracie said. "The Florida commission wouldn't allow it so we had to accept someone the IFL brought to us.
"In reality, I'm looking at it as if I am giving away this point. I wanted Jamal Patterson (Pictures) and they said he did not have enough experience at heavyweight. Here they are judging MMA and they are clearly not qualified and it could cost us the championship. I wish the bout was anywhere other than Florida. They know two things: jack and s---."
Brad McCray has a weekly online MMA column for The Oregonian.