Team Quest to send quintet to Dec. 29 finals as IFL gets ready to expand, operate as a league
by: ©2006 APRIL PISHNA/IFL, Wolfpack fighter Chris Wilson battles Brad Blackburn in an IFL quarterfinal. He looks forward to more action in the final.

Matt Lindland never has been bashful about promoting his Team Quest Fight Club in Gresham.

'Best place to train in the world,' the club's co-owner says.

Now Lindland and his fighters have an opportunity to prove it. The International Fight League World Team Championship final will pit five of Lindland's Team Quest guys against five of Pat Miletich's fighters from Miletich Fighting Systems of Moline, Ill.

Officially, it's the Portland Wolfpack against the Quad City Silverbacks, Dec. 29 at the Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

'I'm the face of Team Quest. He's the face of Miletich Fighting System,' Lindland says, adding an anecdote about the two once fighting each other in the octagon and noting that 'he's a great fighter, but I beat his ass.'

The Portland team won two matches to qualify for the World Team Championship final, both in Memorial Coliseum. The second-year IFL, a neophyte organization, is trying to capitalize on the increased popularity of mixed martial arts by offering a team format: five matches - first to three victories wins.

In 2007, the IFL will expand from eight to 12 teams and operate as a league, with dual meets starting in January and playoffs. Portland will not play host to any events, perhaps because of the lack of tickets sold for the two shows at the coliseum.

Lindland didn't need to go far to find his five IFL guys.

Each team can draw athletes from wherever and whichever gym, but Lindland stuck with his Team Quest boys: lightweight Ryan Schultz, middleweight Matt Horwich, welterweight Chris Wilson, light heavyweight Aaron Stark and heavyweight Devin Cole.

All five Portland fighters live in Portland, at least temporarily, while training at the nationally recognized Team Quest gym near Southeast 181st Avenue and Stark Street.

Stark, 31, has the most extensive background in Oregon, having wrestled at Glencoe and Pendleton high schools. Stark, who won his two IFL matches, started mixed martial arts fighting in spring 2005.

'I had no intention of doing it,' says Stark, a vineyard manager in Newberg. 'I'm not a fighter, never have been one. But it's fun.' Now Stark envisions making some cash in the fight game.

Individuals, teams get cash

Wilson, 29, has spent his life in Brazil and Oregon. The son of Baptist missionaries, he lived in Brazil and learned muay Thai and jujitsu martial arts - both emphasizing striking with hands, arms and legs.

'It's awesome,' the Southeast Portland resident says of the IFL. 'It gives MMA a different face. And they make it financially worthwhile, with bonuses for individual and team.

'It's a very individual sport, but it's easy to form a bond with teammates,' he adds. 'You're only as good as your training partner.'

The IFL, however, needs fans to start paying for tickets. In Portland, according to the Oregon Boxing and Wrestling Commission, a crowd of 5,349 watched the Sept. 9 show. Only 1,373 paid for tickets - the rest were complimentary. An enthusiastic crowd of 7,434 gathered for the Nov. 2 show, with just 532 paid tickets.

Lindland continues to pursue his fighting career. The former Olympic wrestler will face off with Carlos Newton on Feb. 2 in Houston, and then jump to heavyweight to try to attract bigger paydays.

The 18th card for Sportfight, which is run by Lindland and former mixed martial arts great Randy Couture, will be Jan. 6 in the Rose Garden.

Fights become easier to find

Lindland and Team Quest co-owner Robert Follis continue to manage several fighters, including five still under contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the most recognized organization in the United States: Ed Herman, Josh Haynes, Nate Quarry, Josh Burkman and Chris Leben.

Leben, a Benson High grad, was routed by Anderson Silva in his previous UFC match. He faces Jason McDonald on Dec. 30.

Woodburn's Chael Sonnen has moved from the UFC to the well-financed BodogFight, and he recently earned more than $50,000 for winning, Lindland says. Team Quest fighters Jake Ellenberger and Jeremiah Constant also have Bodog deals, he says.

Star Dan Henderson remains the only Team Quest member in Pride. Lindland has been trying to line up Ian Loveland with K-1.

'Guys are busy,' Lindland says. 'It's no longer a problem finding fights, and paydays are going up.'

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