The "Tiger" Takes Center Stage
By: Ben Fowlkes
After almost fourteen years in the sport of mixed martial arts, Vernon "Tiger" White doesn't get rattled before a fight. He's faced some of the best in the world during his tenure as a Lion's Den fighter under Ken Shamrock, and he's appeared in nearly every MMA organization that matters at one time or another.
But when he climbs in the ring on June 16th to face Mike Whitehead, he won't be fighting only for himself. For the Lions, Saturday night's match with the Tucson Scorpions is an all-or-nothing situation. They need a clean sweep over Don Frye's Arizona team if they're to have a chance at the playoffs.
Of the five scheduled fights on the card, the biggest obstacle to the Lions' postseason hopes could well be White's opponent – light heavyweight Mike Whitehead. But to hear White tell it, being out-muscled by the powerhouse Whitehead isn't among his concerns.
"I think the way I'll beat Mike Whitehead is with stamina," said White. "He's a big tough guy, but every fight I've seen of his he's just stronger than his opponent and he wears them out. He's going to have a hard time wearing me out. I've got guys who are 260 [pounds] that I'm rolling with, and I don't get worn out."
A contestant on season two of Spike TV's The Ultimate Fighter, Whitehead has been peerless since his entrance into the IFL in 2006, when he demolished Mark Kerr in his debut. Since then he's dropped down a weight class to 205 pounds, where his size and strength have helped him overwhelm opponents.
But it's doubtful that he's ever faced a seasoned competitor like White, as the man they call "Tiger" is quick to point out.
"I chalk a lot of it up to experience," White said. "I've learned through the years how to not take damage. The last couple fights of [Whitehead's] that I've seen, he hits the guys but it doesn't look like he has that much power on the ground. A lot of these guys are just sitting there, not blocking, and the referee moves in to stop the fight and the guys don't even look hurt. I just need to worry about what I need to do. I have a lot of natural ability."
It might sound a bit brash, but throughout his career White has seldom been at a loss for words - something he has admitted to be both a help and a hindrance at times.
After submitting Sam Hoger in Moline (right) for the Lions' lone win of the night, he seized the microphone and gave an earful to some inebriated fans at ringside. Longtime friend and coach Ken Shamrock could only shake his head and explain White's conduct by saying, "Vernon's a showman, brother."
During that same event in Moline, the Lions lost two close decisions to the home town Silverbacks, resulting in a 4-1 defeat. Though the team made their displeasure with the decisions known at the time, White said it has only served as motivation going into the final regular season event.
"Everyone's training hard, taking extra time to stay in the gym to work on their cardio and their technique. Everyone's going to be much sharper this time. We've all decided not to let the judges decide the fight for us. We're going to go out there looking to end every fight. Every time we go to a decision, the judges always decide against us. Now everyone's just angry and we want to win."
According to White, however, the bad breaks along the way haven't caused any rifts among the team. Shamrock's Lion's Den has long been known for brutal training sessions, but White said the team has found a balance with their coach that has served them well in preparation for this critical match.
"Ken's still as tough as he ever was, but he understands that people are human now. He's not killing people anymore. He's a little more understanding," said White.
"We're happy that some of the crap that's going on with other teams isn't happening on our team," he continued. "A team is supposed to be just that. You can't just get rid of someone because they lost-your team is supposed to be a family. If your brother loses you don't kick him out of the family. Even if you get someone better, it puts pressure on everyone so that it never becomes a team, just a collection of individuals. It's not good for the morale."
While the Lions' morale may be high going into this showdown with the struggling Scorpions, they'll also need a little bit of luck in order to make the playoffs. Not only must they win all five matches on the card, they need the Pitbulls to lose in order to force a multi-team tie-breaker for the fourth and final spot.
The light heavyweight match may be the toughest fight on paper, but White isn't feeling any added pressure. After so many years in the business and so many opponents, the ring is simply a stage on which he performs, and that performance is a pleasure, according to White.
"I'm looking forward to fighting Mike," he said. "He's one of the rising stars and he's never been knocked out, so I'm looking forward to putting that first KO on his record."