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Monday, June 26, 2006
Mixed Martial Arts--- IFL Announcement Raises New Questions
by Ivan Trembow
Originally Published on MMAWeekly

As has been speculated in MMAWeekly's Rumors section for over a week, the IFL has announced that the company's next two shows will take place on September 9th in Portland, Oregon, and on September 23rd in Moline, Illinois.

In addition, all of the teams in the IFL now have a team name that includes the city where the team is based. On September 9th in Portland, Oregon, the Matt Lindland-coached Portland Wolfpack will take on Maurice Smith's Seattle Tiger Sharks in a five-fight team series. On the same card, Bas Rutten's Los Angeles Anacondas will take on Antonio Inoki's Tokyo Dragons.

Two weeks after the Portland event, the IFL's next show will take place on September 23rd in Moline, Illinois. That show will feature a super-fight between Renzo Gracie and Pat Miletich, who will be fighting for the first time since 2002. On the same night, Pat Miletich's Quad City Silverbacks will be taking on Renzo Gracie's New York Pitbulls in a team series. Another team battle on September 23rd will pit two of the IFL's new teams against each other, as Mark Coleman's Columbus (Ohio) Razor Claws will take on Carlos Newton's Toronto Dragons.

Both of these shows are expected to air nationally on Fox Sports Net at some point, but the specific details and air dates have not yet been determined.

In addition to what the IFL did say, the company's official announcement has raised several interesting questions in what wasn't said. While the Gracie vs. Miletich super-fight was announced for the September 23rd card, there was no super-fight announced for the September 9th card. This might simply mean that there is no super-fight scheduled for the September 9th card (as it is, there will be ten fights on the card), but it could also mean that something is still in the works.

Among the coaches on the September 9th card in Portland, Maurice Smith and Antonio Inoki are not active MMA fighters, and Bas Rutten will be fighting on the WFA's July pay-per-view for the first time in seven years, so he's not likely to be fighting with such frequency that he would be back in the ring less than two months after his WFA fight.

That would presumably leave Matt Lindland to face someone who is not an IFL coach, if indeed there's going to be a super-fight on the Portland card. Lindland could face any number of opponents, but one possible opponent who immediately comes to mind is Jeremy Horn, given the fact that Horn's UFC contract just expired after he went 2-0 in the UFC's middleweight division.

Horn has not signed with the IFL as far as I'm aware, but it's a scenario that would make a lot of sense and would pit two of the world's top middleweights against each other. Horn, who is based in Salt Lake City, would also make a good coach in the IFL if the company decides to add more new coaches in the future.

Another question that has to be raised is whether Carlos Newton and/or Mark Coleman are going to have one or more super-fights in the IFL now that both are officially on-board as IFL coaches.

Carlos Newton hasn't fought since 2004, but the possibilities for match-ups with other IFL coaches are numerous. Newton vs. Miletich would be particularly intriguing given the fact that Newton is one of just six fighters who have beaten Miletich in his 40+ fight career.

Mark Coleman's last fight was in February of this year against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in Pride, a fight that ended when Shogun landed awkwardly and dislocated his elbow. One of Coleman's Hammer House pupils, Wes Sims, recently lost to Daniel Gracie in an IFL super-fight, so a follow-up match with Coleman vs. Daniel Gracie could be interesting.

With the announcement of the team cities and names in the IFL, several positive and negative factors arise. The key to live attendance in mixed martial arts is generating interest specifically in the local market. The Strikeforce promotion reiterated that point when it broke the all-time North American paid attendance record earlier this year, in great part by making its show feel like a must-see event to everyone who lives in San Jose.

A promotion can't just go into a new town and expect to draw money at the live gate right off the bat if there's no local tie-in, and the city/team names will almost certainly help with that. The hometown teams could also generate tremendous crowd heat during the shows, and might also increase the chances (or at least make the chances higher than zero) that someone from Portland, for example, might buy a t-shirt that says, "Portland Wolfpack."

The obvious downside to having teams with specific city designations is that it could turn off viewers who aren't from one of the host cities, and the IFL still needs to draw TV ratings. This is not unlike what professional sports leagues like the NBA have to face when the only teams left are Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks... ratings go through the roof in Miami and Dallas, but the ratings in the rest of the country rise or fall based on how much the public at large cares or doesn't care about the teams.

The interest level, and thus the ratings, for specific games during the NBA and NFL seasons are consistently determined on a week-by-week basis by these two questions: "How many people from these two local markets want to see their teams compete?" and "How many people who aren't from either of these two markets still care about these teams enough to want to see them compete?"

If the answer to the first question is that they are both small-market teams, and the answer to the second question is that not many people outside of those two markets care enough to want to see those two teams compete, that's how you get low ratings for Monday Night Football on a particular week. That's how you get the kind of low ratings for the NBA Finals that the match-up of the Detroit Pistons vs. the San Antonio Spurs produced in June of 2005.

It remains to be seen how the average TV viewer will react when he or she hears about the IFL's next FSN show or stumbles upon it while flipping channels. Only time will tell if viewers are going to see a team match-up such as the Seattle Tiger Sharks vs. the Portland Wolfpack and say, "I'm not from Portland or Seattle, so I don't really care," or whether they will still be interested in seeing the match-up based purely on the merits of the teams or an enjoyment of the sport in general.

For the viewers who are MMA fans in general, but who might look at the team match-ups and say, "I'm not from City A or City B, so I don't really care," the IFL needs to provide these viewers a reason to stick around by giving them some of the aforementioned super-fights, or other fights that would appeal to a broader audience.

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