The IFL’s “New Blood – New Battles” season opener goes down tonight at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, with Team Tompkins set to do battle against Mario Sperry’s World Class Fight Center, and Matt Lindland‘s Team Quest facing off against Ken Shamrock‘s Lions Den. Also, title-holders Ryan Schultz (lightweight), Matt Horwich (middleweight), and Roy Nelson (heavyweight) will defend their belts against John Gunderson, Ryan McGivern, and Fabiano Scherner, respectively. TheFightingLife‘s Ben Fowlkes (who also writes news for IFL.tv) has been on the scene since Tuesday and gave us this glimpse into the high-tension among the fighters before the event. Watch the action tonight on HDNet, starting at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT.
Covering the IFL for the past year and a half, here’s one lesson I’ve learned: during any interview with Matt Lindland, he’s going to get mad at me at least once. I can never tell what will cause it; it could be anything. This time it’s Kimbo Slice.
It’s the day before the IFL Las Vegas event and we’re interviewing all the fighters and coaches. It can be monotonous, to say the least. We get just about everyone to weigh in on Kimbo, but as soon as I ask what Lindland thinks of him, the mood of the interview changes.
“He’s a bum,” says Lindland. The look on his face tells me to leave it alone. I ask what he means by that. He glares at me. I bring this on myself. I really do.
“I mean he’s a bum,” he says. “He’s a nobody. What do you want me to say? You asked me what I thought and I told you. I don’t have anything else to say about him.”
The hell of it is, despite how ornery he can be I really like Lindland. I can’t help it. Even when he gives me the look like he’s trying to figure out how one human being ever got to be this stupid, at least I know it’s sincere. You have to respect honesty like that.
Writing about fighters, sometimes honesty is difficult to gauge. Do these two guys really hate each other, I find myself asking, or are they just trying to hype the fight? In the build-up to Friday night’s IFL event, I wondered this about Ian Loveland and Dennis Davis, two former teammates who are slated to go at it.
When I asked Loveland about the fight, he seemed supremely confident. He told me all about how he trashed Davis in a sparring session a few months (just for the record, Loveland also claimed not to have ever heard of Kimbo Slice because he doesn’t “watch the internet”).
I put Loveland’s comments in an article and Davis took umbrage. I couldn’t be sure how much of the animosity was real until this afternoon at the weigh-in. The two of them got right in each other’s face and the whole room got quiet. It’s strange how you can tell the difference between guys going through the motions during the customary staredown photo-op and guys who really mean it. These guys meant it. Suddenly I’m really looking forward to this fight.
A similar thing happened in the build-up to the Ryan Schultz/John Gunderson fight. When Gunderson heard some of the things that Schultz said about him — that he’d turned down prior offers to fight, that he was decent at everything but not as good as Schultz at anything — he was livid. They both have a grudging respect for one another, but it’s the kind of respect that’s punctuated by a strong desire to smash the other guy’s face.
But then there are the fights that aren’t like that at all. The middleweight championship bout between Matt Horwich and Ryan McGivern is a good example. Both those guys are so nice, it’s hard to promote the fight. There’s more acrimony at an intramural softball game. Horwich in particular seems like he’s never been mad at anyone. He even explained that he prefers submissions because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.
“Matt Lindland explained to me that sometimes you have to hit people,” he said. “So I’ve tried to get better at that.”
This is part of the reason that even guys who’ve been beat by Horwich can’t harbor any animosity toward him. He always has that oddly serene look on his face. Remember Thulsa Doom in “Conan the Barbarian”? That scene where he stares at Conan’s mother and you think he’s this gentle creature who couldn’t possibly hurt her, and right then he chops off her head? It’s kind of like that.
Now, with the weigh-ins over, we begin the wait for Friday night. That’s when I always find myself ringside, my laptop open, anxious for the fights to start and wondering how it can be that I actually get paid for this. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can’t wait to find out.