Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In a ring with (almost) no rules

By Joanna Batista

"Fight Club was the beginning - now it's moved out of the basement," Tyler Durden said in the 1999 movie "Fight Club." Every day at 6:00 a.m., when most 20-somethings are still sleeping off last night's shenanigans, Shad Lierley lifts weights for an hour, followed by circuit training, wrestling and sometimes a long run.

Lierley, a 26-year-old former CAS student, is a first-year member of the International Fight League, which bills itself as the "world's first" team-based mixed martial arts (MMA) league.

Mixed martial what? It's pretty much what it sounds like: a mix of fighting techniques such as grappling, wrestling, boxing and kickboxing. Fighters win matches by judge's decision, submission or the crowd-pleasing knockout.

"I discovered MMA as a high-school student when the first [Ultimate Fighting Championships] were taking place," Lierley said in an e-mail. "I'd always loved watching the events, but never thought I would be competing in MMA."

Lierley grew up in Chugiak, Alaska, where he participated in wrestling, cross-country, and track and field in high school. When he learned last October that the Seattle Tiger Sharks were looking for a lightweight fighter, Lierley decided to quit his corporate job and put his wrestling and Brazilian jujitsu experience to use.

Lierley gained much of that training during his three years at NYU, from 2001 to 2003. As a member of NYU's wrestling team, he was one of the country's top Division III wrestlers and a University Athletic Association champion.

"He brought a desire to win to the team," said Bruce Haberli, NYU's head wrestling coach since 1995, in an e-mail. "He expected to win, and that helped feed some of our athletes that same kind of attitude."

Now, recently having won his first fight, Lierley is a proud member of a league that he says is "making a dramatic impression on the market." Indeed, since its founding in January 2006, the IFL has become a publicly traded company worth about $150 million, according to the 60 Minutes website.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that fights are broadcast on Fox Sports Net or that IFL ring girls are there to cheer on the fighters.

Unlike other MMA leagues like Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bodog Fight, the IFL holds fights between five-person teams, with one person from each team fighting at a time, instead of one-on-one matches with no teams. There are 12 teams in the league.

"They stand apart from the other organizations," Lierley said. "They are fighter-friendly, providing the fighters with health insurance and salaries - amenities entirely unknown to other organizations."

Lierley added that he doesn't consider the IFL a long-term career option. He is undecided as to what he will pursue after his fighting days are over.

Meanwhile, he said he will remain loyal to his league instead of switching to one of its biggest competitors, the UFC.

"The UFC is another brand," Lierley said. "It's like asking if I'm going to switch from Coke to Pepsi."


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