By FIGHT! contributor John Lane
He just knew it. Ryan Schultz’s confidence was unshakable before he was about to trade blows and roll with the International Fight League’s meal ticket, an undefeated 20-year-old prodigy named Chris Horodecki. Schultz was a huge underdog, nothing more than a stepping stone for Canada’s next great athlete. Horodecki defeated Schultz handily in their first meeting and “The Lion” was a late replacement for John Gunderson in the IFL’s light heavyweight championship fight. If Vegas was wagering, this one would have been off the board.
But you’d have earned a Purple Heart if you had the balls to tell Schultz that on this night and it took a mere 2:51 for Schultz to TKO Horodecki and become the IFL’s first lightweight champ.
“That was one fight in my career where there was nooo doubt,” Schultz said. “I said ‘You just watch. I’m going to give him a beating.’ And I meant it.”
Before the IFL folded, Schultz successfully defended his title twice, defeating Gunderson and Deividas Taurosevicius by unanimous decision. These days, though, Schultz’s career is at a crossroads. He’s 2-2 since winning the title, a loser of his first two Sengoku bouts, and last fought a year ago. The layoff ends Sept. 23 at World Victory Road’s Sengoku 10 where he knuckles up with Kazunori Yokota for a possible shot at champion Mizuto Hirota.
There’s plenty left, insists Schultz (20-11-1), especially at age 32. He’s got three fights left on his Sengoku contract including Yokota and intends to use Japan as a platform, but first needs to crawl out of an abyss. Hirota knocked him out in two rounds at Sengoku IV and Schultz took a fight against Jorge Masvidal as a late replacement – 20 days later. Predictably, Schultz was KO’d in Round 1.
“I did what a fighter would do and said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Schultz said. “I’m a little smarter [now] in protecting myself as a fighter.”
He’s survived emotional humiliation, too. In early 2007 the IFL debuted the “IFL Battleground” television show by sensationalizing Schultz’s 2006 knockout loss to Bart Palaszewski. The illusion: “A Rescue 911”-like tease on whether or not his neck was broken. The reality: He was placed on a stretcher for precautionary reasons. “I could have walked out of there,” Schultz said. “They made me lay down on that stretcher. It was part of the game for them.
“I looked at it as the dumbest thing you can do for mixed martial arts. Not necessarily just against me, but I thought it was a black mark against MMA. I thought it was just ridiculous,” Schultz said.
Schultz refused to play the part of the fool, handling a potentially embarrassing situation with aplomb. Yokota will want to beat him like a dummy, but “The Lion”’s back is against the wall, and that’s when he’s proven most dangerous.