Schultz Set for First IFL Title Defense

Feb 28, 2008
An unlikely champion will make his first title defense Friday when Team Quest's Ryan Schultz (Pictures) puts his International Fight League lightweight belt on the line in Las Vegas. Now living in Estacada, Ore., Schultz certainly has the credentials to hold a belt. He is the only fighter to beat Roger Huerta (Pictures) or Chris Horodecki (Pictures).

A potentially career-killing string of bad fights had relegated him to an afterthought for IFL Grand Prix organizers. He ended up in the finals, though, and beat Horodecki in the biggest upset of the tournament.

Not bad for a guy who was planning to spend his years fixing toilets.

"If my wrestling career had gone differently, I might not be fighting at all," Schultz said. "I felt like I had a lot of unfinished business."

Schultz grew up in North Platte, Neb., and went to college in Lincoln, four hours to the east. He barely knew of coach Matt Lindland (Pictures) when he arrived at the University of Nebraska in 1998. Lindland, who would eventually win a silver medal in the 2000 Olympics, had just begun to dabble in mixed martial arts and would provide the eventual bridge to Team Quest.

"I was about .500 as a wrestler," Schultz said. "I was all right. Things just never went my way."

Schultz's career was derailed by a string of injuries and invasive surgeries: both knees, abdominals ripped from the bone, shaving down the pubis bone.

Lindland left Nebraska before Schultz's senior year to start Team Quest. Schultz graduated with a degree in criminal justice and moved into the workforce. After a stint in construction, he moved to Colorado to become a plumber.

"I was done competing for a while," Schultz said. "I was focusing on other things."

But then he got a call from Riley Hughes, a wrestling buddy from North Platte.

"We need to get a van and road trip to North Dakota," Hughes said.

Schultz asked why.

"I entered you in a fight," Hughes said.

So on April 12, 2004, Schultz and a van full of friends arrived at a New Town, N.D., casino to fight in Dan Severn (Pictures)'s Danger Zone promotion.

"They had been wanting me to fight because I am a feisty guy," Schultz said. "But I hadn't been training at all. And I had no idea what to expect. I show up with my drunk friends, and everyone is coming out with their teams and Thai pads."

Schultz put a thankful end to the bizarre scene with a 45-second knockout in his first and only amateur fight. Meanwhile, Lindland had been making noise in the MMA community himself, compiling a 6-1 record in the UFC. A few days later, pupil and teacher met for dinner at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Inevitably the topic turned to MMA.

"I told him he could make some money if he came to Oregon," Lindland said. "He only had one fight, but he had always been a street fighter. He is a tough kid."

Two months later, Schultz was living with Lindland in Eagle Creek, Ore., and training at Team Quest, which was just being recognized as one of the top gyms in the world. Schultz would fight 10 times in the next year, compiling an 8-2 record including his win over Huerta.

Like another Team Quest product fighting this weekend, Schultz gained a reputation for ignoring his wrestling skills in search of a knockout.

"A lot of people make that comparison to Dan Henderson (Pictures)," Lindland said. "Ryan has a big right hand and he can knock people out. He can also wrestle. He can also be tough to corner if he doesn't follow his game plan."

While avoiding the injury bug that haunted his wrestling days, Schultz still fell on hard times as a fighter. He went 3-7-1 from January 2005 to December 2006, a potential career-killer by any standard. He lost his first fight against Horodecki in November 2006 while fighting for the IFL's Portland Wolfpack.

"When Ryan fought Horodecki the first time, he wasn't focused," Lindland said. "He had been given medicine for high blood pressure, and it made him sluggish. He just wasn't 100 percent, and it showed."

After a knockout loss to Bart Palaszewski (Pictures) in December forced Schultz to miss his next fight, the "Lion" returned to the drawing board.

"I like to get in and bang with guys," Schultz said. "I'm learning how to use my wrestling to my advantage. This sport is so dynamic. It takes years and years to perfect what you are doing."

After a four-month layoff, Schultz earned decisions over Joe Sampieri (Pictures) and Savant Young (Pictures), but he was not selected for the IFL Grand Prix. A series of events placed him in a rematch with Horodecki, however, on Dec. 29 for the lightweight title.

"I think I was their fourth choice," Schultz said.

Horodecki was undefeated and becoming the IFL poster boy. Schultz took him down and gave him the first beatdown of his career, winning by TKO in the first round.

"I beat Huerta and I had a draw with Gesias Calvancante (Pictures), but in terms of notoriety and attention, that was my biggest win," Schultz said. "My pay went up. Requests for interviews went up."

On Friday, Schultz defends his IFL lightweight title against John Gunderson (Pictures) of Ken Shamrock (Pictures)'s Lion's Den.

"I know him pretty well," Schultz said. "I respect him as a fighter and a person, so there is no bad blood there."

Unlike Horodecki, whose standup is far ahead of his ground game, Gunderson is well-rounded.

"I think that I am better everywhere than he is," Schultz said. "Wherever I want the fight to go, I will make it go."

The 30-year-old Schultz is signed to a two-year deal with the IFL. After that?

"I am loyal to the IFL, but when all is said and done, I want to be the best 155-pound fighter of all time," he said. "To do that, I need to go where the best fighters are, whether the IFL or somewhere else."
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