Archive for Daisuke Nakamura

M-1 Challenge: Year-End Recap / Countdown to the M-1 Challenge Team Championship

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2009 by jaytan716

Team Russia Red Devil and Team Holland claimed the top spot in their respective groups in this year’s M-1 Challenge, and with their championship finals showdown scheduled to be televised soon, this week, we take a look back at some of the standout moments of 2008’s M-1 Challenge.

Match 1:  Heavyweight – Kiril Sidelnikov (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. Martin Szoltysik (Team France)

This match aired before these reviews started being published, but if memory serves correct, this was from the first episode of M-1 Challenge.  Szoltysik outweighs Sidelnikov by 35 pounds, and in many ways resembles James Thompson.  At the time, Szoltysik and Sidelnikov, whom many call “Baby Fedor,” were relative novices to the MMA game.

Round One:  Szoltysik seems to favor Thompson’s attack style, running straight towards Sidelnikov from the bell.  But the big Russian jumps out of his range to slow the pace down.  Szoltysik swings giant looping overhand rights, but Sidelnikov doesn’t seem fazed.  If you didn’t know Sidelnikov’s camp, you’d think that he’s in over his head.  Szoltysik chases after him, but Sidelnikov plays stick-and-move until firing an overhand right that drops Szoltysik at 2:25 of round one.  Kiril “Baby Fedor” Sidelnikov walks away with the KO win.

Match 2: Middleweight – Gegard Mousasi (Team Holland) vs. Steve Mensing (Team Germany / World Team)

Two thousand eight was Gegard Mousasi’s year, as he went 6-0, fighting on three different continents and surprising many by knocking out Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to win the Dream Middleweight Grand Prix championship.  For Mensing, this was his first match since a June 2007 win in the Czech Republic.

Round One:  Mensing initiates the exchange with punches, but Mousasi sets the pace with a series of kicks, landing several hard low shots to Mensing’s outside leg.  Mousasi takes Mensing down in his own corner, but they’re quickly repositioned in the middle.  Mensing tries to shrimp away and escape, but Mousasi gets the full mount and showers lefts and rights down until referee Marco Broersen stops the match at 2:44 of the first round.

Match 3: Lightweight – Daisuke Nakamura (Team Japan) vs. Bogdan Christea (Team Holland)

This was a highly anticipated bout between two fighters who are undefeated in M-1 Challenge action.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Nakamura is considered a master of the flying armbar, and as such, he attempts the move early in the round.  Christea counters with a heel hook and the two jockey for leglock position.  They go back-and-forth for ground control and top position.  Christea gets Nakamura’s back, but then gets caught in an armbar.  At one point, when the referee calls for a stop in the action, Nakamura walks away, while Christea continues with the attack.  But Nakmura counters with yet another flying armbar, triangle choke, and armbar.  The two scrap hard and fast to the end of the round.

This proved to be a tremendous match.  Judges scored in favor of Nakamura, who successfully kept the submission pressure on Christea.

Match 4:  Light Heavyweight – Mikhail Zayats (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. John Cornett (Team USA)

Zayats vs. Cornett was the best match of the meet.  They delivered a barnburner of nonstop action that was furious enough to spill out of the ring several times.

Round One:  Cornett wastes no time in throwing heavy bombs, but Zayats scores a single-leg takedown.  Zayats works some ground-and-pound as Cornett tries to neutralize it with a tight guard.  Finally, the ref restarts them standing.  Zayats attacks with wild haymakers, but the referee stops them and gives Zayats a verbal warning, perhaps for knees to the groin.  By now, he’s intent on getting the overhand right KO.  Cornett is cautious about engaging.

Round Two:  Right from jump street, these two are swinging for the fences.  Zayats drops Cornett and almost finishes him, but the American escapes to his feet.  Zayats takes Cornett down, falling out of the ring.  Upon getting up, Cornett looks to the referee and verbally submits 44 seconds into the second round.  Announcer Sean Wheelock reports that Cornett broke his right hand and has to concede the match.

Match 5:  Heavyweight – Jesse Gibbs (Team Holland) vs. Ahkmed Sultanov (Team Russia Legion)

Gibbs vs. Sultanov was the deciding match in a 2-2 tie between Holland and Russia Legion to claim the Group B championship.  Gibbs was 3-0 going into this match, while Sultanov was 2-1.  Gibbs was also 30 pounds heavier than the Russian heavyweight.

Round One:  Gibbs looks like a smaller, wider Antonio Silva without the acromegaly.  Sultanov opens with a front kick, which Gibbs answers with a low, then high, kick.  They tie up and go to the ground, with Gibbs stepping over to take top position.  Sultanov turtles up under Gibbs’ heavy rights before Gibbs rolls through and gets an arm triangle tapout at 1:12 of the first round.

Match 6: Lightweight – Niko Puhakka (Team Finland) vs. Mikhail Malutin (Team Red Devil)

This was a battle between two of the hotter lightweights in M-1 Challenge.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Malutin charges in, but Puhakka gets the takedown.  Malutin reverses and gets the mount, but they fall into the ropes.  Restart in the center of the ring.  Puhakka turns away from Malutin, who seizes the opportunity, takes the back, and stays on.  Puhakka rolls over several times, but Malutin finally wears him down and sinks in the RNC at 3:32 in the second round.

From there, we go to a series of “Best Knockout” clips, which include clobbering finishes by Hyun-gyu Lim and Mu-jin Na (Team Korea), Janne Tulirinta (Team Finland), Romano de los Reyes (Team Spain), Jason Jones (Team Holland), and Karl “Psycho” Amoussou  (Team France).

Superfight:  Gilbert Yvel vs. Alexander Timonov

Yvel has a cumulative record of almost 55 fights, and judging from his body ink, possibly as many hours in the tattoo studio.  Timonov has five matches and no tattoos.  ‘Nuff said.

Round One:  Timonov is active and unafraid to engage, but drops to the floor from a right hook.  He’s quickly back on his feet, but it’s not long after before Yvel drops him again with another right.  The referee stops the match at 0:22 of the first round

Superfight:  Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Sang-soo Lee

Lee (16-3) and Emelianenko (13-3) are a bit closer in experience.  Emelianenko outweighs Lee by 20 pounds, but Lee has finished larger men.

Round One:  Lee does what he can to create an opening in Emelianenko’s armor, but Aleksander keeps Lee at bay by connecting shots to the head and Muay Thai knees.  Lee throws combinations and mixes it up, but is unable to land any damaging blows on the Big Russian.  Finally, Aleksander drops Lee with a six-shot combination and the referee jumps in at 2:40 of the first round.

Best Match / Worst Match: In a recap show like this, it’s difficult to assign best / worst honors.  All  these matches had their merits, and were broadcast for various factors.  That said, Sidelnikov vs. Szoltysik offered a fun KO finish among heavyweights, Mousasi vs. Mensing and Zayats vs. Cornett had fast-paced back-and-forth action, and Gibbs vs. Sultanov saw a submission victory among heavyweights, which are usually pretty exciting.  The superfights were short and provided the finishes that most would have expected.

The next episode of M-1 Challenge will be the championship finals, when Team Holland goes against Team Russia Red Devil.

Advertisements

Verbal Sparring: Jerry Millen & Sean Wheelock of M-1 Challenge (Part 2 of 2)

Posted in Interviews, M-1 Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by jaytan716

In part two of my interview with M-1’s Jerry Millen and Sean Wheelock, we discuss M-1’s plans for continued expansion, cohesiveness in MMA (including the idea of international rules), and where fans can find “The Next of the Best.”

JT:  What can you guys tell us about the plan for 2009 and afterwards, such as the strategy for expanding regions, new TV outlets, and more teams?

JM:  One of our guys just got back from Sportel, which is the international television market, in Monaco.  There’s a lot of interest in the M-1 Challenge and the “Fighting Fedor” program.  So this year I would assume we’re going to pick up quite a few more countries.  This first year was just our chance to get out there and show the world what M-1 was and our concept of team challenges.  So we definitely plan on 16 teams, 10 events again in 10 different countries.  China and Bulgaria have been mentioned.  And we’ve been working on some bigger M-1 Global shows as well.

Also, we’re working with Affliction Entertainment with Fedor and his fights.  I’m not sure if everybody knows but Jimmy [Smith] and Sean will be the commentators on the Affliction pay-per-view on January 24th, with Fedor and Arlovski.

And we’re finally getting this “Fighting Fedor” reality show off the ground.  People don’t understand how difficult an endeavor doing a reality show is, especially based in Russia.  It’s a very difficult task.  But we’ve been working on it for quite a long time.

JT:  Would the show be made up of M-1 fighters?

JM:  I wouldn’t say M-1 fighters, but it’ll be fighters that we bring under our umbrella.  If we’re going to give them this type of exposure, they’re going to have to become an M-1 fighter at that point.

JT:  Sean, besides Gegard Mousasi and Daniel Tavera, who else is going to emerge as the top international stars?  Are there fighters that we should be looking for to emerge from M-1 Challenge?

SW:  It’s a great question.  Jerry and I have seen some of these guys now, three and four times over the course of this season and seen their growth.  I think Kiril Sidelnikov, who’s from Stary Oskol, which is the same hometown as Fedor, is a kid to watch.  He’s the one they call “Baby Fedor,” and he really worships him.  I think Fedor takes a lot of pride in Kiril as his protégé.

Jason Jones, who is 26 years old, fights at middleweight for Holland.  This is someone who people need to watch out for.  He’s got great hands, and is one of the most explosive fighters I’ve seen in the history of this sport.  He’s Dutch, but both of his parents are from Aruba.  So he speaks perfect English, almost with an American accent.

Daniel Tavera, who I talked about, has fought for us twice at 205 pounds.  He’s a world class fighter.  His only loss was a very close decision to Roman Zentsov, when he gave up about 30 pounds.  I actually thought he won the fight.

Bogdan Christea, who fights for Holland, is the toughest person I’ve ever seen in this sport.  I like him a lot.  He was hit by a car when he was on his bicycle. He was left for dead and they almost amputated his arm.  In his fight against Daisuke Nakamura, he lost on decision.  I’ve never seen anybody withstand those types of submission attempts.  On the air, I think I said that this was gruesome.

I think Karl Amoussou, the 23-year old middleweight from France, is fantastic.  Mikhail Zayats, of the Red Devils, in Russia . . .

We’re seeing these guys coming through, who are now getting on this international stage.  Again, how does the UFC find Karl Amoussou if he’s only fighting in Europe?  How do they find Mikhail Zayats if he’s only fighting in Russia?  This is what’s great about this opportunity.  Nothing against the UFC, because they have incredible fighters, but there are so many good fighters out there.

I think the analogy is to be the college basketball fan and to look at your conference, like the Pac-10, Big 10, Big Twelve, or ECC, and say “all the best college basketball players play in my conference.”  Well, that’s not true.  You might have a high level of talent, or better talent than others, or the majority of talent, but that doesn’t mean you have the best.  And I think some people have seen with M-1 that there are world class fighters that they just haven’t had a chance to see until we put the TV cameras on and show them globally.

JT:  And you think that these guys have the potential to develop that star power like a Fedor, Shinya Aoki, Rampage Jackson, or Anderson Silva?  They can be known on that higher, recognizable level?

SM:  I think there’s only one Fedor Emelianenko.  I think he’s the greatest fighter in the history of this sport and a unique individual. I think he’s Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, or Pele.  But I think that everybody that I talked about has the potential to be absolute A-level fighters.  If they’re not already, quite frankly.

JT:  I know it’s a very broad question, but where do you guys see MMA from now?

JM:  In a perfect scenario, it would be as big as the NFL.  But the NFL wasn’t built over a 15-year period.  I think the NFL took like 30, 40, 50 years to become the powerhouse that it is.  I think it’s really hard to say.  It took PRIDE ten years to reach the level of PRIDE.  It’s been one year in M-1.  We’ve learned so much from PRIDE and other organizations.  Hopefully we’ve learned some shortcuts to get it to the next level where it needs to be without rushing it.

UFC is the big dog right now, and I’m ecstatic that the UFC is doing as well as it is, because that means the sport itself has that chance to grow.  But unfortunately, there needs to be other organizations that work, even hand-in-hand with the UFC, for this sport to survive.  Otherwise, you have one entity trying to control the sport, trying to control the rankings, trying to control the match-ups you see.  When one company drives control into the ground, it hurts everybody, except that one company.

SW:  You see Jerry’s passion.  I have that same passion.  There are other sports that I could announce, but the sports that I choose to announce are sports that I’m passionate about.  I love mixed martial arts. If you hear me on television, you know that there’s no place in the world that I’d rather be.  If it’s just a job, if you’re just getting a paycheck, you’re not going to last.  I think that’s why a lot of people have fallen out of MMA.  And they’ve lasted 18 months, a year -they didn’t have a love for that.

In terms of where I want to see this sport in five years, I think we all learn a process where we have to educate.  We take this so seriously.  I’ve announced the World Cup; I’ve announced three Super Bowls for the BBC.  I treat this sport the same.  This isn’t two guys ripping off their shirts and fighting in the back of a grocery store parking lot.  And I think unfortunately there’s still people that see that –  they don’t understand the difference between two world class fighters competing in MMA and a couple of 17-year olds beating each other up on a YouTube video.  This is a legitimate sport with world class, highly-trained special athletes.  People need to get educated on this sport.

The fact that you can’t do mixed martial arts in certain provinces in Canada, states in the U.S., or countries like France – I think it’s just a lack of knowledge.  I think every single one of us, who loves this sport, who cares about this sport. . .we have to continue to put forth the best product and show the general public that this is a legitimate sport.

JT:  On the heels of that, I would think that one of those things which needs to fall in line would be the rules.  To be an international sport, there would need to be international rules, so that everyone plays on an equal level.  Given how hard it’s going to be to affect the rules that the Big Dog uses, how do you reconcile the discrepancies?

JM:  Until the UFC gets on board, it’s going to be very difficult to have a standardized set of rules.  As soon as Dana White understands that there are going to be other players, rather than fight against them, work with them for the good of the sport.  If you really care about the sport, then work with those that also care about the sport.

They don’t want anybody else playing on their block.  At some point, you have to let your child grow, so that it becomes what it needs to be.  If UFC works with another company, does that mean that UFC is going to go out of business?  No, that does not mean that.  It means that maybe at that point they will truly have the best fighters in the world and they can prove that fact by saying “look, we took on those guys that said they were the best.”  Whether they cut it or not.  The proof is in the pudding.  But international rules won’t happen until they’re ready to play with some other people.

SW:  Look at other global sports.  Soccer, basketball, which is the second biggest participation sport globally, even baseball.  All those sports have a world governing body, and maybe that’s something that we’re moving to.  Boxing has escaped from having a world governing body, but saying that, there is a world governing body at the amateur level.  So you do have that system where guys are coming through and they’re fighting under uniform rules.  Even if there are variations in boxing, it’s still essentially the same sport.

Also, there are a lot of promoters who hate each other and yet they put aside their differences to work together for the good of the sport.  They hate each other, but they see not only is it good for the sport, but it’s a way to make a lot of money.  And that’s something we have to head to.

I just think it’s the evolution.  You can spin it any way you want, but for all intents and purposes, modern MMA started with UFC 1 in 1995.  We’re talking about a sport that in essence is a 15-year old sport.  I read a ton of sports history and see how other sports have evolved and where they were 15 years into their evolutionary process.  I think we’re already well ahead of that curve.  It just has to take time.

JT:  And M-1 is one platform where it’s evolving on the international level.

SM:  There’s no question about it.  M-1 is just doing everything correctly.  We have great fighters, we go to great venues around the world, and we’re exposing great fights on television programs in over 80 countries.  We’re bringing fighters that people have never seen before to countries that are not that exposed to MMA.  That’s what I think grows the sport.

M-1 Challenge can be seen on HD-Net every Friday at 5pm, with repeats throughout the weekend.  Check your local listings for airings outside the U.S.

M-1 Challenge: Team Spain vs. Team Japan

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2008 by jaytan716

As we get closer to the end of the 2008 M-1 Challenge tournament, a few, like Team Holland (Group B) and Team Russia Red Devil (Group A), stand out as frontrunners for the championship finals.  However, several others still have a chance to make a dent in the upper standings.  Tonight, Team Spain and Team Japan duke it out for that opportunity.

At 1-1 in team challenges, third place Team Spain just barely sits above Team Japan in the Group B standings, who are in a 1-2 tie with the World Team for fourth place.  The Spanish need a clean sweep victory to make any tangible progress, as a 4-1 performance or less will only time them with second place Team Russia Legion.  Conversely, a team challenge victory of any score will put the Japanese over their opponents tonight.

As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.  This meet originally took place on October 29th of this year at Harrah’s Casino in Kansas City, MO.

Lightweight Division:  Carlos Valeri (Team Spain) vs. Daisuke Nakamura (Team Japan)

Nakamura (17-9) is on a six-match winning streak, dating back to October of last year.  This summer, he beat Bogdan Christea of Team Holland via decision, then, four days later, submitted Andy Ologun via flying armbar.  Valeri is the clear underdog in this match, as he’s prone to get caught with submissions.  Nakamura has at least 11 submissions wins to his record.

Round 1:  Valeri is throwing punches.  Before I can even finish typing my thought, Nakamura leaps up, brings Valeri to the ground, and taps him out via flying armbar at 0:26 of the first round.

Nakamura is now 4-0 in his individual matches.

Team Japan takes the opening match, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Javier Martinez (Team Spain) vs. Hidehiko Hasegawa (Team Japan)

This is Martinez’ M-1 debut.  Hasegawa, a Pancrase and DEEP veteran, previously beat Norman Paraisy of Team France.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Hasegawa and Martinez trade shots.  Martinez shoots for a single-leg, but Hasegawa blocks it with a kimura attempt.  Hasegawa rolls Martinez to the mat with the kimura and takes side mount.  Martinez turtles up, but Hasegawa follows through and takes his back; he slaps on a body triangle and works for a rear naked choke.  Martinez escapes the choke but is still stuck in the body triangle.  He tries rolling all over, but Hasegawa follows through.  In the corner, Hasegawa transitions to a straight armbar.  Martinez shifts his position, gets on top, and goes to town with ground-and-pound, but referee James Lee restarts them in the middle of the ring.  Hasegawa defends with a rubber guard until the bell rings.

Martinez must have won the first round, because Hasegawa rolled away with this one, and we’re going to an overtime third round.

Round Three:  Martinez shoots again, but sits out quickly and goes fetal as Hasegawa blocks the shot.  Hasegawa hooks Martinez’ right leg (think crumpled up half-guard) and peppers Martinez with hammerfists and body shots.  Hasegawa switches between a side position to full mount and back, settling for closed guard.  Martinez is trying to mount an offense from below, working from rubber guard to butterfly guard to closed guard, but Hasegawa just continues his ground-and-pound until he regains a rear naked choke.  They scramble to their feet, Martinez keeping a single-leg.  Referee Lee separates them again.  Martinez throws a few kicks and Hasegawa pushes him to the ground.  The bell rings, but they continue for a few seconds before Lee finally steps in.

Judges give the match to Hidehiko Hasegawa by unanimous decision.  Fans boo irrationally.

Team Japan again, 2-0.

Middleweight Division:  Rafael Rodriguez (Team Spain) vs. Yuya Shirai (Team Japan)

This is the M-1 debut for Shirai (13-7), who is a mainstay in the Japanese DEEP promotion.  Rodriguez’s (13-6) previous match was a submission loss at light heavyweight to Besike Gerinava (Team Russia Legion).

Round One:  Rodriguez has a significant height difference.  He chases Shirai around, throwing a flying knee.  He gets a guillotine, but Shirai pulls out and clinches him against the ropes.  Shirai throws Rodriguez to the ground, but is nullified with a clinch from the bottom.  Shirai passes guard and works for Rodriguez left arm, working a kimura from side mount.  Shirai is in good position and gets the tap at 2:16 of the first round.

Team Japan wastes no time claiming the team challenge, 3-0.

Light Heavyweight Division: Jose Beltran (Team Spain) vs. Tatsuya Mizuno (Team Japan)

Hailing from Kiyoshi Tamura’s U-File camp, Mizuno has a 1-1 record in M-1.  This is Beltran’s M-1 debut, and he’s defending an unblemished 7-0 record.

Round One:  Beltran immediately shoots for a single-leg takedown and gets belly-to-back-control against the ropes.  He works hard to take Mizuno to the ground, even jumping on his back, but to no avail.  Referee Lee restarts the stalemate in the middle.  Mizuno throws a left kick into Beltran’s ribs, which drops him like a Spanish Juniper tree (which, to be clear, is big).  Referee Lee jumps in and calls the match at 1:53, but Beltran immediately protests, appealing to the crowd.  He even smacks his own face as if to say “see, I’m ok.”  He is, however, respectful and sportsmanlike towards Mizuno.

Beltran is Team Japan adds insult to injury with a fourth victory, 4-0.

Heavyweight Division:  Rogent Lloret (Team Spain) vs. Yuji Sakuragi (Team Japan)

Although there’s only one year age difference between the two, Sakuragi comes in with an 8-11-1 NC record, while Lloret is 1-1-1.  This would never happen under the Garcia Regime.

Round One:  Lloret has over 15 pounds and almost a foot height difference on Sakuragi.  Sakuragi sets it off with a spinning back kick.  Lloret charges Sakuragi and takes him down.  Sakuragi is looking for an armbar, but Lloret works ground-and-pound.  Referee James Lee restarts them in the middle of the ring.  Lloret dictates the position for the rest of the round, taking full mount, and then riding Sakuragi with hooks.  Sakuragi fends off the choke with hand control.

Round Two:  Sakuragi charges, but Lloret catches him, throws Muay Thai knees, and spins Sakuragi to the ground.  Lloret gets full mount, and takes the back.  Sakuragi again prevents the choke with hand control, and is able to spin for top control.  Referee Lee stands them up.  Sakuragi throws some nice high kicks, but Lloret gets the takedown, back, body triangle, and rear naked choke.  To his credit, Sakuragi is demonstrating good defense.  He again spins into top position, and Referee Lee again stands them up.  Sakuragi’s throwing some high kicks, and stuffs a Lloret takedown attempt.  They finish the match with Lloret on the verge of another takedown.  The smile on his face is like a kid at Christmas.

Judges award the round to Lloret via unanimous decision.

Team Spain sabotages a clean sweep with this individual fight win, but Team Japan takes that meet 4-1.

Best Match**: Carlos Valeri vs. Daisuke Nakamura – With a successful and technically immaculate flying armbar, there’s no question.

Worst Match**: Rogent Lloret vs. Yuji Sakuragi – There’s always at least one match in each show where fighters constantly employ the same strategy throughout the entire match.  This wasn’t a bad match per se, as Lloret’s takedowns and back control were clean and effortless, but from that position, but when either man was in top position, little progress was made in finishing.

**(based on footage aired)

This team challenge has pulled Team Japan from their tie for basement status and leapfrogged them over Team Spain, who now is a definitive fourth place out of five.  However, at 1-2 in team challenges and 6-9 for individual matches, if Team Spain can win their next team challenge, they will at least tie Team Japan for third place.

M-1 Challenge will host another live event the day after Christmas, December 26th, at the Emerald Queen Hotel & Casino, just outside of Tacoma, WA.  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.  At that event, Team Russia Red Devil will face Team Holland, but you don’t have to wait until then to see Fedor’s training partners.  Next week on HD-Net, the Red Devils throw down with Team Korea.

M-1 Challenge: Team Japan vs. Team Russia Legion

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by jaytan716

M-1 Challenge is the latest MMA organization to acquire US TV distribution, broadcasting 20 episodes of their 2008 international tournament on HD-Net.  And although the Russian promotion has existed for over a decade, it’s only recently gained notice in North America, mostly due to promotion head Vadim Finkelstein moonlighting as the manager of M-1’s poster boy, Fedor Emelianenko.

This year, M-1 borrows from the late IFL’s team-vs.-team format, dividing 11 different “national” teams into two different blocks (Group A and Group B) and pitting them against each other in a round-robin tournament.  The countries involved are France, Finland, Germany (aka “Team Europe”), Holland, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United States, and Russia, which features two teams, Russian Legion and Russian Red Devil.  Currently, Team Finland leads in Group A, with a 4-1 victory over Team South Korea.  In Group B, Team Holland rules with a five-match straight sweep over Team Germany.

The rules are mostly PRIDE-based, with three judges scoring two five-minute rounds (with the possibility of a third round in the event of a draw).  Elbows to the head or the throat of an opponent are illegal, as is kicking or kneeing the head of a grounded opponent.  And much like the IFL, team rankings are based on team victories, followed by cumulative individual match victories.

We pick up tournament coverage with episode four, where Team Japan faces off against Team Russia Legion.  This event took place live at the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 3rd of this year.

This week’s show opens with a quick recap of the previous event, when Team Finland dominated Team South Korea with a clear-cut 4-1 victory.  Standing out in that clash was heavyweight Jarno Nurminen and welterweight Janne Tulirinta, both of whom who scored dominating TKO victories.

Calling the shots for M-1’s English broadcast are Sean Wheelock (Major League Soccer, PRIDE 34) on play-by-play and Jimmy Smith (Fight Nation) as color commentator.

Lightweight Division:  Daisuke Nakamura (Team Japan) vs. Yuri Ivlev (Team Russia Legion)

Nakamura is a Kiyoshi Tamura protégé who built up an impressive record in Japan’s DEEP promotion, but recently fought as a gun-for-hire journeyman since 2006, fighting in Cage Rage, PRIDE Bushido, K-1 Heros, and Dream.  Ivlev is a homegrown M-1 fighter.

Round 2 (joined in progress):

As the round opens, color commentator Jimmy Smith notes that Russia has the home team advantage, and that, going into the second of a two-round match, Nakamura should be motivated to prevent the fight from going to a judges’ decision.  Nakamura pays homage to his pro wrestling roots by sporting black trunks, shin pads, and wrestling boots with his name down the side.  The action is 90% standing, with Ivlev and Nakamura trading punches and knees.  There’s few combinations, and both fighters strangely keep their hands low.  In the last minute, Nakamura goes for a kimura, then an armbar, until the bell rings.

Ironically enough, the judges award the match to Nakamura.  Japan is up 1-0.  Nobody awards Jimmy Smith “best announcer” honors.

Welterweight Division:  Ken Hamamura (Team Japan) vs. Islam Karimov (Team Russia Legion)

Not the closest of match-ups, as Hamamura boasts a 13-4-1 record (mostly in DEEP), while Karimov comes in with a 3-1-1 record.  Sherdog has different records for them, but it still indicates a huge 13-match experience discrepancy.  Both weigh in several pounds less than the 170-pound weight limit.  Karimov is a kickboxer, while Hamamura claims a karate background (and a steady record of wins in a five-year career).

Round 1:

The first round offers a lot of solid up-and-down, back-and-forth action.  Karimov drops Hamamura with a sharp right to the temple, pouncing with right fists to try and finish the match early.  Hamamura scrambles, tries for a leglock, and eventually makes it back to his feet.  Karimov takes it to the floor again with a nice sambo throw.  Hamamura escapes again and the two trade leather.  Karimov is the proverbial house of fire, but Hamamura uses his height and a Muay Thai clinch to nullify the attack.  Another sambo hip toss from Karimov, but Hamamura transitions to a heel hook, then works his way into Karimov’s guard.  Hamamura ground-and-pounds his way to Karimov’s back, but the Russian escapes just before the bell ends the round.

Round 2

Hamamura’s style somewhat resembles Lyoto Machida’s, keeping his distance and attacking with kicks from afar.  Karimov is tired, but keeps the pressure on Hamamura, who takes the Russian down with a hip toss and gets full mount.  There’s not much behind Hamamura’s punches, but Karimov is simply covering up and not working for an escape.  Hamamura continues with his G&P assault until the ref stops the match.    Ken Hamamura wins by TKO at 3:09 in round two.  Japan is up 2-0.

Middleweight Division:  Yuta Watanabe (Team Japan) vs. Ansar Chalangov (Team Russia Legion)

Chalangov is trying to shake a three-match losing streak to Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, and Nick Thompson, respectively.  Going against conventional wisdom, Chalangov has moved up a weight class.  Watanabe is a Tsuyoshi Kosaka protégé and the third straight fighter to hail from DEEP.  M-1 and DEEP have a longstanding history of talent trade, which explains the Team Japan roster.

Round 1:

Watanabe and Chalangov feel each other out until Chalangov shoots for a takedown.  Watanabe drops Chalangov with a looping right, then follows-through with guillotine and triangle chokes.  Chalangov escapes with a slam.  The two struggle for ground control.  Watanabe takes Chalangov’s back and keeps control with a body triangle.  Watanabe gets a rear naked choke and finishes Chalangov in the first round.  Big upset victory for Watanabe, and just a big upset for Chalangov.

Yuta Watanabe wins by submission in 2:32 of round one.  Japan wins the team competition, 3-0.

At this point, Japan’s three straight wins earns them team victory for the night, but with individual match outcomes also affecting team standings, Team Russia Legion is still adamant about scoring a few wins before the night is done.  Fedor’s Red Devil team had the same problems in their first round meet against Team France.

Light Heavyweight Division:  Yuji Sakuragi (Team  Japan) vs. Besiki Gerinava (Team Russia Legion)

Gerinava goes into this match looking to continue his unblemished 4-0 record.  Sakuragi has four times the experience on Gerinava, but with a 9-13-1 Sherdog record, it would appear that Sakuragi is being brought in to be another victim.

Round 2 (joined in progress):

According to the announcers, Sakuragi lost the first round.  Gerinava attacks with several bombs and follows up with a judo throw that almost sends Sakuragi out of the ring.  Gerinava goes for a leglock, but Sakuragi escapes.  Referee Yuji Shimada orders a stand-up.  Gerinava takes Sakuragi down and gets full mount.  Ground & pound is in effect until Gerinava gets an armbar.  But he’s in bad position and against the ropes.  Yuji Shimada stands them up again.

Gerinava scores another takedown and goes into Sakuragi’s guard.  Gerinava pounds Sakuragi’s midsection with rough body shots.  Another stand-up, another takedown, and more G&P.  Sakuragi reverses and takes the mount, then slaps on an armbar in the last few seconds of the match.

Basiki Gerinava wins a unanimous decision, turning Team Russia Legion’s luck for the better.

Heavyweight Division:  Katsuhisa Fujii (Team Japan) vs. Akhmet Sultanov (Team Russia Legion)

Fujii is 35-years old and is 8-13-1.  Sultanov is 27-years old and 2-0.  Ahem.  Both Katsuhisa and Sultanov come from wrestling backgrounds.  Kazuhisa is a Kazayuki Fujita protégé, and is wearing wrestling shoes.  Announcer Sean Wheelock notes that kicks to the head are NOT legal if wearing shoes or boots.  That’s one weapon less in the arsenal of “the other Mr. Fujii.”

Round 1:

Mr. Fujii takes Sultanov down, but the Russian heavyweight reverses and takes Mr. Fujii’s back.   Sultanov sinks his hooks in and goes for a rear naked choke.  He steps over for an armbar and gets the tapout at 0:38 in round one.

Final team score is Japan 3, Russia Legion 2.  Team Japan scores an upset victory over Team Russia Legion with a sweep of the first three matches.  But Team Russia Legion comes back with a moral victory, stealing the light heavyweight and heavyweight bouts.

As TV programming, M-1 Challenge faces similar as the IFL: needing to edit matches down for time, a lack of recognizable (or English-speaking) fighters, little opportunity to showcase

fighters’ personalities, and as-yet unproven team-vs.-team concept.  That said, Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith are a very impressive team, especially considering that M-1 Challenge is their first pairing together.  M-1’s live production value, with the white ring, referee uniform, overhead lighting grid, fighter gloves, and ring entrance design clearly is PRIDE-inspired.

M-1 won’t pose any threats to the American MMA scene anytime soon, but in hosting a year-long tournament that involves 10 different countries, Vadim Finkelstein’s promotion is breaking some new ground in the international MMA scene.

Best Match: Yuta Watanabe vs. Ansar Chalangov

Worst Match: Yuji Sakuragi vs. Besiki Gerinava

**(based on footage aired)

Next week, Team USA takes on Team Spain, from Gran Canadia, Spain.