As team identity goes, the New York Pitbulls and Portland Wolfpack couldn’t be more different.
Renzo Gracie’s squad is a mixture of Brazilians and New Yorkers, veterans and rookies, and none of them can ever seem to get anywhere on time.
Matt Lindland’s team mostly mirrors Lindland himself: serious, hard-working, and not quite cosmopolitan. Even their gyms are complete opposites.
The Pitbulls, for instance, train in a humid basement studio in midtown Manhattan. At times it can seem as though every Brazilian in the city congregates there, and the surrounding neighborhood is full of the kind of shops where you can’t tell exactly what they’re selling, but you know it’s expensive.
The Wolfpack train out of the vaunted Team Quest facility in northeast Portland, where life is simpler, to say the least. The parking lot out back is unpaved, the inside of the building resembles a barn, and it’s not uncommon to hear an argument over who took the last can of Skoal.
In short, the only thing these squads have in common is a 1-0 record and a score to settle after a disappointing 2006 season.
The Pitbulls failed to win a single team match-up last year, although they lost only by 3-2 margins. The Wolfpack made it all the way to the finals, where they were dismantled by the Quad Cities Silverbacks.
Now, after both teams scored relatively easy victories over struggling teams in their first matches of the new season, they’ll square off with one another. Whoever emerges with the win will join the Anacondas and Sabres as the league’s only undefeated teams, and in so doing will find themselves an instant favorite to make the playoffs.
The loser, however, has to battle it out with the four other 1-1 teams all vying for two, or maybe even one, playoff spot.
One of the more intriguing matches on the card for Friday’s event (which can be seen on FSN the same night, by the way, with only a couple hours delay in most regions) has to be heavyweights Devin Cole and Bryan Vetell.
Cole is a former standout college wrestler, but he’s had a string of bad luck recently, losing his last four matches against some tough opponents. The scouting report on this Wolfpack big man says he starts fast, but has trouble pacing himself to finish fights.
One thing that isn’t in any doubt is his toughness. When Rafael Feijao broke his nose with a short right hand the last time out, Cole nonchalantly reached up and set it himself. Just hearing the clicking sound that resulted would be enough to make some men faint, take my word for it.
Vetell (right) also comes from a wrestling background, but Basement Newton MA has been molded by Gracie into more of a submissions specialist. His only loss in his relatively short MMA career came against Ben Rothwell, who also KO’d Cole with the now-famous high kick to the head in the 2006 finals.
Look for these two to go after one another right from the opening bell. Cole needs this win badly, and Vetell needs to prove he can beat an experienced opponent with strengths to match his own. Depending on how the bout order shakes out, this contest may be decided with this heavyweight showdown.
The welterweight division also presents an interesting clash of styles. The Wolfpack’s resident “skull crackin'” expert, Mike Dolce, faces his first real test against Brazilian Delson Heleno (top) .
Dolce opened strong in his IFL debut for the ‘Pack, knocking out Jim Abrille in less time than it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket. But Heleno is in a different league entirely. A jiu-jitsu champion in Brazil, Heleno is always coming forward, always grinding away at his opponents, and he looks as if he’s never been tired in his entire life.
Dolce will have to force Heleno to play his game, something the Red Bears’ Mark Miller was unable to do, despite a valiant effort. The difference in experience may decide this one, since Dolce has only three pro fights to Heleno’s eleven. If he can’t stay off his back against “Pe De Chumbo”, he may get a quick lesson on Friday night.
Of course, the light heavyweight match-up brings us the IFL’s first rematch, as the Wolfpack’s Matt Horwich moves back up to 205 to take on Jamal Patterson. Horwich lost the first meeting, but he’s been a different fighter ever since. In the middleweight class, Fabio Leopoldo looks to continue his winning streak over Gerald Harris, a late fill-in for the Wolfpack.