Archive for Jason Jones

Finland, South Korea, and USA West ignite M-1’s 2009 Challenge

Posted in Live Event Reports, M-1 Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by jaytan716

After debuting their team-based round robin tournament last year, M-1 Global held the first round of the 2009 M-1 Challenge this weekend at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, WA. The event pitted six teams in best-of-five “dual meet” action, ending with redeeming wins for Team South Korea, Team USA West, and Team Finland.

Marketed as the “World Cup of MMA,” the M-1 Challenge resumes this year with an expanded roster of 16 teams from 10 countries split into four groups.  New additions are teams from Brazil, Turkey, England, China, Bulgaria, and a second team from America, Team USA West. Last year’s rendition saw ten teams split into two groups of five, each team fighting four times within that group.

Coincidentally, the two name changes this year – Team Imperial and Team Benelux – met in the 2008 M-1 Challenge finals as Team Russia Red Devil and Team Holland, respectively.  The Red Devil’s beat the Dutch 4-1 to become the inaugural M-1 Challenge champions.

Ironically enough, redemption was the theme of the night at the Emerald Queen, as all three winning teams had a point to prove off of last year’s respective performances.  In 2008, Team Finland placed second in Group A to Team Russia Red Devil. They returned this year to beat 2008 Group B champions Team Holland by an individual fight score of 4-1.

Team South Korea also came up short last year against Team Russia Red Devil, losing early in the season and going 1-3 in team challenges for 2008. In this rematch, Team South Korea claimed victory 3-2 over the renamed Team Imperial, spotlighted by workhorse performances by lightweight Do Hyung Kim and middleweight Myung Ho Bae.  But it was Jae Young Kim’s second round head kick KO of Mikhail Zayats, one of M-1’s top stars, which surprised many.

In the third and final team challenge, two new teams, Team USA West and Team Brazil, debuted, with the Americans winning 3-2.  Although Team USA West is a new addition to the M-1 Challenge, their victory was something of a response to Team USA’s 2008 performance (1-3 in tem challenges and 6-14 in individual fights), the worst the entire season.

TEAM FINLAND VS. TEAM BENELUX

Lightweight (154 lbs. / 70.3 kg.) – Danny Van Bergen (Team Benelux) def. Juha-Pekka Vaininkainen (Team Finland) via unanimous decision.

Round one saw Vaininkainen use his significantly longer reach to his advantage, tagging Van Bergen at with jabs and right straights, but Von Bergen was a house of fire, working a triangle choke. Van Bergen, seemingly the better conditioned of the two, continued the ground assault in round two with a side triangle and an armbar. Van Bergen’s win gave Team Benelux the 1-0 lead.

Welterweight (167 lbs. / 75.7 kg.) – Janne Tulirinta (Team Finland) sub. Tommy Depret (Team Benelux) at 2:30 of round one.

Depret and Tulirinta started out trading shots on the feet, and then traded top position on the ground after a Tulirinta takedown. Making their way back to the feet, in what is a sure rarity, if not a first, Tulirinta slapped on a standing D’Arce choke, pulling back hard enough that Depret actually threw his legs up in the air, tapping out at 2:30 of the first round. The submission win tied things up 1-1.

Middleweight (185 lbs. / 83.9 kg.) – Lucio Linhares (Team Finland) sub. Kamil Uygun (Team Benelux)  at 1:22 of round one.

Linhares scored a takedown early in the round, briefly getting caught in Uygun’s half-guard. He eventually got the back and proceeded to pound Uygun’s side with fists. As Uygun tried to turn to his back, Linhares grabbed the left arm and sat back for the armbar submission. Team Finland pulls ahead 2-1 in the team challenge.

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs. / 93 kg.) – Marcus Vanttinen (Team Finland) def. Jason Jones (Team Benelux) via unanimous decision.

Although he came alive at the end of the first round with a hip toss takedown and heavy right hands, for the most part, Jones didn’t have the answers to Vanttinen’s right kicks or ground game. In round two, Vanttinen stuffed numerous takedown attempts, later punishing Jones with 50+ ground-and-pound shots from top position. Vanttinen’s victory secured the team challenge victory for Team Finland, 3-1.

Heavyweight (265 lbs. / 120.2 kg.) – Toni Valtonen (Team Finland) KO Sander Duiyvis (Team Benelux) in 0:18 of round one.

In the “freak accident” win of the night, Duiyvis was knocked unconscious as the back of his head hit the mat off a Valtonen takedown early in the first round. Valtonen fired three more shots before the referee was able to pull him off Duiyvis. This win added insult to injury as Team Finland finished the night 4-1.

TEAM SOUTH KOREA VS. TEAM IMPERIAL

Lightweight (154 lbs. / 70.3 kg.) – Do Hyung Kim (Team South Korea) def. Mikhail Malyutin (Team Imperial) via unanimous decision.

Malyutin scored two takedowns in the first round, although Kim worked from rubber guard below. In the second round, Kim turned on the heat, forcing a ground-and-pound strategy on the ground and standing over Malyutin. Team South Korea got on the board first with this victory, 1-0.

Welterweight (167 lbs. / 75.7 kg.) – Myung Ho Bae (Team South Korea) sub. Erik Oganov (Team Imperial) at 2:12 of the second round.

Myung Ho Bae showed charisma and skill over Oganov, dominating him with ground-and-pound punishment for most of the first round. In round two, Bae brought more of the same until getting a tight rear naked choke for the submission, which put Team South Korea up 2-0.

Middleweight (185 lbs. / 83.9 kg.) – Dmitriy Samoylov (Team Imperial) def. Hyungyu Lim (Team South Korea) via unanimous decision.

Fans were firmly behind this match, as Lim and Samoylov traded shots with bad intentions in round one. Despite Lim’s reach advantage, Samoylov connected with his jab. The Russian continued the standing assault in round two, in addition to body shots on the ground. Samoylov’s win kept Team Imperial alive, 1-2 in individual fights.

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs. / 93 kg.) – Jae Young Kim (Team South Korea) KO Mikhail Zayats (Team Imperial) at 4:02 of round two.

Zayats had a sizeable reach advantage over Kim, which benefitted the Russian both standing and working submissions on the ground. By round two, however, both men were exhausted, Zayats even showed his cards by putting his hands on his hips in fatigue. Kim followed up with a left head kick that dropped Zayats backwards like a Nestea plunge and gave Team South Korea the team challenge and vindication for their loss to Team Russia Red Devil last year.

Heavyweight (265 lbs. / 120.2 kg.) – Oleksiy Oliynyk (Team Imperial) sub. Sangsoo Lee (Team South Korea) at 4:27 of round two.

Oliynyk controlled Lee from bottom position during most of round one, working for a rear naked choke. Lee fought back with combinations and knees in a Greco-Roman clinch standing in round two, but Oliynyk catches Lee with a front / Ezekiel choke to claim the last laugh of the night for Mother Russia.

TEAM USA WEST VS. TEAM BRAZIL

Lightweight (154 lbs. / 70.3 kg.) – David Jansen (Team USA West) def. Flavio Alvaro (Team Brazil) via unanimous decision.

Jansen worked the D’Arce choke several times throughout the match.  Round one saw Jansen stick-and-move on the feet, as well as taking Alvaro down almost at will. Alvaro escaped from several submission attempts in round two, but Jansen claimed top position and ground-and-pounded his way to the end of the match. The crowd fervently embraced Jansen’s victory with loud “U-S-A” chants as the hometown favorites started the night off with a 1-0 lead.

Welterweight (167 lbs. / 75.7 kg.) – Eduardo Pamplona (Team Brazil) TKO Dylan Clay (Team USA West) at 2:48 of the third round.

Clay and Pamplona traded heavy leather in the first round, as well as forcing each other to the mat – Clay with a takedown and Pamplona with a knockdown. Clay scored two more takedowns in round two, also amid fists of fury from both combatants. As judges each gave a round to Clay and Pamplona, a third round was ordered. Pamplona gained top position off a Clay takedown attempt and rained rights down until referee Marco Broersen stopped the match. With this, Brazil tied the team challenge at 1-1.

Middleweight (185 lbs. / 83.9 kg.) – Reggie Orr (Team USA West) def. Juliano Belgine (Team Brazil) via split decision.

Belgine looked to take the fight to the ground, as he attempted numerous unsuccessful takedowns in round one. He did get Orr to the ground twice in round two, but each time, Orr dropped hammerfists in the guard until he could escape. Orr’s victory allowed Team USA West to maintain the lead 2-1.

Light Heavyweight (205 lbs. / 93 kg.) – Raphael Davis (Team USA) TKO Jair Goncalves, Jr. (Team Brazil) at 4:05 of the first round.

Davis was not afraid to engage on the feet with the taller Goncalves, who caught Davis with a standing guillotine. Goncalves pulled guard and worked for an armbar, but Davis escaped the lock and made his way to side mount, where he leaned into the felled Brazilian as he fired rights. Finally, referee Marco Broersen called the match, much to the protest of Team Brazil. Team USA West pulled ahead and claimed the team challenge, 3-1.

Heavyweight (265 lbs. / 120.2 kg.) – Jose Edson Franca (Team Brazil) def. Carl Seumanutafa (Team USA) via split decision.

Both fighters were on the higher side of the heavyweight limit, at 243 and 260.  Round one saw Franca shoot and pull guard several times, to which Seumanutafa answered with body shots.  After some jockeying for position against the ropes in round two, Franca got the mount on the ground and tenderized Seumanutafa’s body with shots until the end of the round.  Although Team Brazil won the final match of the night, Team USA went home with the team challenge win, 3-2.

M-1 Challenge’s next event is currently scheduled for March 21st in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Anticipated team challenges include Team Bulgaria vs. Team USA East, Team China vs. World Team, and Team Turkey vs. TBA)

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M-1 Challenge: Team Holland vs. Team Russia Red Devil

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2009 by jaytan716

Over eight long months, M-1 Global has hosted ten MMA events in nine different countries.  Fighters from all over the world have competed and represented their homelands in what has been nicknamed the “World Cup of MMA.”  And in that time, two teams have rose to the occasion and taken the top spot in their respective divisions.  Finally, Team Holland and Team Russia Red Devil battle head-to-head for the M-1 Challenge championship.

This event originally took place on January 11th at Studio 47 in Amsterdam, Holland.   As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.

Also worthy of note is that the matches tonight consist of three five-minute rounds, as opposed to the “two fives” of the regular season.

Lightweight Division:   Bogdan Christea (Team Holland) vs. Mikhail Malutin (Team Russia Red Devil)

Both Malutin and Christea are 3-1 in this year’s M-1 Challenge.  Malutin started the year out with a frustrating decision loss Bendy Casimir (Team France), but went on to win the rest of his M-1 Challenge matches.  Christea won twice by choke and once by TKO, but he lost a hard-fought battle to Daisuke Nakamura (Team Japan) via decision.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Color commentator Jimmy Smith recaps that Malutin likely won round one 10-9 for control and heavier hands.  Malutin shoots for the single-leg, but Christea jumps guard and pulls him to the ground.  They’re both busy, but referee Daisuke Noguchi stands them up.  Christea stuffs a takedown and almost gets the back, but Malutin regains top position.  Christea is making Malutin work hard for little effect, but they’re stood up again.  Christea drops Malutin with a left hook just seconds before round’s end.

Round Three:  Christea is unable to trip Malutin over from a waist clinch, but he gets the Russian to the ground and takes top position regardless.  He bulls Malutin into the corner and eventually gets a rear naked choke but Malutin spins around and takes the top. Referee Noguchi repositions them in the middle.  Lots of rolling and scrapping for position.  Christea stuffs another takedown and works for a guillotine.  Another stand-up. . . and another stuffed takedown and guillotine.  Christea is going for chokes and kimuras from the bottom.  They fight to their feet and Christea scores a takedown just before the end of the match.

Judges give the match to Mikhail Malutin by majority decision.  Very close, though.

Team Russia Red Devil is up, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Romano de los Reyes (Team Holland) vs. Erik Oganov (Team Russia Red Devil)

De los Reyes and Oganov also have even records between them, both going 2-2 in M-1 Challenge action.

Round Three (joined in progress):  Jimmy Smith’s recap indicates Oganov has won both rounds.  He’s continues the dominance with a takedown off a penetrating combination.  Reposition in the corner.  Referee Noguchi stands both fighters up and issues mutual stalling warnings.  Another reposition to the center.  Oganov is dominating with ground-and-pound from side mount until the bell.

Judges award Erik Oganov the match by majority decision.  It really should have been unanimous.

Team Russia Red Devil pulls ahead, 2-0.  Championship gold is one match ahead.

Middleweight Division:   Jason Jones (Team Holland) vs. Dmitry Samoilov (Team Russia Red Devil)

Jason Jones steps foot in the ring with a 2-2 record in this year’s M-1 Challenge, including one of the fastest TKO wins of the season, a six-second TKO over Daniel Weichel of the World Team / Team Germany.  Samoilov is 3-1 in the M-1 Challenge, going on a three-match win streak after getting caught by a Karl Amoussou head kick in his first match of the season.

Round Three (joined in progress):  Earlier, Samoilov got a yellow card warning for an illegal headbut.  Jones lands some sharp combinations and knees.  Samoilov returns the favor.  Jones with a textbook takedown from afar.  Reposition in the center.  Eventually, they’re stood up.  Jones forces a takedown and gets side mount, punishing the Russian with knees.  He continues the assault with hammerfists to the end of the match.

Jason Jones gets the decision victory, keeping Team Holland in the game, 1-2.

Light Heavyweight Division:  David Haagsma (Team Holland) vs. Mikhail Zayats (Team Russia Red Devil)

It’s good to be David Haagsma, who makes his M-1 Challenge debut tonight in the finals, filling in for Kimil Uygun on an eight hour notice.  Haagsma is a jiu-jitsu blue belt under Remco Pardoel.  Meanwhile, Mikhail Zayats comes in tonight at 4-0, the only Red Devil to have that honor.  In fact, his only loss this year was to Daniel Tabera (Team Spain) in non-M-1 Challenge action.

Round One:  Haagsma has a significant height advantage.  Zayats hands look sharp as he pushes in with combinations.  He stuns Haagsma with a spinning backfist, but Haagsma slows the action down with a clinch.  Zayats gets the takedown with some effort.  He rains down rights from half-guard and spins around to get an armbar and the tapout at 3:21 In the first round.

Team Russia Red Devil secures their third victory of the night and, as such, become the 2008 M-1 Challenge Champions.

Heavyweight Division:  Jessie Gibbs (Team Holland) vs. Alexey Oleinik (Team Russia Red Devil)

Jessie Gibbs another of the small club of 4-0 undefeated M-1 Challenge fighters.  He faces Alexey Oleinik, a fill-in for Kiril “Baby Fedor” Sidelnikov.  To his credit, however, Oleinik is on a seven-fight win streak, with five of those matches coming over two days in October of last year.  Oleinik is a tournament machine, having fought multiple times in one-night tournaments at least nine times in his career, which dates back to 1997.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Despite an Oleinik-branded takedown, Jessie Gibbs was on top for most of the match and likely won the first round 10-9.  Oleinik scores a takedown after catching a Gibbs-sponsored body kick.  Gibbs scraps to his feet.  Both men throw tired, rather unimpressive strikes.  Gibbs towers over Oleinik and throws some knees, opening up Oleinik’s right eye.  But Gibbs gives up his back standing and Oleinik pulls him to the ground with hooks in.  Oleinik transitions to top position and slaps on an Ezekiel choke for the tapout at 3:42 in the second round.

Team Russia Red Devil walk away adding insult to injury to a second place Team Holland.

Best Match**: Mikhail Malutin vs. Bogdan Christea.  Christea was extremely competitive in this match, and stole the third round, but that apparently wasn’t enough for the judges.  I thought Christea won.

Worst Match**: Erik Oganov vs. Romano de los Reyes.  By the third round, Oganov was walking away with this match.

**(based on footage aired)

The 2009 M-1 Challenge season kicks off on Saturday, February 21st, at the Emerald Queen Casino in Seattle / Tacoma, WA.  Team Challenges include Team USA 1 vs. Brazil, Team France vs. Team South Korea, and Team Finland vs. Team Benelux.  Other new faces this year will include teams from China, England, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Australia / New Zealand.

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.

Interview with Jerry Millen & Sean Wheelock of M-1 Challenge (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Interviews, M-1 Challenge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2008 by jaytan716

Jerry Millen and Sean Wheelock, M-1 Global’s respective VP of U.S. operations and English play-by-play announcer, first worked together in the spring of 2007, when Millen, then a VP in PRIDE FC’s U.S. offices, hired Wheelock to call the prophetically-named PRIDE 34: Kamikaze!  Up to that point, Wheelock was known as an established soccer and American football announcer, but he had also called several smaller MMA events.  And although Kamikaze! would end up being the Japanese promotion’s swan song, for Millen and Wheelock, the end was the beginning.

While most of the rest of the PRIDE staff moved on to different promotions, such as FEG’s Dream, ProElite, and even HUSTLE, Millen and Wheelock would reteam at M-1 Global, the international MMA shingle created by Vadim Finkelstein, where they would assume similar roles as during their PRIDE days.  Millen now functions as the lead North American rep for M-1, while Wheelock, along with MMA fighter Jimmy Smith as color commentator, has assumed English broadcast duties for the M-1 Challenge, the promotion’s year-long round-robin tournament of team MMA action.

In this two-part interview, Wheelock and Millen offer a bigger-picture view of M-1’s history and future, including the company’s agenda, expansion plans, and why they see the world of M-1 as a crucial part of the larger MMA universe.

JT:  First off, fill in the blanks for us about M-1’s background.  I think a lot of North American fans don’t know much about M-1, other than that it was the group that was briefly connected with Monte Cox, and which is connected to Fedor.

JM:  About ten years ago, Vadim Finkelstein started an organization called MixFight.  He would do MMA fights.  A lot of guys like Andrei Arlovski, Denis Kang, and Fedor [Emelianenko] fought in that organization, in Russia, on small cards before they were anybody.  So he was responsible for cultivating a lot of the younger European guys in MMA.  Obviously a lot of these guys went on to bigger and better things.  If you go to the M-1 website, which is www.m1mixfight.com, you can see a lot of video links up there of the old fights, like Andrei Arlovski ten years ago when he had his head shaved.

SW:  It’s an early fight.  You can tell he’s new to MMA, the way he fights.  He’s come a long way.  It’s definitely pre-Freddie Roach.

JT:  What about the partnership with BodogFIGHT?  What was M-1’s thought process in working with them?

JM:  We weren’t involved, but Vadim’s always looking for opportunities to expose MMA and M-1. especially to broader audiences and I think he saw that, at the time, it was a very good option.  It exposed the brand and more MMA content.

JT:  What is Vadim’s vision of MMA, as a promoter, as well as his larger global vision of it?

JM:  If you go onto YouTube, there’s a video we shot with Vadim in Russia last week that talks about what M-1 is and his vision.  He talks about how, in Russia, fighting is a part of basic training in the army.  MMA, SAMBO, hand-to-hand combat.  It’s part of the actual Russian army training.  So he expounded on that.

SW:  The word “SAMBO” is an acronym in Russian.  It was developed by the Soviet military, which combined judo, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and a lot of other practical things that a military person would need, like disarming an attacker and things like that.  That’s where SAMBO and combat SAMBO come out of.  Vadim expounds on that with Jerry, just talking about the fighting history in Russia.

JT:  Where did the idea for a global team concept come from?

SW:  We’ve been calling this the World Cup of Mixed Martial Arts.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the UFC is an outstanding organization and nobody can or should say otherwise, but to think that the UFC has 100% of the best fighters in the world, or even the vast majority of the best fighters in the world, is a naïve view.  By definition, because they don’t do dark shows, they don’t do non-televised shows, the UFC can only have such a big stable of fighters.  They’re essentially capped; whether it’s official or unofficial, they can only have so many.  And I think what Vadim saw, and certainly what Jerry and I are seeing as well, is that there are so many great fighters from so many countries, like Finland, Spain, Russia, and France.  We’re not seeing these guys in the USA, but these are legitimate top 10 or top 15 in the world fighters in their weight classes.  And I think with M-1 Challenge, it’s an opportunity to give these fighters a worldwide stage.

I know a lot of people have talked to us about the IFL.  My feeling is that it was difficult to see two teams representing cities that you had no allegiance with.  Because it’s not as through the fighters were necessarily from those cities.  Those cities really could have been anything, and you didn’t have a built-in allegiance to it.  But when you put on the M-1 Challenge, even if you’ve never heard of our fighters, if you see Finland vs. France, or the Red Devils vs. South Korea, if you’re a fight fan, that’s going to get you excited.  Just because of the international aspects of it.  What do Finnish MMA guys look like?  What do French MMA guys look like?  If you’re coming out of France, you’re probably growing up with certain disciplines.  If you’re coming out of Russia, you have these certain disciplines.  Holland, you have these certain disciplines.  And drawing it together is what I think makes it so incredibly intriguing.

JT:  That addresses my question about how M-1 sees itself as different from the IFL.  From a fan’s perspective, when I first started watching, there was some trepidation that we’d already seen this team vs. team concept, which most North American fans rejected.

JM:  You also have to remember that M-1 is a global organization where the IFL was more U.S.-based.  Sean comes from a soccer background; he’ll tell you that “nation vs. nation” is huge in soccer.  With the M-1 Challenge, we’ve seen a lot of countries get on board.  Television networks want to air it because they are into seeing France vs. Russia, or England vs. Spain.  They’re really into that.  So I think if it’s a world-based MMA organization . . . it’s our nationalism, it’s our pride, pardon the pun.  But y’know, USA can go over there and smash Spain, or beat England.  That deal.  So I think on an international level, it works.  In the U.S., Indiana against Iowa doesn’t have that much appeal in Los Angeles.

SW:  And especially because those fighters are being arbitrarily being put on those teams.  Some may be from that area, some may not have been.  But the guys who are fighting for Finland are Finnish.  Or they live there fulltime.  The American fighters are from America.  It’s not as though they’re having a draft, so it’s the same reason why soccer speaks to me so much.  And Jerry says this exactly right.  There is nothing more crazed than when you have country vs. country in soccer and I think that’s something we’re trying to replicate.  It’s a source of national pride.  You really hate if your side loses and you feel joy if your side wins, because they’re representing your country, your culture.  I think that’s what we’re really tapping into with M-1.

JT:  To that end, in countries like Finland, Spain, and Korea, how have the crowds reacted?  Is there a big demand for MMA in the countries you’re visiting?  Is M-1 returning?

SW:  We just had a sellout in Finland, and when there was success from a Finnish fighter, that place was bonkers.  I mean they were absolutely thrilled.  There were national chants in there.  It meant something to those people.  Sold-out crowds, standing room only, on a Wednesday night.

We’ve been to Russia three times this year and on our most recent trip, Jerry and I talked about this after the show.  There were about three or four thousand people in the arena chanting for this specific Russian fighter.  And that’s great.  Whether it’s something like mixed martial arts, the Olympics, or the World Cup, I think it’s fantastic that it gets people more involved and more into it.

JT:  How were the fighters recruited, and how were the teams put together, early in the process?

JM:  Apy Echteld is our matchmaker.  Apy puts the teams and coaches together.  Sean and I helped put the U.S. team together.  So it’s a collaborative effort from everyone on the M-1 staff.

SW:  Apy went through certain promoters and managers with whom he had previous relationships in certain countries to assemble a cohesive team.

JT:  Jerry, how is M-1’s internal operations compared with PRIDE?

JM:  The Japanese side of PRIDE was great.  Sakakibara-san was a great boss, a great leader, and a good friend.   Vadim Finkelstein is the same way.  I like to work with good people, and I enjoy working with people that want to perpetuate the sport.  And that actually care about the sport and the fighters.  Sakakibara cared about the fighters.  I saw him do things for fighters that no one would do.  I’ve seen Vadim Finkelstein do things for fighters that no one would do.  Obviously the U.S. PRIDE office had its issues with the two Japanese staff members who were let go [Yukino Kanda and Hideki Yamamoto].  Once they were let go, the PRIDE office ran a little smoother.  The Japanese staff worked very hard and the M-1 staff works very hard.

SW:  I’ll just say also that when we’re on the road, whether we’re in Russia, Finland, the Canary Islands, or Seoul, there’s a sense of family.  Jerry and I are essentially Midwesterners from the U.S., and we have people from Holland, Russia and from all over coming together.  That’s what struck me about M-1 immediately -how warm and welcoming everybody was to me personally from the beginning.  There were big hugs all around and it’s not artificial.  You really spend time with these people on the road and it’s not like “well, I’m in Finland and I sit in the hotel and I’m going to go to the arena.” You eat meals together, you hang out together.  You feel that cohesiveness.

And I think that goes back to Vadim, where he cares about people.  It’s not just “I’m in this for the money.”  Unfortunately, over the past 15 years, for a lot of people in MMA, it’s solely about the money.  They see an opportunity and they have no real love or passion for MMA or fighting sports in general.  They see this as an opportunity to make a buck.  Where we’re not like that at all.  It’s a family and something where we’re trying to be the best we can possibly be in this organization and really build this into a worldwide MMA organization.

JT:  Is that kind of thing attracting other fighters that might already be established?  Or is M-1 looking to strictly build the international names we haven’t heard of already?

SW:  Someone who’s able to main event a pay-per-view show is probably not going to fight for a team in the M-1 Challenge.  It’s not as through Andrei Arlovski is going to fight heavyweight if we have a Team Belarus, or Josh Barnett would fight heavyweight for Team USA.

That said, Gegard Mousasi fought for Team Holland before.  Daniel Tavera, not a lot of people know about him, but I think he’s legitimately top five in the world at 205 pounds, just fought for Team Spain.  The M-1 Challenge I think is really a chance to get people to the next level.   Whether it’s Jason Jones or Kiril Sidelnikov, whom they call “Baby Fedor.”

The parallel track to that is all of the big shows that we’re doing.  For instance, the Fedor vs. Arlovski pay-per-view that’s coming up in January – Kiril is fighting Paul Buentello on the undercard.  I think he’s got a real good chance to win that fight, and if he does, it’s going to be a real coming-out for him.  That’s where I think people are going to see that M-1 is a first-class organization.

In terms of up-and-coming fighters, fighters who are maybe fighting on unknown national circuits be it in the U.S. or whatever country they live in, I think M-1 is a really viable option.   We’re airing in over 80 countries around the world.  I don’t know that the UFC offers that type of exposure globally.

JM:  Exactly.  If Dana had his way, the UFC would be in the Olympics.  Well, to make the sport into the Olympics, you need to have all the countries on board.  It has to be accepted as a worldwide sport.  And I think M-1 is paving the way for that to happen.

JT:  In essence, M-1 is developing the international scene outside of what a lot of people would argue is the hotbed of MMA, North America.

SW:  I would disagree with that.  I would say that North America is a hotbed, but it’s not the hotbed.  Come to Helsinki and see a sold-out crowd on a Wednesday night.  Look at the reaction people like Fedor and Alexander Emelianenko get walking around South Korea, or their home country in Russia.  I think the U.S. and Canada are two of the top MMA markets in the world, but I think just saying that they’re above everything else, I don’t know that it does this sport justice globally.

MMA is a sport that’s taking off in a lot of countries that people haven’t even considered.  For instance, like France and Spain.

JT:  Have they passed legalization in France yet?

SM:  Not yet, which is ironic because they’ve produced some damn good fighters.

Part II will be posted later.  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.