IFL Crowns Five Champions

By Scott Holmes, Getty Images and Jim Rogash Dec 30, 2007
UNCASVILLE, Conn., Dec. 29 -- The Mohegan Sun Arena sits smack dab in the middle of New England, but local fans didn't seem to care a bit that their Patriots were chasing perfection. Nor did it matter that there was another high-profile MMA event happening, as 5,731 diehard fans turned out for the IFL Grand Prix finals on Saturday night.

The card was stacked, and with five title fights it was evenly matched across the board. The fights were stellar and some major upsets occurred, namely with IFL poster boy Chris Horodecki (Pictures) getting destroyed by late-replacement Ryan Schultz (Pictures).

Horodecki never got the chance to get his game going, as Schultz figured out a way to keep the undefeated fighter on the ground and out of his element.

Schultz used his left hand to pin Horodecki's right arm, leaving the 20-year-old lightweight defenseless to stop the vicious shots that came in a flurry. The young Canadian ate a multitude of hard rights until the fight was called at 2:51 of the first round.

Schultz wasn't even supposed to be in the tournament, but injuries to other opponents allowed him to slip in and take revenge against the IFL's youngest fighter, whom Schultz had lost to last year.

"I probably made some people some money," said Schultz, who was a heavy underdog in the sports books. "Tonight Matt [Lindland] was just like, ‘Just do what you do.' We went over a good game plan. He knows what I know what to do, just go after him, take him down, smother the distance, take his back and finish it."

Schultz's coach Matt Lindland (Pictures) talked about the difficulties Schultz had early in his career thanks to rushing into tough fights without building up his skill sets.

"He's had a chance since the season ended to be in the room everyday and do a lot of skill building, stay in shape and help other guys get ready for fights," Lindland said.

The work paid off for Schultz, who improved to 18-9-1 and captured the IFL lightweight crown.

Middleweight Matt Horwich (Pictures) came out to the ring sporting a new Mohawk resplendent with the IFL colors dyed onto it. Benji "Razor" Radach arrived with less pomp but more circumstance as he befuddled "Suave" early with punches that had Horwich dropping low to get out of trouble. Radach looked as though he would continue his incredible year, but Horwich never goes down easy.

In the second round, the two got into an exchange that turned things around for Horwich. The Team Quest fighter caught Radach on the button with a left hand that caused him to lose his legs. Horwich then pounced, delivering more blows until the ref had to stop the fight at 1:58 in the second round.

Horwich was still in a frenzy when he was pulled off, and Radach stood up wobbly and looked at the ref, genuinely asking, "I was out?"

Horwich said that he saw a flash after getting caught early, but it didn't deter him.

"I decided I was going to stick to the game plan and try to keep the pressure on him," said Horwich, the first IFL middleweight champion. "I think I got the knockout by following the kick up with a right straight, lead hook.

"It's the best that the fight could have went," Horwich continued. "I got another knockout on my record. Hopefully I can continue to improve my standup and wrestling, jiu-jitsu and all facets of my game in every fight. By many wise advisements and councils, battles are won."

Jay Hieron (Pictures) came into the welterweight title fight using a smart plan of keeping his distance to avoid ending up on the ground with Delson Heleno (Pictures). Anytime that Hieron did get in close, it was to tag Heleno, who kept his hands very low.

Heleno threw a kick that looked to have injured his leg, and Hieron seized the moment by bum rushing him and hitting him with some uppercuts and a shot that laid the Brazilian out. Hieron kept the pressure by dropping bombs from on high as the first round ended.

Heleno was left face down grimacing in pain from the injury, and he was carried out by a trainer while Hieron and the Xtreme Couture team relished his new IFL GP belt.

"I've been wrestling since I was 14 years old, so that's my foundation, but I got very well versed in striking, so that was my game plan -- to stay on the feet," Hieron said. "I seen he was hurt, so I smelled blood and jumped on him."

Many people thought that Wagnney Fabiano (Pictures) was a favorite to win the Grand Prix at 155 pounds. With the new 145-pound division added, he became a very heavy favorite despite facing an undefeated fighter in LC Davis (Pictures).

Fabiano showed why he is such a dangerous opponent by making Davis pay with an armbar the moment Davis made a mistake. Davis pushed off with his right arm to get out from underneath, but Fabiano quickly wrapped his body around the arm, causing the tap at 3:38 in the first round.

Davis left the ring devastated by his first loss. Fabiano celebrated his featherweight championship with Carlos Newton (Pictures) and Pitbull coach Renzo Gracie (Pictures).

Two celebrated ground fighters decided to stand and bang when Roy "Big Country" Nelson met Antoine Jaoude (Pictures) in the first title fight of the night.

Nelson and Jaoude both ate some big punches until Nelson countered a leg kick with an overhand right that stunned the big Brazilian. Jaoude survived, and any attempt he made to take Nelson down was easily stuffed. Nelson kept things standing, and both men ended the first round swinging for the fences.

Jaoude seemed to be dazed at the end of the first. Nelson wasted no time getting after him when the bell rang, and he loaded up a right hand that connected and caused Jaoude to wobble and fall to the mat. "Big Country" then pounced instantly, pounding him with another shot or two until the ref stepped in.

With the win 20 seconds into the second round, Nelson became the IFL heavyweight Grand Prix champ.

Afterward Nelson talked about keeping the fight on his feet. "That was our game plan because I figured I had a little better standup than he did," Nelson said. "After the Ben [Rothwell] fight, all I do is keep improving my standup. He hit me a couple of times, I hit him and one of us finally went down."

Tim Kennedy (Pictures) rebounded from a very close loss against Jason Miller just a few weeks ago by beating up Elias Rivera in frightening fashion.

Rivera turtled up after getting mounted, and Kennedy delivered heavy blows that knocked out the older fighter at two minutes into the first round. Rivera is a local fighter who had everyone worried when he failed to respond while unconscious. Medical officials rushed in, and luckily Rivera had movement in his extremities before he was placed on a stretcher and taken away for observation.

Kennedy wished he hadn't hit Rivera so much and talked about the way the fight finished.

"I think four or five really flush kind of on the button shots," Kennedy said. "He was pretty much out at three, and I lightened up the last couple and looked for a stoppage"

Rory Markham (Pictures) and Brett Cooper (Pictures) got the crowd going in the second fight of the night, as both men came out swinging for the fences. Each connected, but it was Markham who got the better of the exchanges, rocking Cooper early on.

Cooper may be young, but he hung tough like a veteran, weathering the storm and some submission attempts. Markham landed repeated high kicks and had Cooper playing catch-up with his punches.

In the second round, Cooper connected with several hard punches that seemed to slow Markham down. Cooper smelled blood and finished Markham off with solid combinations that dropped him onto the mat, where the ref called off the attack at 1:15 in the second round.

Marcello Salazar has only one loss on his record. On Saturday he avenged that loss in his fight against Alex Cook.

Cook spent most of the fight in Salazar's guard, where he wasn't able to get much of anything going. Salazar stayed busy in all three rounds and poured on the ground-and-pound during the final four minutes to take a unanimous decision.
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