Monday, February 26, 2007

Through the Past Darkly: Reflections on IFL Atlanta

By Ben Fowlkes

I always knew Renzo Gracie was tough.

The story of him having his arm broken in the ring by Sakuraba has already passed into the realm of legend.

His many exploits as an MMA fighter and jiu-jitsu competitor are well-documented. His rep as an unrepentant hard-ass was enough to refute any claim that he took the easy road out of his recent bout with Frank Shamrock.

But what I didn’t know about Gracie was that he is one of the sport’s most gregarious and charismatic figures.

For instance, another coach would have been upset that a member of his team told reporters they were the most disorganized squad in the IFL. Not Gracie, not even when the claim is mostly true (let’s just say that if you need the Pitbulls to be somewhere at seven o’clock, you’d better tell them to be there at five.)

When asked about their collective lack of organization, Gracie just laughed it off and accused Erik Owings, who made the comment, of being a “neat freak”.

“He’s worse than my wife,” Gracie joked. “But are we the most disorganized team? Probably. Still, there is a lot of order in the chaos.”

The Pitbulls lack of organization and team training hurt them last season – even Gracie says so. But they do appear to be a new team in 2007. Gracie’s promise to bring everyone together for team training wasn’t just talk.

They looked nothing less than dominant against the Red Bears, and with the Wolfpack up next on April 13th, we should get to see just how much they’ve improved under Gracie’s watchful eye.

But if you weren’t among the more than 5,000 fans in attendance for IFL Atlanta, here’s what else you missed…

Is Devin Cole the Long-Lost Son of John Rambo?

It was, by any standard, a strange end to a match.

Rafael Feijao clipped Devin Cole a good one on the tip of his nose, producing an audible snapping sound. When the Wolfpack heavyweight paused to reach up and touch his nose, the referee dove awkwardly in to stop the bout, perhaps thinking that Cole wanted out.

The referee was wrong, and Cole had no problem saying so. It seems Cole was simply applying some first aid to himself.

“When he hit me I could feel that he’d broken my nose,” Cole said of the moment leading up to the odd stoppage. “I reached up and set it and then I was ready to go.”

Wait a minute. Is he saying that he set his own nose in the middle of the bout?

“Yeah. I mean, I knew it was broken so my first thought was to reach up and put it somewhere back in the area where it belonged. I think I was winning the fight, and I think I could have won it if he hadn’t stopped it.”

Despite the fact that the match will go down as a loss for Cole because of the stoppage, that’s got to be one of the coolest, and also one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever heard.

Just in case you don’t believe it, Carlos Newton corroborated the story, saying he heard the pop of Cole forcing his nose back into place.

Now all he needs to do is cauterize his own wound with gunpowder, maybe destroy an entire city with a machine gun and tell a sob story about getting an old car and cruising until the wheels fall off, and he’ll be ready for Hollywood.

Rough Start for the Red Bears

Not much has gone right for Igor Zinoviev’s team thus far. Most of his first team is still in Russia, and he was forced to rely on late replacements for the team’s debut against the Pitbulls.

Mark Miller, the team’s welterweight and the man expected to lead the squad, was unable to get a win in his very gritty performance against jiu-jitsu champion Delson Heleno. Though Heleno got the decision, it was Miller who won over the crowd by refusing to quit and bringing the fight to his opponent until the final bell.

Zinoviev said he wouldn’t comment on whether he planned to make some changes to the lineup, only that the team, “needs to go back to Chicago and get to work.”

With a match against Maurice Smith’s Tiger Sharks in a little over a month, they’d better work hard and work fast if they expect to make a better showing.

One of the bright spots for the team, however, was light heavyweight substitute Tim Kennedy, who looked very impressive in his TKO victory over a game Dante Rivera.

Kennedy took the fight on a day’s notice, and still looked absolutely unshakable. No word yet on whether he’s earned a regular roster spot, although it sounds like he might be angling for it.

“It’s an honor to be on this team,” he said after the bout. “My hat’s off to my teammates.”

There’s no doubt that a Red Bears team with Kennedy as the 205-pound anchor is stronger than one without, but we’ll have to wait and see what Zinoviev decides to do to salvage his season.

When Philosophers Attack…

Bryan Vetell is as congenial a guy as you’re likely to find in the world of professional fighting. The 280-pound monster can barely get through a sentence without breaking into a smile, and his graduate studies in Philosophy have perhaps made him stoically calm in the ring.

But all that can change in a second if you step over the line, as Red Bears heavyweight Mo Fowzi learned.

It seems that Fowzi did a bit of talking to Vetell during their forty-five second match, hoping to anger Vetell into making a mistake. He got the first part right.

Only instead of making a mistake, Vetell slapped an armbar on Fowzi and then stood over the British-born boxer after he submitted, screaming obscenities at him.

“It was wrong,” Vetell said later, appearing embarrassed for his rare emotional outburst. “He was talking to me in there and I overreacted.”

Like a true gentleman, Vetell refused to repeat the words Fowzi used to provoke such an outburst, but coach Gracie was more than willing to repeat the name Fowzi used.

Let’s just say it isn’t a word most people are likely to use when describing a man of Vetell’s size and power.

“Can you believe he called him a (expletive deleted)?” said an incredulous Gracie at the post-fight press conference. “I wouldn’t even call him that. When I see him I call him Mr. Bryan…he is a philosopher, but when the temper goes, even Plato runs away.”

It should make for an interesting match when this philosopher-warrior faces Wolfpack iron man Devin Cole in Connecticut.


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