By: Albert Miller – I miss the International Fight League (IFL), and I miss it a lot. For all of its flaws, the IFL had so much potential. Maybe it’s because it reminded me of wrestling (for that one year in junior high), but the idea of combat sports on a team sport platform seemed both revolutionary and traditional. Had the IFL not focused on celebrity coaches and put funds and focus towards attracting fighters to actually fighting on teams, I think that we’d still be watching the IFL today and even rooting on our favorite teams.
This week’s call back to yesteryear is capturing the opportunity that I never had while the IFL was alive: I’m drafting my own IFL team! Had the IFL been able to reach its full potential, Cage Nation TV, Pittsburgh Sportsline, Steel Nation Magazine, we’d all be covering the IFL draft like sportscasters in the NFL do. Before we get into my draft, let’s cover a couple of assumptions:
- The team would be based out of Pittsburgh
- The IFL’s weight classes were heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, and welterweight; we’re modifying the weight classes to account for the evolution of the sport and the national focus on lighter weights
- These are my picks, selected to be the best team that I feel would work the best
- Fighters out of Pittsburgh (or the surrounding areas) that have recent UFC experience were excluded
- If one fighter or coach was chosen over another, no disrespect was intended!
Middleweight – Davis “Da Pitbull” Oracio, Jr. – The first time I’d ever seen Davis Oracio, Jr. was his pro debut against Robert Corpora. If you listen to the commentary(which was performed by Drew and I), you can clearly hear disappointment that the fight was over so quickly. Oracio’s career might be young and he might have a .500 record as of this writing, but when I see the guy fight, I see a very clear desire to compete and excel; in my draft, I’d be locking him down before other larger promotions could get their hands on him. One of the things that impress me most about Oracio, is how versatile he is between weight classes. He is a very solid middleweight, but has bouts with heavier and lighter guys (such as OJ Vickers). Considering that the IFL was such a broad spectrum of competition, you’d need someone who could take on all shapes and all sizes of competition.
Welterweight – “The Bionic Fist of Justice” Dann Cucuta – If we’re talking about drawing fighters from the Pittsburgh area to represent Pittsburgh to other areas, “The Bionic Fist of Justice” Dann Cucuta is a no-brainer. I know that Dann Cucuta is a natural middleweight, but I like the idea of Dann bringing the Bionic Fist of Justice to welterweight (full disclosure: I am no expert on such a subject). I’m drafting Dann to my team because of his ability to stop fights (as evident in his bouts against Kyle Dunmeyer, Brandon Lux & Jeremy Sakuta; not only to mention his submission victory over my middleweight pick, Davis Oracio, Jr.) and because of how mentally and physically tough the man is. We all remember how he got the nickname Bionic Fist of Justice, right? Cucuta broke his hand against Matt McWilliams and he still came back to win the victory despite one of the worst boxer’s breaks a prize fighter can suffer. Also, his Hail Mary elbow against Jesse Murray is the kind of finish that legends are made of!
Lightweight – “Iron City” Mike Wilkins – I struggled with this one a lot; it came down to Mike Wilkins and Joey “The Hitman” Holt. The deciding factor ended up being that Wilkins is actually a Pittsburgh resident (where as Holt is an Ohio native). Mike Wilkins (Wilkins Electric!) is being drafted to my team because of his all-around versatility on his feet and on the ground. Wilkins is a Renzo Gracie fighter that has knock out victories over Jason “The Whip” Willett and Chris Coggins; submission victories over Bob Tipinski, Ahsan Abdullah, and Eric Calderon. One of the unintended benefits of having Wilkins on the Pittsburgh team is his contribution to the Pittsburgh pride that would come along with him, both during home bouts and away bouts. Pittsburgh, as a city, is fanatical about their pro sports teams and their athletes. Seeing a venue come unglued when Wilkins steps into a cage is something to see, the energy he carries would be crucial.
Featherweight – “The Pride of Bloomfield” Mark Cherico – Another struggle; with Mark Cherico’s announcement that he is coming out of retirement (for a fight with King of the Cage that never materialized and now he’s going to try his hand at boxing), the lightweight / featherweight / bantamweight choices were completely shuffled. If I were unable to consider Cherico, I may have had to draft Rob Hannah at lightweight, Mazzotta at Featherweight, and then bantamweight would have been completely up in the air. With “The Pride of Bloomfield” back in active competition, the choices become a little easier (but not by much). Mark Cherico is being drafted at featherweight because of being a franchise fighter in Pittsburgh, he’s still a tremendous name, despite not being in active competition for a while. When he retired, he retired the undisputed featherweight king of Pittsburgh, holding the Gladiators of the Cage and Pinnacle FC featherweight championships simultaneously. With all of that being said, there really is no other choice for featherweight. It’s also important to note, had Cherico not come out of retirement, he would have been considered for one of the coach’s slots, having successfully coached Adam “The Prototype” Milestead in his UFC victory.
Bantamweight – Dominic “The Honey Badger” Mazzotta – It is clearly understood that “The Honey Badger” is the current Pinnacle FC featherweight champion; a title that he won in a clear and decisive fashion. In fact, featherweight was the weight class that Mazzotta competed in when he scored “the kick heard round the world” in his knockout victory of Jeremiah Yeager. It also needs to be understood that up until his victory over Hannah, Mazzotta was also the king of bantamweights in the Steel City. Aside from his highlight reel stoppage of Yeager, Mazzotta’s record is a resume of submission victories that cannot be under-estimated. Within those victories, Mazzotta has won titles in both the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. Mazzotta was drafted to my team, other than being a certified bad ass, because his skills round out and complete the team. All of my picks, carefully calculated, bring their own individual strengths to the team, but also the potential for synergy. Mazzotta was also selected for similar reasons as the others: the home town energy that he’d bring into bouts, both home and away, would be immense.
- Head Coach: Isaac Greeley – Greeley is the current head coach of the Mat Factory and has engineered a lot of really tough contenders in the circuit that I’m drawing my picks from. Such Greeley students include Dominic “The Honey Badger” Mazzotta, Chris Dempsey, Melissa Gasdick, and Francis “the Mad Dog” Healy. Greeley commands respect and has clearly demonstrated that he is capable guiding and directing the forward direction of a successful fight team.
- Striking Coach: Matt Leyshock – If you ever find yourself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and you’re looking to improve your hand skills, it might be a good idea to have a conversation with Matt Leyshock. Leyshock, aside from being a successful promoter in his own right, is very active in the training methods and theories behind those he trains. Recently, Leyshock was working with Chris Dempsey for a UFC bout, sharpening his boxing skills.
- Grappling Coach: Patrick Johnston – I really can’t tell you how many times I’ve waffled on my selections, all throughout this article. Amongst my obvious choices were Eddie Vincent and Jason Dignan, chosen for their grappling acumen and clearly demonstrated coaching ability. I almost went with referee extraordinaire Chip Snider. For my team’s grappling coach, I’m going with Pat Johnston. Pat is a second degree black belt in Judo, a black belt in traditional Jiu-Jitsu, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Coupled with his own grappling expertise, Johnston is also a very capable coach, coaching the Dignan Brothers Jiu-Jitsu competition through numerous tournaments.
There you have it, fight fans. If the International Fight League were still up and running, and if Pittsburgh had a team, those would be my selections. I plan on doing the draft yearly, and I hope you get involved with me. In fact, I think it would be a lot of fun to make this a yearly co-venture with the other media outlets and do a yearly draft.
Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!