Thursday, March 22, 2007

An Afternoon with the Pitbulls

*originally published Aug '06 on*

(Tuesday, August 29th, New York City) Atop the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, on a flight deck populated with decommissioned Cobra attack helicopters and dormant F-16s, Renzo Gracie smiles. In less than a month he’ll face fellow legend Pat Miletich in the ring, but for now it’s all about the International Fight League’s film crew getting video of him and his team, acting natural as they stroll around the aircraft carrier parked in the waters off Manhattan’s West Side. September 23rd will mark the fourth IFL event (the MMA promotion that pits team against team), and while Moline, Illinios isn’t all that close to the Big Apple, that’s where the New York-based Pitbulls will be squaring off against Miletich’s Silverbacks. It promises to be a night of hard-fought battles.

Between takes everyone halts and waits for the cameraman to give new instructions. In the meantime, the Pitbulls make jokes and laugh, and stand for pictures with curious tourists.

“I feel good,” says the upbeat and amiable Gracie when asked how his training is coming along.

Flanked by the likes of Marcio Feitosa, Fabio Leopoldo, Delson Heleno and Carlos Cline, the Brazilian has definitely filled his roster with tough guys. Yet one can’t help but stare at the latest addition to the team, the grappling behemoth Bryan Vetell. A former Greco-Roman champ, Vetell will be cutting weight from 290 pounds to get down to 265, and he’ll be taking on the very experienced striker Ben Rothwell. It’s a tall order for the big man. Will he be ready?

“This is my shot,” says Vetell, who’s training six days a week - working on his boxing, grappling and conditioning - in preparation for the man who scored a TKO win at the last IFL event. “This is my chance to do well at the echelon of competition I want to be at. I mean, every day I train with guys that are already at that level [at Renzo Gracie’s Academy], so it’s not like I won’t be going in there ready.”

Vetell’s thoughts on Rothwell? “He’s a very experienced guy, coming from an awesome team in the Midwest. I don’t know what I think other than for me it’ll be my wrestling and my ground game, and for him it’ll be his striking and his overhand right.”

They pause before an old A-12 Blackbird. They stand under the American flags flapping in the wind. They pretend to read up on the design specs of an F-8K Crusader, all while the cameras roll, capturing the Pitbulls in their natural habitat of New York City. On September 23rd, two IFL teams will clash with Gracie and some of his best fighters at the forefront. But for now, it’s all about the photo op.

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