Sherdog Exclusive: Miletich Talks IFL and Dana White

By Steven Curtis Mar 21, 2006
Started by two long-time mixed martial arts fans, Gareb Shamus, founder of Wizard Entertainment, and real estate investor Kurt Otto, the International Fight League, which debuts April 29 in Atlantic City, is bringing an altogether different approach to the sport.

While some details are still being worked out here’s what we know. There will be four teams — the Pitbulls, Anacondas, Silverbacks and Tigersharks — of five fighters each.

Each team will have one fighter in the lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight classes. One team will vie against another with 10 fights in two separate brackets. Win three out of five fights and your team advances to the next round, approximately six weeks later.

The fights will be conducted in an oversized 24-by-24 five-rope ring, and each bout will consist of three rounds of four minutes each. Fighters will be on salary, will get health insurance, and will be eligible for bonus payouts.

In a exclusive Pat Miletich (Pictures), founder of Miletich Fighting Systems and former 170-pound UFC champion, offers his opinion on many subjects, including his position with the IFL, thoughts on UFC President Dana White and a number of his fighters. For the benefit of those people who are not familiar, can you fill us in on what Dana [White’s] beef was?

Pat Miletich (Pictures): Well, from what I can understand he felt that the IFL hired [former UFC exec] Keith Evans illegally or that there was some illegal thing going on or whatever. In my mind IFL was going to make Dana mad eventually. Dana sometimes gets mad about things. He decided that he was going to sue the IFL for doing things he felt was wrong. I talked to Dana and said that I didn’t think it was a good idea, and tried to remain calm with him, [saying]it’s not necessary. The IFL is going to help the UFC by bringing more notoriety to the sport, so just [let it go]. I mean, why would you blame somebody for hiring a guy who’s qualified? If I’m running a fight organization and Keith Evans says, “I’m available.” I say, “Great, you’re hired.” Be mad at Keith, great. Keith didn’t stick with Zuffa for whatever reasons; there are obvious reasons he didn’t stick with them, that was Dana’s beef, I think, to be honest with you. Hurt his feelings. Hell, I don’t know. Based on your dealings with Dana, was this a surprise to you?

Miletich: No, because he told me he was going to crush him. I had a feeling, and like I said I tried to talk him out of it. Negative stuff like that does nothing but hurt everybody involved. Dana might not realize it but it’s hurting the UFC also. Moving on to IFL. With all due respect to Mr. Otto and Mr. Shamus, to be blunt, why do you need these guys? You’ve got a great team yourself, and you know more about the fight game than anyone. Why not just start your own thing?

Miletich: Because these guys are great businessman. They know how to run a business. I know how to run my business. They know how to run their business. We make a great team together. All the people involved … I’m a small, a very small portion of this thing. I’m one little cog, one wheel in this machine. There’s a lot of people involved in this that are all very qualified people. So it’s a great thing. Gareb’s Wizard Entertainment Company has connections to a lot of TV networks, movie studios, toy companies, comic books, a lot of other magazines; things like that to where we can reach millions and millions of people that have never even seen this sport. I mean, in my hometown, half of my town has no idea what Ultimate Fighting is, and I grew up there my whole life, and there are 40 professional fighters that live there in a town of 40,000 people. Give me a break. How many people out there across the United States alone don’t even know what our sport is and haven’t even been reached yet? That says a lot for IFL. And it’s being marketed with a true league feel and touch. All that stuff is important for bringing in that guy that normally, if he saw fights in a cage, he’d go, “What a joke, this is ridiculous,” and click over to basketball on ESPN. This is a different look, and we want to get people that are normally not interested in the sport to jump onboard. How long has this been in the works?

Miletich: Since about late summer [2005]. I would imagine that you get approached by guys with the “next big idea” all the time.

Miletich: Yeah. So was it Otto and Shamus’s business sense that clinched the deal for you?

Miletich: Yes, but I also just liked the idea. I love the idea. I thought it was great. I grew up wrestling. A lot of people have trouble with the concept of a team thing with fighting. But what they don’t understand is I grew up wrestling my whole life, and all the guys that grew up wrestling their whole life know that it is a team sport and it is also scored individually. So it’s easy to do. Who are the coaches, officially? There have been some changes.

Miletich: Maurice Smith (Pictures), Renzo Gracie (Pictures), Bas Rutten (Pictures) and myself. No Tank Abbott?

Miletich: (laughs) No. Are you an equity owner in this league?

Miletich: No. Did you have any input into the rules or structure of it?

Miletich: Some. Are you at liberty to discuss where you had input?

Miletich: No elbows was my idea. And also pretty much everyone agreed about no elbows, just for the sheer fact of keeping people healthy. You’ve got the “no elbows” rule, you’ve got the ring, you’ve got the shorter rounds. What do you say to the fan that says this is UFC or PRIDE lite?

Miletich: I’d say wait till you see the fights and you’ll understand that these guys are the real deal. Each team has an operating budget, correct?

Miletich: Yes. Are you acting as coach and GM? Do you handle that budget, or does IFL?

Miletich: After we get out of the preseason, I’ll be given a budget to work with, and I’ll take care of my fighters the way I have to. Obviously the books will be looked at by IFL. So you’re like Pat Riley to the Miami Heat: coach and manager of operations?

Miletich: Yes. Can your top fighters compete, or is it only new faces we’ll see?

Miletich: It won’t be just new faces, there’s going to be some veterans, some Pay-Per-View veterans that are going to be in there. My job as a coach is not this season necessarily. My job is to build a foundation for successful reign for many years to come, so I decided to go with young fighters that have very good records that I know are capable of destroying people and doing it for several years down the road. I don’t want a guy that’s been on Pay-Per-View for 10 years and is at the end of his career just because I want to win this year. Even though I think we’ll dominate the first year. Can you discuss the TV deal?

Miletich: There are negotiations [underway]. I really can’t talk about that. Turning to Team Miletich for a minute. You’ve got one of the best, if not the best brands in the business. Obviously that is going to attract talent. Are you finding now with the competition that you need to do anything differently to attract guys to your camp? Do you recruit?

Miletich: I never recruit. The only thing I do — because we’ve started such a strong affiliate program now that we’re really getting a lot of affiliate schools — what I can do from that, the guys who graduate from the affiliate programs into my facility, who are the cream of the crop from their gyms. Then come to my place to get fine-tuned and get even better, and get more fights at a higher level, until they make it to pay-per-view. It’s a great system. So you now have your own farm system.

Miletich: Absolutely. Whatever I can do to help any of those guys that have dreams or aspirations of getting there. It’s a great way for a guy like me, who loves to teach. But there’s too many people out there to teach; it’s a great way for me to touch people’s lives sometimes without even having taught them. Because I’m teaching the guys that are teaching them. One way or another they’re learning good stuff. Once they come out to your facility, are they officially still a free agent? Or do they sign with you as well?

Miletich: I’ve done no paperwork with anyone. I’ve never signed a contract with any of my fighters. If they’re not happy with the way we’re doing things, they’re more than free to go somewhere else. As a coach, you’re at the top of the pyramid, but I would imagine you wouldn’t stay there as long as you have if you’re not constantly pushing the envelope yourself. So what do you do to learn new stuff? Do you bring other guys in? Do you reach out to other coaches?

Miletich: You’ve definitely got to have an open mind, and you’re always looking to improve. But also at the same time, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s different ways of wrestling, there’s different ways of doing jiu-jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, everything else. But still, fundamentals are always going to win. The guys that have the strongest fundamentals in all the areas of fighting are gonna win. The best Olympic wrestlers on the planet — I say this time and time again — are using single-legs and double-legs, just like they were doing in first grade. They just do them better than anybody else in the world. You can’t stop ‘em. It doesn’t matter if you know my game, if you know I’m going to come in and do certain things in my fight, you still have to be good enough to stop it. So we’re always going at things with an open mind; we always use things that work and are proven. We have no problem absorbing new material and adding it into the system, that’s the beauty of throwing the ego out the window and saying, “Nobody’s the best in the world. Maybe for one night I was, at one time in my life, whatever — but you’ve just got to say, ‘Hey, that’s a great technique, let’s use it.’” Let’s turn to your camp. I’ll leave this one open-ended: Matt Hughes (Pictures).

Miletich: Matt Hughes (Pictures). Continues his dominance, and I believe will continue his dominance for as long as he probably wants to. He said he felt Royce (Gracie) was behind the times, but is he altering his preparation in any way for that fight? How much does he vary the approach based on the fighter?

Miletich: Our approach is really always the same: we always work on ground and stand-up. We work wrestling, whether it’s offense/defense, we work the same amount pretty much for anybody that we fight. If you’re not a well-rounded fighter then you don’t belong in the game. Just because he’s fighting Royce doesn’t mean he’s working more on his jiu-jitsu. To be honest with you, he’s probably working more on his throws so he can launch Royce directly onto his head and then throttle him to within an inch of his life, and then submit him just to prove a point. Matt is setting out to prove a point with Royce in this fight. Not suggesting Matt is looking ahead, but can we talk about Georges St. Pierre (Pictures)?

Miletich: Let’s first get back to Royce — Matt’s mad. Matt’s offended that Royce is even getting in the ring with him and thinking he’s gonna win. First of all, Matt thinks that way for everybody, it doesn’t matter who you are. The fact that you get in the ring with him, he’s offended that you have the balls to climb in the ring with him and think you’re going to win. That’s just his mentality. Back to GSP. Hasn’t his game improved since the first fight?

Miletich: Yeah, I think he’s improved; I definitely think he’s improved. I think everybody improves the longer they’re in it. Has he improved enough to beat Matt? I don’t think so. Matt’s always going to be stronger than him. Matt’s always going to move better than him when it comes to wrestling and grappling. He’s never gonna out-power Matt. He’s a strong kid, but until Matt’s 45 he’s not going to out-power Matt. He may catch him. I’ve been wrong, Georges is a great fighter. Georges is the next best fighter in that weight division without a doubt in the world. Moving to Tim Sylvia (Pictures). Obviously a tough loss to Arlovski the first time around. How is the approach this time going to be different?

Miletich: Fundamentals. He lost last time for not paying attention to fundamentals, but trust me he’s been working a lot on that. Nothing fancy. You don’t need anything fancy to beat guys. Jens Pulver (Pictures).

Miletich: Jens is fighting the beginning of April over in Japan, not exactly sure who he is fighting. But without a doubt Jens will go over and make it exciting. Jens could fight his sister or he could fight King Kong and he’ll make it exciting. He’s a showman and he’s a great fighter. Jens plans on using all of his tools this time instead of just his boxing skills. He got in that mindset that he had to just box and bang and turn it into a brawl and wanted the crowd on their feet. What he was forgetting about is that winning gets you paid more. So you felt he was focusing on boxing too much?

Miletich: It wasn’t that so much as he was more concerned with putting on a show for the crowd because he knew the Japanese people loved that. That’s what he wanted to do, and he still loves doing that. How about Robbie? Some people felt he was a candidate for comeback fighter of the year last year. As a coach, what did you do to keep his confidence up, his head in the game after the tough losses in 2004?

Miletich: Everything happens for a reason. I think Rob needed that stuff to happen to realize that he couldn’t depend on just ability alone, just going out and throwing bombs and trying to get people with every punch. Rob’s now matured as a fighter so much that in the room, being deadly honest with you, in the room when Rob spars or grapples very rarely at any moment, in any practice, can anybody hang with Rob. When Rob wants to open up, Tim Sylvia (Pictures) will be gassed in three rounds. That’s saying how good Rob is, because Tim Sylvia (Pictures) hits hard and he’s a great fighter. Rob is just so smart at fighting in the room, and now finally in the ring, that he’s got the potential to be — if, if — he truly works hard, he’s got the potential to be probably the best guy ever to come out of the camp, and that’s saying some crazy stuff with guys like Pulver and Hughes and all these other guys that have come out. So are you hinting that he hasn’t worked as hard as you’d like?

Miletich: When he was younger, he was depending on ability a lot, and he was injured a lot also. I’ve got to cut the kid some slack, because the three losses that he’s got, were fights he never really trained for because he was hurt the entire time. That had a lot to do with it too. You have to give Rob a lot of credit for going into those fights, not having trained enough and injured. Hey, you’re young; you’re injured; you need the money; and you feel you can do it anyway, more power to him. He’s got a lot of guts. Now that Rob is performing in the ring the way he does in the room, with sharp, crisp punches, any time he wipes his hands on people they’re gonna fall. So is IFL next or UFC next?

Miletich: [Icon], for all of next year. Rob signed an exclusive contract with [Icon], and he’ll go with nowhere else, unless somebody’s willing to buy out that quarter million dollar contract and pay Rob quite well. Anybody else in the stable you’d like to comment on?

Miletich: We’ve got so many tough guys coming up, they’ve fought a lot but look for the IFL to be exciting. We’ve got a lot of guys fighting in the UFC coming up. Spencer Fisher (Pictures) just had a loss in the UFC but it was a great performance coming off a week’s vacation down in North Carolina, then cutting 20 pounds in two days. On a last minutes notice they called him in to fight, went in and had a war, so great things for him coming up. But also, April 6, we’ve got three guys: Sam Hoger (Pictures), Josh Neer (Pictures) and our big boy, “The Hillbilly Heartthrob.” Those guys are fighting. Everybody needs a gimmick, right?

Miletich: Yeah (laughs). The 15th is Sylvia-Arlovski, then we roll into May for Hughes-Gracie, and again, Pulver in April over in Japan. Can you comment on the fight promotion company you’ve got in the works?

Miletich: Discussions have started. But first things first — we’re concentrating on the affiliate program and the fight game. That’s all we’re doing. With the affiliate program we’ve got people interested in London, Madrid, Beijing, up in Canada, all over the United States, so we’ve got a lot of good things happening. We welcome all people who are interested in taking a look at that program. We’re going to have a lot of fun with it, we’re going to cover the globe with Miletich fighting systems, and really educate people on what fighting is all about. How many affiliate schools do you have now?

Miletich: We have six that are actually open, and about 14 will be open in the next couple of months. So we’re hearing rumors of a comeback. Can you talk about it?

Miletich: Yes, I am [coming back]. It will be this summer against a big name opponent. I can’t say exactly who it is. Feel free to tell us.

Miletich: I wish I could (laughs). I wish I could open my mouth, but it’s a fight that I’ve wanted for a lot of years. We’re great friends and when we talked about fighting each other we laughed. We said, “Yeah, let’s go out and knock the living hell out of each other and put on a great show for the crowd.” It’s going to be a lot of fun. The card is exceptional from top to bottom, the fighters that are on it are phenomenal. As a businessman, the sport’s peaking and I would imagine it would be hard to turn down a comeback. It’s great for you [financially] and Miletich Fighting Systems in general. Is that what’s driving these comebacks lately?

Miletich: For me, I was the one pushing for this and the reason I was is because I had a neck injury three years ago and I didn’t want my body to tell me when I had to quit. I’ve rebuilt my body completely. My neck’s solid. I’ve taken some heavy strikes from my fighters, punches and kicks. That doesn’t bother me, so I’m ready to rock and roll. I’m guessing training’s a way of life for you, so you probably don’t have to turn it up too much to get in fighting shape, or am I wrong?

Miletich: No, I need to turn it up a lot. I mean, I can still go in and spar 12 rounds with pretty much any of my guys — minus Lawler and maybe some of my big guys, some of the heavyweights. But just for the sheer fact that I have to lift hard, I have to run hard, I have to wrestle hard, I have to spar hard, I have to hit mitts, Thai pads, I have to stretch a lot, there’s a lot of things that I always did for fights that I don’t do as a coach as much. As a coach, I’m an extra body. I’ll get in there and bang with Matt Hughes (Pictures) for six rounds, 10 rounds, whatever, sparring, but because I’m not in shape I’m getting hurt because of it. I’m not doing my running and lifting and things like that — I’m just an extra body right now. So I need to rebuild my body so that I’m not getting hurt, which I’ve been in the process of doing the past couple of months. How much training do you think you’ll need to get there?

Miletich: Twelve weeks of very intense training and I’ll be 100 percent.
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