Archive for Kiril Sidelnikov

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.

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M-1 Challenge: Team South Korea vs. Team Russia Red Devil

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by jaytan716

As 2008 winds down, we get closer to the end of this year’s M-1 Challenge round-robin tournament.  Thus far, ten teams have fought between three to four times each, with Team Russia Red Devil (2-1 in team challenges) leading Group A, while Team Holland (2-1 in team challenges) leads Group B.  Tonight, the Red Devils (home to world-famous Fedor Emelianenko) look to secure their first place standing.  Standing in their way is a very determined Team Korea.

With a dominating 11-4 individual fight record, first place is the Red Devil’s to lose.  A team victory of any kind will guarantee first-place standing, although an individual match record of 4-1 or better in this best-of-five meet will firmly secure their place in the M-1 Challenge finals.  Conversely, Team South Korea (1-2 team challenges, 6-9 individual fights) would need a 5-0 clean sweep to have a shot at the finals, and that would also require second-place Team Finland and Team France (both 2-1 team challenges) to drop their respective meets.  The deck is stacked against the Koreans, but we have seen them come back from behind and claim victory.

This meet originally took place on November 21st of this year at the Ice Palace in St.  Petersburg, Russia.  As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.

Lightweight Division: Yui-chul Nam (Team South Korea) vs. Mikhail Malutin (Team Russia Red Devil)

Nam is new to M-1 Challenge, but boasts of an undefeated 8-0 record in Spirit MC, Korea’s top MMA promotion.  Has a wrestling background, but has 5 KO’s to his name.  Mikhail Malutin is one of Team Red Devil’s standouts, going 2-0 in M-1 Challenge action. He won his last match via first round submission.

Round Two (joined in progress):  According to Jimmy Smith, Nam came out in the first round with both guns blazing, which explains the huge knot over the Russian’s right eye.  But that doesn’t deter Malutin, as he gets up off his corner stool and stands in the middle in the ring, ready to pounce.  Serious head games here.  As the bell sounds, Nam swings again, but Malutin dictates the direction and takes Nam into the corner.  Nam works for a takedown and  finally gets it with a combination Hi-C / single-leg.  Nam works hard from the top, passing guard and dropping shoulder strikes.  With a stalemate in action, the referee orders a stand-up.   Nam attempts another takedown, falling into Malutin’s guard as he slips.  Nam’s having a tough time getting out of half-guard.  Another stand-up.  Malutin now scores a takedown.  Nam works rubber guard, but being pushed up so close to the corner, he doesn’t have the space to sink in a gogoplata.  They’re repositioned in the middle of the ring, but Malutin distracts Nam with ground-and-pound until the end of the round.

Judges award Mikhail Malutin the decision victory.  Team Russia Red Devil gets on the board early and takes the 1-0 lead.  Malutin hands Nam his first defeat.

Welterweight Division: Do-hyung Kim (Team South Korea) vs. Erik Oganov (Team Russia Red Devil)

Although their Sherdog records betray it, both Kim and Oganov come into this fight with well over 20 fights each, mostly on local shows of their native countries.  Kim is 1-0 in M-1, beating Farouk Lakebir (Team France) in double-overtime action.  Oganov is undefeated in this year’s M-1 Challenge, but did lose a unanimous decision to Lakebir in 2007.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Kim and Oganov infer mutual respect with their hesitancy to engage.  Finally, Kim charges and rocks Oganov on the jaw.  He gets the full mount and unloads heavy right and then hammerfists on the felled Russian.  Before you know it, Kim takes Oganov’s back, flattens him out, and gets the submission victory at 0:57 in the second round via rear naked choke.  Kim then shows his “heel prowess,” by waving the Korean flag in gloat, giving the crowd a thumbs-down, and even stiff-arming them.  Good luck sleeping with both eyes shut tonight.

Team South Korea ties it up, 1-1.

Middleweight Division:  Mi-seok Heo (Team South Korea) vs. Dmitry Samoilov (Team Russia Red Devil)

Samoilov is 2-0 in M-1 Challenge this year, taking both wins by decision.  Heo is 1-1 in M-1 action, dropping his last match via decision to Karl Amoussou.

Round One (joined in progress):  We’re almost four minutes in and Samoilov is in Heo’s closed guard.  Samoilov is pounding on the body and slips a hard left hand on Heo, who’s trying to nullify the assault.  Samoilov lands another heavy left before the round ends.  Highlights show the Samoilov takedown that led to this ground-and-pound party.

Round Two:  Heo with a hard left kick, that Samoilov catches, but Heo prevents the single-leg takedown with stiff shots.  Samoilov finally gets a trip takedown off a clinch against the ropes, falling perfectly into side mount.  He goes on to pound hard shots to the body, even slipping some rights to the face.  Heo gets to his feet, but Samoilov sinks in a guillotine, taking the Korean down again.  More Russian hammerfists to the body.  Heo turtles up.  Samoilov has a waistlock on Heo and is firing shots to the face from behind.  The referee, sensing danger for Heo, stops the match at 2:28, giving Samoilov the TKO victory.

Heo unsuccessfully tries to protest the stoppage, but inevitably shows good sportsmanship and congratulates Samoilov, who is now 3-0 in M-1 Challenge.

Team Russia Red Devil takes the lead again, 2-1.

Light Heavyweight Division: Seung-Bae Whi (Team South Korea) vs. Mikhail Zayats (Team Russia Red Devil)

Both fighters are small for light heavyweights, with Zayats at 196 and Whi at 201.  Zayats (7-1 overall) is undefeated in this year’s M-1 Challenge, while Whi (6-1 overall) makes his M-1 debut).  Zayats’ lone loss is to Daniel Tavera, whom Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith put over practically as the second coming of Couture.

Round One:  Zayats is feisty and jumpy, while Whi paces himself.  Suddenly, the fireworks go off.  Zayats rocks Whi with a right hand, following it up with a front headlock in the corner.  Whi takes Zayats down, who works to finish from beneath with a guillotine. Whi escapes and fires the ground-and-pound artillery.  Zayats retaliates with heavy shots of his own.  He traps Whi’s hands and is able to slow the action down enough to get a referee stand-up.  On their feet again, Zayats works for a bodylock takedown, but to no avail.  He tags Whi with a left-right combo to the face, but Whi responds with a right that drops the Russian.  Zayats goes for a takedown, and they trade some more leather before the bell rings.  This is a barnburner.

Round Two:  The two fighters are hesitant at first to reengage, but before you know it, they’re at it again.  Zayats charges with combos and rocks Whi, who ties up in the corner with underhooks.  They break away and trade lefts and rights at a furious pace before Zayats opts for a takedown, proceeding to ground-and-pound in full guard.  The crowd loves this.  The referee restarts them in the middle.  Whi creates distance by pushing Zayats to his feet by arching his back.  Zayats still slips some shots to the body and even tries to spin Whi over for a half-Boston Crab before the bell rings.  Peace to Sean Wheelock for an unashamed (and spot-on accurate) pro wrestling reference.

Judges give Zayats the split decision, but Whi has made a memorable M-1 debut.

Team Russia Red Devil secures the team challenge, 3-1.  Another win will cement them in the finals.

Heavyweight Division: Jong-Whang Kim (Team South Korea) vs. Kiril Sidelnikov (Team Russia Red Devil)

At 34 years old and 267 pounds, Kim (6-3) is 14 years older and 33 pounds heavier than Sidelnikov.  According to Sean Wheelock, this is roughly on par for the man-boy they call “Baby Fedor,” whose opponents have averaged 29 pounds more than the Russian heavyweight.

Round One:  Kim looks very apprehensive to engage.  Before I can even finish that sentence, at 9 seconds of the match, Kim’s corner throws the towel in and the match is called.

I literally have to play the match in slow-motion to see the action.  Kim goes for a single-leg takedown, which Sidelnikov stuffs, firing rights to Kim’s head.  The replay from an overhead angle reveals that Kim’s cornerman had the towel in position to throw as soon as Sidelnikov made punching contact.  Kim rolls to his back and Sidelnikov lands a few more punches before the referee is able to stop the action.

Wheelock and Smith rage over the false-start, justifiably so.  Kim is holding his neck, possibly a pre-existing injury.  If that’s the case and there was no other Korean heavyweight to substitute, I would guess that the plan was to go through the motions of giving the Russian fans a Sidelnikov victory in the ring rather than announce a forfeit.  Certainly not a work, but perhaps a waste of time.

Suffice to say Team Russia Red Devil wins the team challenge 4-1.

Best Match**: Zayats vs. Whi.  First round is a slobberknocker slugfest on the feet and on the ground.  Second round consisted of more ground and pound, but both guys worked their asses off.

Worst Match**: Sidelnikov vs. Kim.  Smith and Wheelock mention Coleman vs. Fujita or Max Schmeling vs. Joe Louis regarding controversial towel-throws.  The best line Sean Wheelock said it best with his line “is that a joke? The towel was thrown in! . . . The Towel came in before the first punch.”  Nuff said.

**(based on footage aired)

Next week, the Red Devil’s Group B counterpart, Team Russia Legion, face Team Holland.  And for those of you in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, don’t forget that the last M-1 Challenge of the year takes place on December 26th at the Emerald Queen Hotel & Casino, just outside of Tacoma, WA.  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.

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.

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

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by jaytan716

For the first time this season, HD-Net resident correspondent Ron Kruck (who should be given all of Kenny Rice’s MMA broadcast assignments) opens up the show with a recap of the past two rounds of action – which HD-Net hasn’t aired.

This is the second time that the series has jumped sequence.  In the previous instance, one explanation given was that technical compatibility problems between the recorded footage and HD-Net’s broadcast standards prevented certain episodes from airing.  Because M-1 Challenge takes place in different countries, different production teams are used, and subsequently, some teams’ equipment does not record with the same quality as that which HD-Net broadcasts.

Strangely enough, Kruck narrates over highlight footage of the two recent missing meets, Team Korea vs. Team USA and Team Japan vs. Team Germany / World Team, which would indicate that compatibility problems weren’t the issue here.  These meets took place on August 29th of this year in Seoul, Korea.

Regardless, tonight’s M-1 Challenge looks to be an homage to the great icons of the Cold War:  Reagan, Gorbachev, Balboa, Drago, Duggan, Rhodes, Magnum T.A., and the Koloffs, as Team USA faces Team Russia Red Devil.

As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.  This meet originally took place on September 27th of this year at the Harvey Hadden Sports Centre in Nottingham, England.

Lightweight Division:   Mikhail Malutin (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. Beau King (Team USA)

Beau King and Mikhail Malutin are even across the board, at 27 years old and both weighing in at 153 lbs.  The only small discrepancy is with King’s 2-3 record, built up on local shows in Southern California, while Malutin comes in at 27-8.  Wait, what did I just write?

Round One:  Despite this disgusting experience difference, King is undeterred, as he sets the pace with a jab-spinning backfist-kick combination.  Malutin takes King down and works from the guard.  King is calm, keeping Malutin tied up with underhooks and working intently for a gogoplata.  Malutin counters with body shots, scrambles around to sink his hooks in, and works a body triangle from the side.  King gets on top and eventually passes to side control.  They scramble to their feet, only to end up in north-south position after Malutin rocks King with a combination.  Malutin spins to King’s back and takes control, hooks and everything.  King struggles to escape, but Malutin sinks in the rear naked choke, flattens King to his stomach, and gets the tapout just as the bell signals the end of the round.

Malutin is awarded the victory and Team Russia Red Devil opens up with a 1-0 lead.

Cameo of the night goes to Ian “The Machine” Freeman, reigning Cage Rage British Light Heavyweight champion, who is doing the ring announcing for the night.  And guest star of the night is Affliction, which is all over the mat and the referee with sponsorship signage.

Welterweight Division:   Erik Oganov (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. Brandon Magana (Team USA)

Magana is a former U.S. Marine who, after fighting sporadically since 2005, has gone into overdrive in 2008.  This is his fourth match of the year, with the third match being just one week before, at the “Strikeforce: Playboy Mansion II” event.  The last time we saw Oganov, who, like his teammate, also claims well over 20 matches, he ended Janne Tulirinta’s (Team Finland) three-match win streak.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Color commentator Jimmy Smith sets the stage by scoring round one as 10-9 for Oganov.  Magana and Oganov trade strikes cautiously.  Oganov hits a hard liver kick and scores a single-leg takedown.  Magana keeps Oganov clinched tight on the ground, using rubber guard to get in position for a triangle.  Oganov is nonplussed.  The two end up standing in the corner before the referee restarts them in the middle of the ring.  Magana charges Oganov into the corner, where the rest of the match takes place.  Magana works for the double-leg, while Oganov mutes him with a guillotine choke.  The second round ends with the bell and Erik Oganov takes the match by unspectacular majority (split) decision.

Team Russia Red Devil pulls ahead in the meet, 2-0.

Middleweight Division:   Dmitry Samoilov (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. Bryan Harper (Team USA)

Bryan Harper is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who was previously knocked out by Min-soo Na of Team Korea in the first round.  Samoilov, a sambo expert, previously won a majority decision against Nikolas Weinberg of Team Finland.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Harper pushes Samoilov back with a double jab and clinch, but Samoilov uses the corner to his benefit, working a kimura lock.  Samoilov tries a trip to the ground which Harper almost counters by balancing on Samoilov’s back, but they scramble to escape bottom position and end up on their feet.  A few more exchanges.  Harper pushes Samoilov back into the corner again and throws a high knee.  Samoilov counters with punches, taking control of the pace of the match.  Harper is now evading engagement, fading back and keeping distance with combinations. The match was Harper’s to lose, and as it transforms into a boxing match, Harper does so.

Dmitry Samoilov takes the match by majority decision as Team Russia Red Devil claims the MMA Cold War with a 3-0 split.

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

John Cornett is a Jiu-Jitsu expert from the Midwest.  He’s cornered by Team Quest coach Heath Sims and former King of the Cage light heavyweight champion James Lee.  Zayats goes into this match with a 5-1 record, whose last win was a controversial decision against Lucio Linhares (Team Finland).

Round One:  Cornett loves to bang and wastes no time in throwing some big right bombs.  Zayats takes Cornett down with a single leg.  There’s not a lot of action, which results in a restart in the center.  Zayats is trying to ground-and-pound on Cornett, who minimizes the damage with a tight guard.  These two keep working themselves into the corner and under the ropes, as Zayats G & P’s Cornett, who shrimp-crawls his way to the ropes.  Cornett would not do well in Ring of Honor with the rope breaks.  Finally, the ref restarts them standing.  Zayats moves to shoot in, but stops short just as Cornett counters with an overhand right that misses.  Zayats pushes Cornett into the corner with some wild haymakers, then himself gets spun into the ropes.  Zayats gets a verbal warning, perhaps for knees in the groinal neighborhood.  By now, he’s really intent on getting the overhand right one-punch KO.  Cornett, the reputed striker of this match, is now cautious about engaging.  Zayats may have gotten in Cornett’s head with that last flurry.

Round Two:  Right from jump street, these two are swinging for the fences.  Zayats drops Cornett and tries to finish with hammerfists, but the American escapes to his feet.  Only to be taken down again with a double-leg.  They almost fly out of the ring under the blue corner.  Getting back 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.

Team Russia Red Devil adds insult to injury with a fourth victory of the night.

Heavyweight Division:   Kiril Sidelnikov (Team Russia Red Devil) vs. James Jack (Team USA)

James Jack, a former collegiate All-American in wrestling and football, is wasting no time building up his MMA record.  All six of his career matches (3-2-1) have occurred this year.  In his last outing, he lost by submission to Malick N’diaye by submission.

Conversely, Sidelnikov’s nickname is “Baby Fedor.”  Nuff said.

Round One:  Jack comes in with a 30-pound weight advantage over Sidelnikov.  Jack is also wearing wrestling shoes, which automatically prohibits him from throwing head kicks, even standing.  Talk about giving your opponent the handicap.  Sidelnikov has an interesting side stance that reminds me of Lyoto Machida.  Jack shoots for the takedown and gets it in the corner.  Jack tries to keep Sidelnikov down with his weight but Sidelnikov walks his back up the corner padding and is able to outpower the larger American.  He lands a solid right hand which rocks Jack, but not to the point of going to his knees.  Perhaps this is just a delayed reaction, because Jack immediately shoots for a single-leg.  He hangs on to buy time, but Sidelnikov pounds away until the referee jumps in and stops the fight at 4:20 of the first round.

In one night, Team Russia Red Devil singlehandedly erases all the patriotic work that Sylvester Stallone did against the evil Russians in Rocky IV, Rambo II, and Rambo III.  Somewhere in Colorado, the Eckhert brothers are rolling over in their graves, while Danny and Erica carve out Team USA’s names on Partisan Rock.

Best Match**: John Cornett vs. Mikhail Zayats.  There were some wicked slugfest exchanges in this second round, and with the action spilling out of the ring several times, these two delivered great fireworks.  Unfortunately, Cornett’s hand injury was an anticlimactic finish, but until that point, it was the best action of the night.

Worst Match**: Erik Oganov vs. .Brandon Magana.  Very lackluster finish here, as Oganov just rode the last minute to the end of the round with guillotine choke in the corner.

** (based on footage aired)

With their individual fight sweep, Team Russia Red Devil takes the lead with a 2-1 team challenge record and a definitive 11-4 record over Team Finland, which has a 9-6 record from the same number of meets.  Team USA is condemned to fourth place, with a 1-3 team challenge record and a 6-14 individual fight record that is going to be difficult to turn around.

Next week, Team Russia Legion looks to redeem themselves against Team Germany / World Team.

M-1 Challenge TV Report: Team Finland vs. Team Russia Red Devil

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 17, 2008 by jaytan716

This week’s episode of M-1 Challenge opens with a surprise discovery.  For whatever reason, HD-Net seems to be playing the series’ episodes out of order.

Last week, we reported on episode four, Team Japan vs. Team Russia Legion, with Team USA scheduled to make their M-1 Challenge debut this week against Team Spain.  However, this week’s episode appears to feature Team Finland vs. Team Red Devil.  To take the punchline even further, the summary info on the DVR setting reads “Spain vs. Russia Legion in mixed-martial-arts action.”

This kind of continuity confusion is something I’d expect more from a Vince Russo storyline, and as such, I make a note on my To-Do list to schedule a conference call with Mark Cuban and Vadim Finkelstein to get to the bottom of this.

In the meantime, we go to Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith for tonight’s event.  Originally taking place on June 27th of this year in St. Petersburg, Russia, Finland (Group A, 2-0 team record) sets out to claim its third team victory.  Standing in their way of that goal is Fedor Emelianenko’s Team Red Devil (Group A, 0-1 team record).

Finland sets out to take its third straight team win vs. Team Red Devil

Lightweight Division:  Niko Puhakka (Team Finland) vs. Mikhail Malutin (Team Red Devil)

Both Puhakka and Malutin enter with at least 20 matches, according to the tale of the tape, although Sherdog lists Malutin with significantly fewer victories.  Puhakka is pretty serious about his tattoos, with near-full sleeve artwork covering both arms and large pieces on his chest, shoulderblade, neck, and right temple.

Round One:  Lots of feeling out between fighters in the first minute.  Puhakka stuns Malutin with a right cross.  They engage along the ropes until Puhakka goes for a guillotine that turns quickly into an anaconda choke.  He spins around for a rear naked choke with accompanying body triangle.  Puhakka keeps Malutin’s back well, flattening him out several times and transitioning back into a body triangle every time Malutin curls up.  Malutin escapes and takes top positon, but Puhakka does a good job of minimizing Malutin’s offense.  End of round one.  Puhakka  wins for ring control and several submission attempts.

Round Two:  More feeling out.  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 gives up his back to Malutin, who seizes the opportunity, takes the back with hooks in, and stays on.  Puhakka rolls over several times, but Malutin stays on him.  It’s like the previous round, but in opposite positions.  Malutin finally wears Puhakka down and sinks in the RNC at 3:32 in the second round.

Team Red Devils are on the board 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Janne Tulirinta (Team Finland) vs. Erik Oganov (Team Red Devil)

Tulirenta and Oganov both weigh in at 167 lbs.  Tulirenta is one year younger (and significantly taller), but Oganov is the professional senior by 23 matches.  Again, Sherdog would beg to differ the Russian’s record.

Round One:  The two trade kicks and punches cautiously.  Oganov engages Tulirinta and gets the takedown.  Toularenta prevents Oganov from getting side mount and sweeps the Russian for top control.  The two trade submission attempts, falling into the ropes before referee Daisuke Noguchi restarts them in the center.  Oganov is nullifying Tulirinta’s offense with a tight clinch on bottom, but he offers little else action.

Oganov gests the escape and both get to their feet.  Oganov picks Tulirinta and attempts a high slam that ends up resembling a front fisherman suplex.  He ends up falling with the Finn, but isn’t in position to follow through and capitalize.  Oganov throws Tulirinta, this time with a sambo throw, in the waning seconds of the match.  Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith gives Oganov the round.
Round Two:  Oganov comes out much more confident.  Tulirinta is not engaging as strongly.  Oganov stuns him with a series of body shots and liver punches that drops Tulirinta.  Referee Noguchi jumps in and stops the match at 0:56 in the second round, putting an end to Tulirenta’s undefeated win streak.

Team Red Devils are up 2-0.  This event is being held on the deck of a large luxury ship, which leads me to wonder how much the rocking off the ship affects a fighter’s stand-up.

Middleweight Division:  Niklas Winberg (Team Finland) vs. Dmitry Samoilov (Team Red Devil)

Samoilov went 0-1-1 in BodogFIGHT, but otherwise is a regular M-1 fighter.  Winberg’s previous two matches were in 2000 and 2001, respectively.  Both were losses.  Talk about a Quixotic comeback.

Round Two (match joined in progress):  Winberg and Samoliv come out banging.  Samoilov locks horns and sweeps Winberg to the ground.  He maintains control of Winberg by keeping knees on him and dropping punches.  Samoilov keeps this strategy while Winberg struggles to create distance with a butterfly guard and pushing off Samoilov.  Winberg almost gets to his feet, but Semilov gets his back and works for a choke.  Winberg struggles to escape as the match ends.  Judges all give the match to Samilov,.  Announcer Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith note that Winberg took the match on short notice.

Team Red Devils sweep the meet, 3-0 and secure team victory.

Light Heavyweight Division:  Lucio Linhares (Team Finland) vs. Mikhail Zayats (Team Red Devil)

Linhares normally fights at middleweight, but wanders his way into the light heavyweight neighborhood for this match.  Zayats is 4-1 going into this match, all under the M-1 banner.

Round Two (match joined in progress):  Zayats gets the takedown off a right cross.  Linhares works for a combination kneebar-ankle lock immediately, and almost gets it, but Zayats is able to escape.  Zayats gets top position; but.Linhaeres, a jiu-jitsu expert, continues to work for leglocks.  Zayats escapes and spins around for a guillotine choke.  Good ground work.  Linhares rotates around into side mount, then full mount before Zayats once again transitions into Linhares’ closed guard.  Zayats stands up and spins out, but falls back into guard when he goes back to attack.  Zayats isn’t able to get position for a ground and pound attack.  Linhares restarts his campaign for a heel hook or leglock, but Zayats is saved by the bell.

Linhares believes he’s won round two, which would result in a third tie-breaking round.  Zayats apparently won round one decisively, and the judges believe that he had enough top control to win round two as well.  Linhares and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith don’t agree, but that is how it will read in the record books.

Team Red Devils add a fourth shake of salt on the proverbial wound, 4-0.

Heavyweight Division:  Jarmo Nurminen (Team Finland) vs. Kiril Sidelnikov (Team Red Devil)

Record-wise, these two are evenly matched.

Round Two (match joined in progress):  Sidelnikov is wily, jumping around and using frantic footwork.  Nurminen shoots for the takedown, but Sidelnikov stuffs the shot and follows through with a flurry of punches.  Nurminen gets the full mount and transitions to a rear naked choke, but Sidelnikov escapes.  Nurminen hangs on for the double-leg takedown and drives the big Russian into the ropes, almost bowling over a cameraman standing on the apron.  Thankfully, the hard camera was in position to catch the near fall (pun intended).  Restart in the middle of the ring.  Sidelnikov transitions into Nurminen’s open guard and eventually works to an attempted armbar.  Both heavyweights are visibly exhausted, but they scramble for position on the ground until finally working their way to their feet.  Sidelnikov takes control with a sambo waist clinch.  Cue the triple German suplex spot now.  Instead, Nurminen escapes and goes for a double-leg takedown.  Sidelnikov mars the spot by liberally grabbing the ropes on the way down, but Nurminen uses his weight to bull his opponent down.  He would have been docked points if this had been anywhere but Russia.  Finally, the bell ends the round.

In a close call, Jarno Nurminen claims the match and a team moral victory.  With an unblemished 3-0 record and ironic resemblance, Jarno Nurminen inadvertently becomes M-1’s budding Ben Rothwell.

Best Match**: Lucio Linhares vs. Mikhail Zayats (despite a controversial decision)

Worst Match**: Niklas Winberg vs. Dmitry Samoilov

**(based on footage aired)

Team Red Devil’s performance tonight moves them from third to second place in Group A, right behind Team Finland, who still maintain the group lead by 1 team victory and a 9-6 individual fight record.  In Group B, Team Holland sits atop with a 1-1 team record and 7-3 individual fight record.  Tied for second place are Team Japan and Team Spain, both of whom have 1-0 team records and 3-2 individual fight records.

Next week, Team Spain vs. Team Russia Legion, with upper-level Group B ranking at stake.  If they can secure a victory over the Russians, Team Spain will solidify their second place standing.  For Team Russia Legion, however, victory will pull them from fourth into third place.

Unless, of course, I’m unable to get Cuban and Finkelstein on the phone together to work out the programming kinks.