Friday, March 16, 2007

Anacondas take momentum into home meet

By Ben Fowlkes

When Bas Rutten's Los Angeles Anacondas defeated the defending International Fight League champion Quad City Silverbacks in Houston, TX last month, they took a giant step toward establishing themselves as the team to beat in 2007.

Riding strong performances by undefeated lightweight Chris Horodecki (8-0), middleweight slugger Benji Radach (13-3), and welterweight Jay Hieron (11-3), Rutten's squad surprised many in the league by pulling out the 3-2 victory. After that performance, some believed their Saturday night home match with Frank Shamrock's San Jose Razorclaws would be a walk-through, but an improved lineup has the 'Claws looking like a legitimate threat.

The biggest improvement for San Jose is at heavyweight, where veteran Dan Christison has stepped in for the recently cut Vince Lucero. Christison (8-4) appeared on the second season of Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter series, though he hasn't fought professionally since August.

He'll have his hands full at the Forum in Inglewood, CA, as he takes on the Anacondas' ever-improving Krzysztof Soszynski (11-6-1). Both men are powerful wrestlers, but at 6'8" and around 270 pounds, Christison will have a significant size advantage.

Still, Rutten has a lot of confidence in the ex-pro wrestler Soszynski, who he says is "improving so fast it's unbelievable". Soszynski missed the team's outing against the Silverbacks with a rib injury, and his last bout saw him drop a close decision to another Ultimate Fighter veteran and current Scorpions light heavyweight Mike Whitehead, who owns a victory over MMA legend Mark Kerr.

If Soszynski can edge out a victory here, it will cancel out the Razorclaws best chance at a team victory. However, if Christison can announce his IFL presence with a convincing win, fans will be licking their chops at the thought of a rematch between he and Ben Rothwell, the league's uncrowned heavyweight champ.

In the lightweight division, the Razorclaws' Josh Odom (4-2) will play the role of underdog against the always-exciting Horodecki. An Iraq War vet, Odom's toughness is perhaps his biggest asset, but it may not be enough if he plans to stand and trade shots with the explosive young Canadian.

Horodecki squeaked by the Silverbacks' Bart Palaszewski in February, and displayed an impressively varied bag of tricks in the process. His stand-up is highly technical and his wrestling is competent, to say the least. It's hard to see how Odom might come out on top in this one unless Horodecki comes in over-confident and gets caught.

If the Razorclaws can't get a win out of either Christison or Odom, they don't have much hope of taking this one. Hieron likely won't have much trouble with the newly added Donnie Liles, and while Brian Ebersole adds some experience to the team, the Anacondas' Alex Schoenauer is no rookie himself.

In the other team match-up of the night, the Tokyo Sabres are looking to continue their unexpected rise to prominence with a win over Marco Ruas' So. Cal. Condors. Both teams are 1-0 this season, though neither has faced particularly stiff competition just yet.

One of the most intriguing bouts of the night may be in the light heavyweight division, where MMA veteran Vladimir "The Janitor" Matyushenko (16-3) of the Sabres takes on hard-nosed brawler Justin "The Executioner" Levens (9-4).

It's the biggest fight of Levens' career, facing down the famed grappler who he watched in the UFC as a teenager. The best bet for Levens is to keep the fight standing in the hopes that he can land the big punch that he's known for. Don't expect Matyushenko to play that game if he can help it. He'll look to take the fight to the mat right away, and if Levens can't stop him it will be a quick night for the Philly-born brawler.

The Sabres are also expecting big things from their newly acquired heavyweight, former All-American wrestler Wayne Cole (5-3). His opponent is former Olympic wrestler Antoine Jaoude (5-2), who represented Brazil in the Athens games, and who is 1-0 in IFL competition thus far.

Cole has made no secret of his plan to avoid Jaoude's takedowns and try to slug it out with the big Brazilian, despite his own prowess on the mat. Jaoude's stand-up skills looked questionable in January when he out-pointed striker Curtis Crawford for a decision victory, taking several big punches in the process.

Cole will be hoping that he has the power and speed to open Jaoude up on the feet, but if he's wrong he'll wind up on the business end of Jaoude's formidable ground-and-pound attack.

While both the Sabres and Condors come into this one feeling good about their earlier team victories, this one is a toss-up. One lucky break could be all it takes to decide this one, with the winner almost assured of a playoff spot.

The event kicks off at 7:30 pm Pacific on Saturday, and will be broadcast in the coming weeks via the IFL's weekly Fox Sports Net and MyNetworkTV programs respectively.


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