One of the things I’ve always loved about fighting is that it is a prism through which a man’s true character can be viewed. Never was that more evident to me than at last night’s IFL Finals, particularly in the bout between Ben Rothwell and Ricco Rodriguez.
If you’ve been following my coverage of the Finals, then you already know I am hopelessly biased in Rothwell’s favor. But that doesn’t change what happened last night.
To begin with, Rodriguez landed an accidental kick to Rothwell’s groin. That’s bound to happen from time to time, but Rodriguez’s reaction to it – throwing up his hands in frustration, as if he believed the kick hadn’t hit Rothwell in the groin – was very telling.
Trying to embarrass your opponent by basically accusing him of being a faker is a classless thing to do. Rothwell countered by pointing at the big screen and telling Rodriguez to watch the replay so he could see for himself that the kick was a foul.
By the third round, when Rothwell was clearly in control and on his way to a decision victory, Rodriguez got so frustrated he spat on Rothwell. That’s just inexcusable. He later tried to write it off as his competitive nature getting the best of him, but that doesn’t fly. Spitting has never helped anyone win a fight, at least none I’ve ever heard of.
Rodriguez apologized for the incident after the fight, but as Rothwell said in the post-fight press conference, that doesn’t change much. He still did it. Rothwell accepted his apology, but clearly wasn’t about to forget it had happened.
“I’m just upset I didn’t knock him out for that,” he said afterwards, musing in the bar with fellow fighters like Bryan Vetell (pictured with Rothwell above, obviously having a great time).
As for the other fights, we couldn’t have asked for a more exciting and dramatic climax to the season. The Pitbulls jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Rothwell’s win followed by Ryan McGivern’s complete domination of Fabio Leopoldo (now I know why the Silverbacks always say McGivern is one of their best fighters) brought things to a 2-2 tie with one bout left.
Andre Gusmao looked fierce as he came down to the ring, without a hint of nervousness. A little over a minute into the first round, I could see why. He dispatched Mike Ciesnolevicz – a very tough 205-pounder – with relative ease, knocking him unconscious with a knee from the clinch. With that the horde of Pitbulls (both those officially and unofficially on the team) poured into the ring for an emotional celebration.
It was a great moment for the IFL. You could really see that these guys took the team seriously, that it wasn’t just a gimmick to them. They picked Gusmao up on their shoulders and paraded him around the ring. The Silverbacks – even those who had won and should have been savoring their victories – could only watch.
While you can’t help but feel for the Silverbacks, it does seem like a good thing for the league to have a new champion. It proves that the competitive balance has improved, and if they had to lose their title there couldn’t have been a more deserving team than the Pitbulls to take it.