IFL Exodus: Where the Fighters Have Gone

By Tim Leidecker Aug 21, 2008
The International Fight League ceased active operation July 31, its final event having taken place on May 16 in Connecticut. It was the 22nd show in a little more than two years for the New York-based promotion.

Looking at the aftermath from a zoological perspective, one could go so far as to say the blood had not even grown cold before hyenas from rival organizations were tearing at its carcass and recruiting its best talent.

On the other hand, dozens of solid veterans and a handful of up-and-coming stars became unemployed and had to look for other opportunities to work. In this article, Sherdog.com traces the whereabouts of the now-defunct league’s top talent and speculates on what may await fighters like Chris Horodecki (Pictures), Ryan Schultz (Pictures) and Rory Markham (Pictures) in their new homes.

From the IFL to the UFC

It has been rumored, though never confirmed, that the UFC’s parent company, Zuffa LLC, was in the market to move on the assets of the IFL in a manner similar to the purchase of the World Fighting Alliance in 2006 and the acquisition of Pride Fighting Championships in 2007. The Las Vegas-based promotion has already swooped in for some of the more prominent talent, signing Matt Horwich (Pictures) and Mike Massenzio, as well as the Miller brothers, Dan and Jim.

Photo by Jeff Sherwood
Brad Blackburn deposits Chris
Wilson
on the canvas en route
to a unanimous decision victory
on Sept. 9, 2006 in Portland, Ore.
Another quartet of former IFL fighters has already debuted for its new employer: Reese Andy (Pictures), Brad Blackburn (Pictures), Andre Gusmao (Pictures) and Markham. While Markham and Blackburn started the next phase of their careers victoriously, Andy and Gusmao came up short against former heavyweight contender Brandon Vera (Pictures) and undefeated prospect Jon Jones, respectively.

In the short-term, Horwich and Markham appear to have the best résumés and the best chance to advance quickly in the UFC. Horwich will square off against Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ricardo Almeida (Pictures) at UFC 90 on Oct. 25. While the UFC will likely place the bout on the undercard of the middleweight title fight between Anderson Silva (Pictures) and Patrick Cote (Pictures), a decisive win could propel Horwich into the promotion’s top 10 middleweights.

Markham, on the other hand, remains without a definite opponent, but he could find himself facing much more serious competition in his sophomore appearance inside the Octagon. Possible opponents for the Pat Miletich (Pictures) protégé include highly ranked “The Ultimate Fighter” alumni Josh Koscheck (Pictures) and Mike Swick (Pictures). He could even face former welterweight title challenger Jon Fitch (Pictures) in his first fight after a brutal five-round war with Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) at UFC 87.

Is Affliction the new IFL?

Affliction, perhaps Zuffa’s strongest rival in the North American market, has brought in quality over quantity. Three of the athletes wearing championship belts at the time of the IFL’s demise -- heavyweight Roy Nelson (Pictures), light heavyweight Vladimir Matyushenko (Pictures) and welterweight Jay Hieron (Pictures) -- have signed with the popular clothing company, along with the league’s baby-faced poster boy, Chris Horodecki (Pictures).

While the IFL produced plenty of good fighters who deserve their crack at the big leagues, it managed to create just one genuine star in the Canadian teenager. Horodecki burst on the scene at just 18 years of age and won his first seven bouts with the IFL, displaying crisp punching and kicking and a surprising maturity and versatility for his age. His opponents were far from slouches, as he defeated the highly experienced Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) twice. Not until his second meeting with Team Quest’s Schultz did someone get the best of the Team Tompkins fighter.

After a bidding war broke out for the young knockout artist -- all major promotions were reportedly after his services, including the UFC, EliteXC, Dream and Sengoku -- Horodecki chose Affliction. He will make his promotional debut at “Day of Reckoning” on Oct. 11 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Possible opponents range from former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez (Pictures) and Jorge Masvidal (Pictures) to Brazilian ace Rafael dos Anjos, European standout Bendy Casimir (Pictures) and American Dan Lauzon (Pictures).

Scattered pieces, leftovers

Other former IFL regulars -- including Schultz, the lightweight champion -- have had to search far and wide for work. “The Lion” ended Horodecki’s fantastic run of 11 straight wins when he scored a brutal TKO victory over the young Canadian in the lightweight final at the IFL World Grand Prix in December. After two title defenses against John Gunderson (Pictures) and Deividas Taurosevicius (Pictures), Schultz jumped ship to Japan where he signed a multi-fight deal with Sengoku.

Schultz will make his first appearance for Sengoku this Sunday in the first round of the promotion’s eight-man lightweight tournament. He will take on Cage Force titleholder Mizuto Hirota (Pictures). The tournament winner will face former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Takanori Gomi (Pictures) for the vacant Sengoku belt at some point in the future.

Photo by Matthew Kaplowitz
Jake Ellenberger bounces a
kick off the face of Pat Healy
on Feb. 29, 2008 in Las Vegas.
Like Schultz, Jake Ellenberger (Pictures) is in for some long-distance flights as part of the United States team in the M-1 Challenge. In a country-versus-country competition, the Omaha, Neb., native will travel all over Europe and Asia defending the red, white and blue. The 23-year-old Bodog Fight veteran got off to a flying start with a win on points over dangerous French jiu-jitsu player Farouk Lakebir four weeks ago in Japan.

A fighter who left the IFL flock early was Brazilian Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante. The light heavyweight from Rio de Janeiro was part of the Toronto Dragons in the IFL and split a pair of bouts with Devin Cole (Pictures) and countryman Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz in 2007, losing to the latter by disqualification. Since the beginning of this year, he has fought exclusively for EliteXC and knocked out all three of his opponents in the first round. "Feijao" is now a hot contender for the vacant 205-pound title.

Other IFL mainstays remain without major-league contracts, including featherweight champion Wagnney Fabiano (Pictures), light heavyweight Mike Ciesnolevicz (Pictures), welterweight Delson Heleno (Pictures) and lightweights Taurosevicius and Mark Miller (Pictures). Any promotion could bolster its ranks with one or more of these five standouts.
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