If the International Fight League had a Comeback Fighter of the Year award it would probably have to go to Quad Cities Silverbacks' light-heavyweight Mike Ciesnolevicz [pronounced Sez-no-lev-ich].
After losing his first two fights for the promotion, he rebounded in impressive fashion, winning his last two, helping to propel the Silverbacks to a second straight IFL Team Championship.
In his last bout for the IFL in the World Team Championship Finals, "Mike C." as he's often referred to, choked previously undefeated-in-the-IFL standout Aaron Stark of the Portland Wolfpack after three rounds of hard-fought war during the Silverback's 4-1 dominating victory.
"I knew he was a powerhouse wrestler and freakishly strong, so the gameplan was to stand-up and stuff his takedowns, but the first round didn't really work out like that," said Mike of his fight with Stark. "The second round was pretty close. I thought he would fade a little bit as the fight went on, because in his previous fights he got a little tired."
"Before the third round Pat [Miletich, Silverbacks Coach] was like, 'He's tired, he's ready to go, and you're not even breathing hard, so it's time to pick up the pace.' In the third round I stuffed a takedown, landed a good right hand and then the head kick. It all happened so fast. He was rocked and I just slipped in the guillotine because I knew he wasn't going to be able to defend it. It didn't go exactly to plan, but it worked out," continued Ciesnolevicz.
With the victory Mike raises his overall pro record to 9-2 and has proven himself a worthwhile part of a Silverbacks team that once again reigns supreme as IFL Champions, a feat Ciesnolevicz is very proud of helping them accomplish.
"It's great," exclaimed Mike of his teams championship repeat. "I expect nothing less with the way that Pat makes us train. With the things we go through, anything else would be a disappointment. I just hope we can do the same thing in 2007. I think being a team, being so close, like best friends, puts us over the top."
Looking back over last year, in which Ciesnolevicz competed a staggering seven times, Mike feels overall it was a solid year that means more to his overall growth as a fighter than individual accomplishments.
"I think 2006, the whole IFL season was a step up in competition for me," admitted Ciesnolevicz. "I lost a split decision and a fight by TKO. I lost my first two fights and so I changed a few things. I trained a little harder because the competition level went up, and I think it showed my last two fights at the end of the year, winning both by submission. I think it was kind of a growing year. It was a year for me to change my training, get more serious and add to the level of competition."
As it would happen, there's little rest for both Mike and the Silverbacks as they make a quick turn around to begin the defense of their title on February 2nd in Houston, Texas against the one of the other original four IFL teams, the Los Angeles Anacondas.
"I knew we needed a couple days off here because a couple of the guys are sore, no one's injured or anything, but a couple of guys are a little sore from the wear and tear of everything," explained Ciesnolevicz. "We're all in shape, that's one of our biggest advantages as a team, so we can afford to take a couple of days off here, do some light stuff this week with cardio, but nothing like we normally do for a fight."
Mike further commented, "Monday everything's going to pick back up again and we'll be ready for another great season. I'm excited, all the guys are excited, we're looking to keep the streak going and look to repeat again."
As for his team's chances to repeat and capture a third consecutive title, Ciesnolevicz is very confident that the Silverbacks will once again defend their championship, even if opposing teams do everything in their power to prevent that from happening.
"I actually think our chances are really good," exclaimed Mike. "I think a lot of the teams – to me it seems – are trying to stack the deck against us. If you look at a team like the Sabers, none of those guys are from Japan; they're all veteran fighters like Vladimir Matyushenko, John Marsh and Antonio McKee. A lot of teams are trying to stack the deck against us like that, but I don't think it's going to work. [The] Toronto [Dragons] tried to do that to us last year with Ivan Menjivar, [Keith] Wisniewski, and [Joe] Doerksen, and it didn't work out."
"We're just strong as a team – we have team unity, it's just a different type of atmosphere than other teams that don't train together and might not all get along or whatever. We don't have that problem. So I'm feeling really good about our chances. Anything can happen, but with the way we train, we train harder than anybody out there and it's going to take a special team to dethrone us and I don't see that in any of the line-ups on the other teams," added Ciesnolevicz.
When it comes to his personal goals and where he'd like to see himself continue to evolve in 2007, Mike maintains that consistency is the key, both in training and in surroundings.
"I think the biggest thing for me this coming year is experience," said Ciesnolevicz. "I needed this 2006, with four fights, so I could raise my level of experience and see what it was like to fight in a big show. So I think in 2007 I'll continue to grow and do the same things. I want to stick with the IFL, there's no other place I'd want to go. They really do take great care of us fighters and it's exciting; I'm really into the team concept, so I'm definitely looking to stay in the IFL."
Mike concluded by wanting to give a thanks to those who've helped him on his continued path through MMA and by wanting to remind the fans that the Silverbacks' return is just a few short weeks away and that they should definitely check out the show in Houston either live or via Fox Sports Net.
"I'd like to thank John Palmer at Quad City Suzuki, he's the sponsor that's given me the ability to train full-time, that really helped me get my shot in the IFL... Joel Gold at Full Contact Fighter... and Jake Shannon at Scientific Wrestling, big sponsors, they've helped me out a lot," finished Ciesnolevicz. "I hope everyone tunes in for the February 2nd fights. I actually thought the Anacondas were who we should have fought at the 2006 [season two] Finals, so I think it's going to be fireworks. I hope everyone checks out IFL.tv for all the details."