The IFL returns Friday at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Topping the card, which airs live on HDNet (8:30 p.m. ET), are title defenses by champions Jay Hieron, Waggney Fabiano and Vladimir Matyushenko.
Jay Hieron vs. Mark Miller
Hieron looked fantastic in his IFL welterweight championship fight against Delson Heleno in the IFL Grand Prix in December. Hard to say how things would have ended had Heleno not gotten injured, but in Hieron's defense, he was fighting like a man out to hurt someone.
Hieron was a good fighter before he entered the IFL, and he has done nothing but get better since then. The formidable wrestler has become a formidable striker as well. Combine those two skills with his athleticism, and it's very hard to plan a way to attack the man.
Miller's last fight was pretty impressive as well, seeing how he flattened UFC vet Josh Neer with a first-round knockout. That fight was almost a year ago, and all the while Hieron has been training with Xtreme Couture and bringing his game to another level.
Miller certainly has the skills to give Hieron some trouble, but with Hieron's strong wrestling background, he should be able to dictate where the fight goes. The scales will tip in Hieron's favor should he decide to set up takedowns with his strikes and get the fight on the ground, where Miller will have trouble submitting him.
Wagnney Fabiano vs. Shad Lierley
Lierley showcased his skills last year when he took on Chris Horodecki in a lightweight free-for-all that proved he could wrestle and bang with the best of them. He went toe-to-toe in one of the best fights of the year, proving that his heart and determination aren't in question. Now he's moved down a class to take on the best featherweight in the IFL.
Fabiano has been more than solid since he joined the league, submitting everyone he's faced. The good news for Lierley is that he should know there won't be any surprises. Fabiano can submit anybody from any angle, which makes pounding him out on the ground not an option. Stuffing takedowns and counterpunching could be.
Unfortunately for Lierley, he doesn't have much experience, and any plan for Fabiano is easier said than executed.
Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Jamal Patterson
Patterson is an athlete and a quick learner in the MMA game. He's scored two wins over a smaller Matt Horwich, but for a guy who hasn't been fighting too long, that is still an impressive feat.
He also guillotined Alex Schoenauer in his second fight, showing that he's very dangerous and only scratching the surface. His fights are very short, but the man he's facing almost never goes down, and certainly not quickly.
Youth and athleticism can go a long way in any sport, but there's always something to be said for old-man strength. Technically, Matyushenko isn't that old. In fight years, though, he's getting up there.
For more than 10 years he's steadily been doing the same work by keeping a dominant position and overwhelming opponents with pressure. Patterson has submissions, but so does Vlady. It's hard to imagine that Patterson will be able to throw anything at "The Janitor" that he hasn't mopped up before, and Matyushenko should retain the IFL light heavyweight belt.
Scott Holmes is a contributor to Sherdog.com.