Friday, February 23, 2007

Fighting for attention

By Robert Haddocks

Team-based pros: Almost no-holds-barred league, making its Gwinnett Arena debut tonight, hopes to overcome boxing as the top combat sport among fans.

The fight hadn't even started and Jim Abrille already was scrambling.

The last-minute replacement was fighting to make weight for his International Fight League debut Friday at Gwinnett Arena. Abrille, of Sandy Springs, was 187 pounds when he got the call last week to fight in the 170-pound weight class.

"I'm close to dying right now," Abrille said Thursday, minutes before the weigh-in at Knuckle Up Fitness in Duluth.

Abrille made weight. He'll be in the lineup for Atlanta's introduction to the IFL, billed as the world's first professional team-based mixed martial arts league. Abrille, 31, has fought in MMA events for eight years and he believes the action-packed, almost no-holds-barred sport is poised to pounce over boxing and its sagging popularity.

Founded in January 2006, the IFL has 12 teams that tour the country. The top four teams will advance to the playoffs in August. Today's 11-bout card starts at 7:30 p.m.

"It seems like a great idea to have a team-based format," said Abrille, manager of Knuckle Up Fitness in Midtown. "This is definitely going to replace boxing as far as the No. 1 combat sport. This is becoming more and more mainstream and drawing bigger and bigger crowds."

Abrille, a member of the Dragons, will be fighting for more than just a win against Mike Dolce of the Wolfpack. With an impressive performance, Abrille will earn a spot on the Toronto-based Dragons and, in a sense, he's being paid by the punch. Abrille said he'll earn $2,000-$7,000 for his night of combat. More drama equals more dollars. Abrille will make more depending on how he wins, submission, knockout or if he's in the chosen "fight of the night."

Abrille, who's trained in jiujitsu, said fighting "is something I've always had the aptitude to do." He played football in high school and loved watching wrestling and boxing. "When I first saw the no-holds barred fighting, I said 'This is pretty cool stuff. I need to get in there and do it.' "

Most MMA events are much more structured than the gory, bloodlust bashings of ultimate fighting years ago. Fighters in five weight classes mix it up in an oversized boxing ring for three four-minute rounds. Momentum can shift with one swift kick, Abrille said, and that's what makes it so interesting.

"I think this is probably the most exciting sport out there," he said. "Of anyone that's ever attended, I've never heard a negative response. It's a lot of fun and the crowds aren't as rowdy as you'd think they'd be, no more than a football game."

Once fans get a taste of MMA, "it's addicting," Abrille said. He's hoping local fans come see what the IFL is about.

"I want everyone to come out and I'm going to do the best that I can to bring home a win for Atlanta," Abrille said.


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