Markham Out of Finals, Miletich in Search of a Replacement
By Ben Fowlkes
When the Quad Cities Silverbacks take to the ring to defend their team championship in Hollywood, Fla. on September 20, they’ll be doing it without welterweight standout Rory Markham. Silverbacks coach Pat Miletich has confirmed that due to a fractured bone in his left hand, Markham (12-2) will be unable to compete in the team finals.
“It’s obviously unfortunate,” Miletich said. “He’s a huge part of our team and we’re definitely going to miss him. We’re in the process right now of looking at candidates to replace him.”
The problem, Miletich admitted, lies in finding a 170-pound fighter capable of filling Markham’s shoes against jiu-jitsu champion Delson Heleno, who will fight as the welterweight representative for Renzo Gracie’s New York Pitbulls. Heleno’s superb ground game has given opponents fits all season, with his lone loss in 2007 a questionable split decision against Antonio McKee.
Yet Miletich says that despite the quality of fighter that his replacement will have to face, it’s not the overriding consideration in his decision-making process.
“What’s going to factor heavily into my decision is not Delson, but who’s the most ready to fight, who’s hungry, and who’s capable of getting out there and giving 100%,” Miletich said.
To lose an experienced competitor like Markham does leave the team with a major hole to fill in the lineup, although it’s an adjustment they’re beginning to get used to.
Markham has struggled with injuries all year, fighting just twice in 2007 and winning both his fights via TKO. A recurring eye injury kept him out of action for two of the Silverbacks’ previous competitions, but this time it was his left hand, which he used to floor the Anacondas’ Chris Clements in the first round of their bout, that is giving him trouble.
“He fractured his left hand, or rather one bone in his left hand,” said Miletich. “It’s not broken all the way through but he had to take time off to make sure it heals up properly. I’m not sure when exactly he hurt it, but it was at some point while he was dropping bombs on Chris Clements.”
Fortunately for Miletich, he has at his disposal one of the deepest talent pools in all of mixed martial arts. Finding replacements has been easier for him than for other coaches with less prolific teams to draw from, though replacing Markham has proved difficult in the past.
In February Miletich brought in Victor Moreno (20-10) to face Jay Hieron while Markham was out with eye trouble. Hieron made short work of Moreno, however, taking him to the mat and submitting him with a rear naked choke just under two minutes into the bout.
Markham came back to fight the Lions’ Pat Healy in April, and despite being dropped in the first round made a gritty comeback to win the slugfest with a third-round TKO.
However, when his eye problems returned Markham was forced to sit out the team’s last regular season event in May. Miletich brought in former UFC fighter Josh Neer to replace him, but Neer was the victim of a brutal one-punch knockout by Mark Miller just fifty-four seconds into the first round.
Miletich says that at the moment he doesn’t know which of his welterweights will step in for Markham, but it won’t be Neer, who he feels is undersized for the welterweight class.
“Josh is happy at 155 and he’s a big 155-pounder. He’s pretty strong at that weight and I’m not going to ask him to jump up to 170. Delson Heleno walks around probably at 195 and Josh walks around at about 170. That’s a tall order to ask a guy to give up twenty-five pounds against a world class fighter.”
The stakes will be as high as possible for whoever Miletich chooses as a replacement, as he’ll be asked to step in for the team and help them to yet another team championship. But Miletich says he isn’t worried about the pressure getting to his substitute as long as he’s still got the rest of his team intact.
“All the guys expect to go out and win no matter who we’re fighting,” he said. “Whether we go in full strength or with a replacement, we expect to win and do our best.”
Against Gracie’s Pitbulls, who are undefeated in 2007, victory will require nothing less.