IFL Athletes, Coaches Meet Troops During Fleet Week New York


Miletich, Rothwell, Miller, Patterson Among League Notables To Conduct Clinics, Sign Autographs, Share Stories

NEW YORK, May 28, 2007 – The scene was one that seemed pretty familiar to most anyone. It was a warm mid-spring evening and a group of maybe 300 young men and women had gathered for a fairly social evening of casual athletic competition. On one end, with the sound of music filling the air, was a spirited whiffle ball game, while off to the side several other groups tossed around a softball and a football while chatting away the evening. About 300 yards away, a series of very competitive basketball games, ranging from shooting contests to five on five matchups, were attracting not just competitors but a rather large crowd of interested bystanders. In another area still another group milled about chatting up sports and talking about the upcoming plans for Memorial Day Weekend. It could have been a park in any growing mid-sized community, with a mix of men and women unwinding from their day jobs.

However there were two very big differences, both of which were as much social commentary on the state of the world today and the progress of the athletic world in general. The first was the location. All the activity was taking place aboard the USS Wasp, the amphibious assault ship leading the Naval procession into New York Harbor for Fleet Week. The second difference, was that after about 45 minutes, a group of young and buff Marines, both men and women, decided that the casual sports interests of gatherings gone by was enough. They unrolled a series of mats, placed them in the middle of the massive hangar bay, and implored some very interested bystanders…MMA legends and IFL coaches Pat Miletich and Renzo Gracie, Silverbacks undefeated heavyweight Ben Rothwell, and IFL commissioner Kurt Otto…to join them for some instruction and casual competition in the sport of choice of many in their age group, Mixed Martial Arts.

What happened in the next 20 minutes is a reflection of what is occurring not just on military ships, but in gyms and communities across America. The crowd, both watching and participating in all the other “mainstream” activates in the area, stopped and migrated over to both watch and participate in the demonstrations for the next three hours. At its midpoint, the group that ringed the mats and stood no less than seven deep, all craning their necks to watch these masters of the world’s fastest growing competitive sport ply their trade. Pickup basketball and casual whiffle ball ended up where they seem to be going more and more with this key demo, in a far back seat to the intensity and the strategy of MMA.

The clinic in the hangar bay of the WASP, the 10th Navy ship to bear that name since the 1800’s, was one of the highlights of a three day adventure for a host of IFL athletes and staff, and was the latest in a series of events that the IFL is staging with branches of the military to support those men and women who do so much in service to their country. In total eight IFL athletes…the New York Pitbulls’ Bryan Vetell and Jamal Patterson, the San Jose Razorclaws’ Brian Foster and Josh Odom, and the Chicago Red Bears’ Mark Miller as well as Gracie, Miletich and Otto…joined “IFL Battleground” host Tiffany Fallon, ring girls Lori Coolidge and Lauren Potter, 2006 Miss Maine (and IFL staffer) Karissa Staples and former NFL great Sean Landeta…for two days of meet and greets, instruction and autograph sessions aboard five ships coming into New York for Fleet Week 2007. Those five ships; the Wasp, the Winston Churchill, the Oscar Austin, the Stephen Groves and the Hue City, gave the IFL achance to say “thank you” to over 3,000 servicemen and women, while creating an unforgettable experience for all involved. The week was capped off Friday night, when Patterson and Chicago Red Bears coach and world champion Igor Zinoviev (himself a Russian military vet) signed autographs again for the troops at the Fleet Week kickoff event at Webster Hall in Manhattan.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I was asked, but I can easily say this is something that I will never forget and will implore all my IFL teammates to try soon,” said Rothwell, who even got to take on the Wasp’s Commanding Officer, Captain Michael D. Hawley, in a series, of skill competitions aboard ship on the first night of the trip (Hawley won two of the three events, a sign that Rothwell is not only a great athlete but is a smart enough not to upstage his host in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). Even his coach, Miletich, who has been involved instructing the military in various forms of training for over a dozen years, was awed by the experience. “In my 13 years of working with servicemen and women, I have never seen a group as receptive and enthusiastic and the men and women of the Wasp,” he added. “This was a pleasure to be involved with, and it is something that I am looking forward to working with the IFL to continue and expand upon going forward.”

The Friday night meet and greet and the hangar bay clinic were the latest in what was a very busy and productive week for the IFL working with servicemen and women. The week prior, IFL coach and MMA legend Frank Shamrock joined men and women for their “No Dough Dinner” leading into the IFL Sears Centre event, and IFL coaches conducted a clinic and autograph signing at the Great Lakes base prior to the Chicago event. The military had a prominent place for the Sears Centre event, and then athletes, staff and coaches flew directly from Chicago to Norfolk to board the ships and spend two days talking and working with the men and women prior to their arrival in New York.

The experience was beneficial not just the for IFL staff, but for the servicemen and women as well. One of the most impressed was Ensign Ian Lopez, an MMA aficionado and big fan of Gracie jiu-jitsu, who not only got to spend time breaking bread with his hero Renzo Gracie, but got to get some world class MMA instruction with the legend himself. “It’s one thing to be able to watch the videos and shake the hands of someone like Renzo or Pat,” Lopez added, “But to get to have them instruct you and see the pride they take in helping us was a huge lift not just for me but for all of us. It is something we will never forget.”

“These men and women lay it on the line for this great country every day, they are the true heroes,” said Gracie, a naturalized American citizen and New Jersey resident. “If this is what we can do as athletes and coaches to take the time and support them and brighten their days, then we all should do it. After all, people call us warriors — these people are the real warriors.”

A worthwhile experience for all involved.

About the IFL

International Fight League™ (IFL) is the world’s number one professional mixed martial arts sports league. IFL has its headquarters in New York and offices in Las Vegas. For more information about IFL, please see: www.ifl.tv

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About the author

Jerry Milani