Archive for M-1 Challenge

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.

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M-1 Challenge: Team Spain vs. Team Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakamura is now 4-0 in his individual matches.

Team Japan takes the opening match, 1-0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Japan again, 2-0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judges award the round to Lloret via unanimous decision.

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

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

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

**(based on footage aired)

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

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

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 South Korea vs. Team France

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

After last week’s preemption for basketball programming, we return to international MMA action with M-1 Challenge.  Tonight, Team Korea vs. Team France square off.

Third place France (2-0) and last place Korea (0-2) only have Team USA between them, but in terms of team challenges, the two couldn’t be farther apart.  For Korea, a win tonight will pull Korea out of the basement.  For France, victory would improve their record to 3-0.  A five-match sweep would firmly put them on top of current first place Team Russia Red Devil.  However, a 3-2 record in individual fights would only improve their record to 9-4, the same as second place Team Finland.

Also worthy of note for Americans is that tonight’s show, which originally took place on October 29th of this year at Harrah’s Casino in Kansas City, MO, is the North American debut of M-1.  Some of you may remember October 2007, when M-1, veteran promoter / manager Monte Cox, and Sibling Entertainment Group announced their plans for a larger North American debut under the M-1 Global namesake, which was to include the post-PRIDE U.S. return of Fedor Emelianenko.  A dissolving of the business relationship six months later thwarted those plans, but regardless, M-1 follows through on their word to debut in the U.S.

As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.

Lightweight Division:  Young-su Kim (Team Korea) vs. Makhtar Gueye (Team France)

Kim has a SURPRISINGLY OBVIOUS lot of tattoos.  I’m just going to let that say what it will.    Kim is no stranger to MMA, sporting an 11-6 record.  Gueye debuted in 2003, and has fought in the U.K., South Africa, and Russia, including an impressive win over Team Russia Red Devil fighter Mikhail Malutin.

Former King of the Cage Light Heavyweight champion James Lee is the referee.

Round 1:  Kim & Gueye gauge each other’s power with a respective kick-punch exchange.  Kim shoots for a takedown, but doesn’t even get below Gueye, who sprawls with no delay.  They trade more combinations, but Kim slows things down with a clinch and knees in the corner.  Gueye is very composed, waiting for his opening.  He finally reverses Kim into the corner and goes to town with body shots before Kim drops straight down.  James Lee stops the match at 1:02 of the first round.

Gueye picks Kim up and totes him around the ring.  I suppose it’s in your best interest to show respect to a Korean with as much dubious ink as Kim has.

Team France is up 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Do-hyung Kim (Team Korea) vs. Farouk Lakebir (Team France)

Do-hyung Kim has spent his time between Japan and Korea, fighting mostly in the Japanese MARS promotion, where he won a four-man, one-night tournament in December 2006.  We’ve seen “Paco” Lakebir before, when he dropped a hard-fought scrap to Jake Ellenberger of Team USA.

Round 4 (joined in progress):  Indeed, we’re going to a second overtime round, or the fourth overall round of the match.  Apparently the two split the first overtime round.

Lakebir opens up with leg kicks.  Kim volleys back with shots to the head.  Both men look surprisingly alert and energetic for going into the 20-minute mark.  Lakebir goes for a takedown and ends up getting Kim’s back.  He sinks the hooks in and spins to his butt, pulling Kim to his back.  Kim is composed, fending off the choke with hand control and strikes behind him, but he’s not working to escape.  Finally, James Lee stands them up.  One single-leg attempt and one judo throw attempt later and they’re both in the corner.  Lakebir rolls Kim to the ground, but the Korean holds onto a kimura.  Lakebir’s arm is really trapped, muting the effectiveness of his top position.  Lakebir gets Kim’s back again, hooks included, and rides Kim to the end of the round.

In a surprise, Kim gets the decision win.  Lakebir clearly controlled the fourth round, and if the previous three rounds were tied (keep in mind that M-1 matches are two regulation rounds and a third overtime round only if necessary), then this win makes no sense.  Maybe it’s just an anti-France thing.

France and Korea are tied at 1-1.

Middleweight Division:  Min-suk Heo (Team Korea) vs. Karl Amoussou (Team France)

Amoussou is one of the rising stars of M-1, a ferocious striker who slightly resembles Wanderlei Silva in style and looks.  Heo has fought steadily in Korea and Japan since 2006, beating Radmir Gabdulin of Team Russia Red Devil in his previous M-1 outing.

Round 2 (joined in progress):  Round one must have been a barn burner, as both these fighters are amped to throw down.  Heo sets it off with a modified superman punch, clinching Amoussou in the corner.  Heo finally gets the takedown, but James Lee restarts them in the middle of the ring.  Amoussou works from butterfly guard for an opening and briefly tries a guillotine, but they’re brought to their feet.  Before Amoussou has a chance to reset, Heo attacks with a side kick.  Amoussou throws him back like a ragdoll, but Heo rebounds with a takedown.  Another standing restart.  Heo and Amoussou are swinging for the fences.  Amoussou gets Heo’s back standing and wears him down with knees.  Lee restarts them again standing.  Both these guys are exhausted.  Amoussou has a guillotine against the ropes and jumps guard as the seconds expire.  The two hug like the match is over.  Little do they know.

Round 3:  Amoussou immediately throws a high kick.  Heo returns the favor.  Heo is out of position a lot, losing his balance. As such, he goes to clinch Amoussou against the ropes. Amoussou takes Heo down with an inside leg trip, but Heo gets top position.  Unfortunately, he lays and preys, but James Lee isn’t having it, so they’re up again.  He knows what the fans want.  Amoussou with more high kicks, one of which swings himself on his butt. Heo falls into guard.  Another stand-up.  The routine of Amoussou strikes / Heo clinch / fall-to-the-ground-with-Heo-on-top happens at least twice more before the bell ends the match.

Both men look exhausted, but Heo still campaigns to the crowd.  Karl Amoussou gets the decision victory in third-round overtime.

Team France jumps ahead, 2-1.

Light Heavyweight Division: Eun-soo Lee (Team Korea) vs. Karl Louis-Jean (Team France)

Eun-soo Lee is a veteran off Korea’s Spirit MC, K-1 Heroes, and PRIDE.  This is Louis-Jean’s pro debut.

Round 2 (joined in progress):  Okay, to be clear, going forward, there will be “Fighter Lee” and “Referee Lee.”  Fighter Lee stuns Louis-Jean, who backpedals to his back.  He’s tries to capitalize and finish the Frenchman with punches, but to no avail.  Referee Lee stands them up, much to Fighter Lee’s content.  Louis-Jean charges in again and gets clinched in the corner.  Louis-Jean is merely nullifying Fighter Lee’s offense, but Fighter Lee finally gets on top.  Louis-Jean stalls with a high-guard.  Referee Lee stands them up.  Louis-Jean attacks and catches Fighter Lee proverbially sleeping.  Fighter Lee leg trips Louis-Jean to the ground.  Fighter Lee is working as best he can, but Louis-Jean is simply nullifying the action.  Referee starts them again on the ground.  Jimmy Smith mentions that Louis-Jean didn’t have much time to train, possibly taking this fight on short notice.  Fighter Lee throws knees against Louis-Jean against the ropes.  Louis Jean inevitably falls through the ropes backwards, right onto Announcer Smith.  Fighter Lee continues the assault with knees and hands in Louis-Jean’s corner until that same corner finally throws in the towel and ends the match at 4:22 of the second round.

Team Korea comes back from behind to tie it up, 2-2.

Heavyweight Division:  Sang-soo Lee (Team Korea) vs. Malick N’diaye (Team France)

Sang-soo Lee comes in with a 15-3 record.  At 25, he’s six years the junior to N’diaye, who we last saw finish James Jack of Team USA with, ironically enough, an Americana.  N’diaye is a national wrestling champion from Senegal.

Round 1:  N’diaye stuns Fighter Lee with an overhand right, pushing him against, and eventually through, the ropes.  N’diaye means business, and Fighter Lee is catching up to realize it.  But the Korean is able to bring the pace down.  N’diaye stuns Lee again with a left hand, almost sending Lee through the ropes a second time.  They restart in the middle with N’diaye on top position.  Referee Lee immediately restarts them on the feet.  N’diaye swings haymakers from afar.  Fighter Lee’s striking is more technical, but he also doesn’t seem to know what to do with the big African.  Fighter Lee takes N’diaye down and gets full mount.  The blond woman in black and white stripes sitting in the front row cringes.  Did she not know what she was coming to see tonight?   N’diaye doesn’t seem to have much of an answer for getting out from bottom.  Fighter Lee tries to trap N’diaye’s arm under his knee and go to town.  N’diaye gives up his back to Fighter Lee, who works for the choke, then transitions into an armbar.  Fighter Lee gets the tap with 2 seconds in the round.

For the second time this season, a victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.  The Koryo flag flies high in M-1 this week.

After two straight team challenge losses, Team South Korea pulls themselves out of the basement, giving Team France their first team challenge loss.  The standings

Best Match**: Kim vs. Lakebir.  Despite the illogical decision, this match had some great exchanges, and was technically sound on the ground.

Worst Match**: Amoussou vs. Heo.  Amoussou really did what he could in this match, but the match was marred mostly from Heo’s clinch and lay-and-pray strategies.

**(based on footage aired)

M-1 will be returning to American soil later this month, December 26th, at the Emerald Queen Hotel and Casino in Seattle, WA.  Team Russia Red Devil will be taking on Team Holland.  Next week on HD-Net, Team Spain and Team Japan take the M-1 Challenge.

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: Team Russia Legion vs. World Team

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by jaytan716

Last week, Team Russia Red Devil dominated Team USA.  Now, the Red Devils’ regional rival, Team Russia Legion, steps into the spotlight, as they face the World Team in Group B action.

As the standings currently look, Russia Legion is tied for second place with Team Spain.  The World Team sits at the bottom, just slightly behind Team Japan, with a 1-1 team challenge record and 4-6 in individual fights.  For the World Team, a victory could launch them from the basement into second place, while, for Russia Legion, even a clean sweep victory will only nudge them from a tie for second place into a tie for first place with Team Holland.  That said, a clean sweep of victories tonight would establish Russia Legion as having the second best overall team challenge (2-1) and individual fight record (10-5) of the entire M-1 Challenge.

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:  Musa Khamanaev (Team Russia Legion) vs. Wim Deputter (World Team)

This is Khamanaev’s debut in this year’s M-1 Challenge.  Deputter’s previous outing was a decision loss to Daisuke Nakamura of Team Japan in a meet that was not televised.

Round Two (joined in progress):  According to Jimmy Smith, Khamanaev took round one with a 10-9 score.  Deputter shoots in right from the bell.  They clinch in the corner, ending up on the ground with Khamanaev in Deputter’s closed guard.  Khamanaev ground-and-pounds away, while Deputter works unsuccessfully to get better position.  When Khamanaev stands up, Deputter immediately shoots for the leg again . . . and ends up in the same bottom position.  Deputter is working to do something with the Russian’s left arm, but keeps getting distracted with short punches.  This pattern apparently mirrors the first round.  Gegard Mousasi is in Deputter’s corner, but that doesn’t seem to help.  Deputter comes close to securing a gogoplata, but loses it.  To their credit, both guys are working hard, but it’s just a stalemate of getting the upper hand.

Judges give the match to Musa Khamanaev by majority (split) decision.  Team Russia Legion takes the opening bout, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Sergey Verdesh (Team Russia Legion) vs. Jason Ponet (World Team)

Ponet is 19 years old and was born in French Guiana.  He currently lives and trains in France.  World Team originally was supposed to be a German contingent, but a dearth of qualified German fighters forced M-1 to piece together a pan-European “World Team,” and as such, Ponet finds himself on this team.  Verdesh’s previous M-1 match was over a year ago, submitting to Brian Lo-A-Njoe via second round tapout.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Based on the sweat and heavy breathing of these two, the first round must have been a doozey.  Yes, a doozey.  Verdesh sets things off with combinations.  Ponet is fighting southpaw.  Jimmy Smith explains that the traditional counterstrategy is to attack with overhand rights, which Verdesh does.  Ponet charges in with a Superman punch and gets a takedown, ending up in Verdesh’s guard.  Ponet ground-and-pounds with short punches, while Verdesh fights to hold him down.  Ponet stuns Verdesh with a few headshots, but otherwise, there’s not a lot of action.  This goes all the way to the bell.

Judges give the match to Jason Ponet via unanimous decision.  World Team ties it up, 1-1.

Middleweight Division:  Sergey Kornev (Team Russia Legion) vs.  Rosen Dimitrov (Team World)

Dimitrov is from Bulgaria.  He fought earlier this year and submitted an opponent who also was named Dimitrov.  The only other place you see something like that is in Korea, when Kim fights Kim.  Team Russia Legion appear to be using their B-team for this meet, as neither Kornev, Verdesh, nor Khamanaev have fought in this year’s M-1 Challenge until now.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Dimitrov charges in with furious striking combos to the face.  Kornev didn’t expect those flurries.  He clinches and throws Dimitrov, but both end up falling out of the ring.  Kornev lands some shots on Dimitrov’s face and gets top position after Dimitrov tries for a single leg.  Dimitrov rolls and gives Kornev his back.  They work to their feet, but back to the bottom.  Dimitrov gives up the back again, but Kornev isn’t able to capitalize on it.  Kornev gets a high full mount and rains down some rights, trapping Dimitrov’s left arm.  Dimitrov is so close to losing, but stalls TKO finish when he gives up his back.  Kornev continues the assault, and even falls on top of Dimitrov from his own fatigue, at which point the referee finally steps in and halts the match at 2:59 of the second round.

Team Russia Legion moves ahead with the lead, 2-1.

Light Heavyweight Division: Gadzimurad Omarov (Team Russia Legion) vs.  Niels Van Noord (World Team)

Omarov steps in for Besike Gerinava, who represented Russia Legion against Team Spain.  The Dutchman Van Noord had one other fight, last year, which he won with a leglock.

Round Three (joined in progress):  You read that right, we’re going into a round three overtime, for the first time in the 2008 M-1 Challenge season.  Sean Wheelock explains that this is a crucial round for Omarov and Van Noord, as rounds one and two were split.  Van Noord has a big height advantage over Omarov.  The two are trading punches when Van Noord reaches for a single-leg, but Omarov is able to shift his balance and take him down.  Omarov is in half guard, and tries to get full mount.  Unsuccessful, he resides to work the body with ground-and-pound shots.  Van Noord is barely even trying to escape.  With no action, the referee stands them up.  Same half-hearted single takedown attempt by Van Noord, same off-balance counter by Omarov.  Another stand-up at 1:30 left in the round.  Van Noord shoots for another single leg, but Omarov stuffs and flips Van Noord on bottom.  Van Noord scrambles to get up, and briefly is in whizzer position, but Omarov keeps him down.  Referee stands them up again.  Omarov shoots for the first time in this round and takes Van Noord down before the end of the round.

Judges give the match to Gadzimurad Omarov, securing the night’s team challenge, 3-1.

Heavyweight Division:  Akmed Sultanov (Team Russia Legion) vs.  Sylvester Olesky (World Team)

This is Olesky’s pro debut.  Sultanov comes in looking to vindicate himself from his previous outing, a decision loss to Team Spain’s Rogent Lloret.

Round One (joined in progress):  Olesky has quite the height advantage to Sultanov.  Both are tentative in their shots.  Sultanov throws leg kicks, but also goes high.  Olesky looks like he doesn’t have much striking experience.  Clinch in the corner.  Olseky tries to set up a hip toss, but Sultanov stuffs him and gets a full mount.  Sultanov works for an armbar, but Olesky pulls himself out the back door just as the round ends.

Round Two:  Both men try to mask their fatigue, but the lack of striking betrays their near-empty energy levels.  Sultanov throws overhand rights that whiff past Olesky’s face.  Olesky is trying to have a good first showing, but he’s suffering Sultanov’s leg kicks, is breathing out of his mouth blatantly, and just generally looks out of his element.  Sultanov throws a few more.  Sean Wheelock spots a hematoma over Olesky’s left leg and predicts the big Pole to come crashing down at any moment.  Sultanov is happy to choose his shots, using a lot of head movement and leg kicks to pick Olesky apart.  Fans are starting to get restless and jeer the two combatants.  Sultanov barely keeps the pressure on.
Judges give the match to Akmed Sultanov.  Team Russia Legion walks away with the final individual match, 4-1.

Best Match**: Sergey Kornev vs.  Rosen Dimitrov.  There wasn’t a lot of compelling action here, but it was the only one with an actual finish.

Worst Match**: Musa Khamanaev vs. Wim Deputter.  The second round was the only one to air, but as announcers Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith mention, this was also a clone of the first round.  The two scrapped on the ground for most of the match, but nobody was close to a submission attempt or a finish.

** (based on footage aired)

Team Russia Legion’s team challenge victory is somewhat anti-climactic, as their individual fight record only clarifies their second place status – not enough individual fight wins to tie for first, but just enough to get out of push Team Spain to third place. Conversely, World Team’s sole win of the night simply anchors Team Japan down to share last place.

Next week, Team Korea and Team France meet in America’s heartland of Kansas City, MO, at the first M-1 Challenge event in the U.S.

M-1 Challenge TV Report: Team USA vs. Team France

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by jaytan716

Tonight, Group A is the battleground, as Team France squares off against Team USA.  Victory for Team USA, who is currently in last place, would put them in a 1-1 three-way tie with Team Red Devil and, ironically enough, Team France.  If victorious, Team France will jump to first or second place (depending on individual match records) with a 2-0 record.

This meet originally took place on July 17th of this year at the internationally-renowned Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan.  On the mic to call the match action are M-1 Challenge’s English announcers Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith.

Lightweight Division:  David Gardner (Team USA) vs. Samuel Judes (Team France)

David Gardner (14-8-1) is a journeyman fighter who now is based with Team Quest.  Samuel Judes (3-1) is a judo expert.

Round One:  Gardner has an obvious height advantage, probably by four inches.  He drops Judes with a solid right hand and takes the Frenchman’s back on the mat.  Judes turtles up and waits, but eventually gets up again.  Judes shoots in for a single leg in the corner, which Gardner uses to work for a standing kimura, eventually taking the fight to the ground.  Gardner is throwing punches from Judes’ guard.  Judes tries to use the ropes for leverage, seemingly unaware that this is illegal.  Judes escapes and goes for another single leg, but Gardner stuffs it and takes back control, dropping short right hammerfists.  Gardner is happy punishing Judes with strikes, but isn’t making much progress.  Referee Daisuke Noguchi restarts the match in the middle.  Gardner continues his assault until Judes flattens out and goes limp with his head under the ropes.  Noguchi stops the match at 3:38 in the first round,

Team U.S. chalks up the first win, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Jake Ellenberger (Team USA) vs. Farouk Lakebir (Team France)

Jake Ellenberger is another gun-for-hire fighter who’s enjoyed some high profile notoriety with matches in the IFL and BodogFIGHT.  Jake went 12-0 after his 2005 debut before losing a close decision to Jay Hieron in 2006.  Since then, Jake has earned TKO victories over the likes of Zach Light, Ryan Stout, Gil Castillo, and even a KO of Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons in November 2007.

One inherent disadvantage for Team France is that MMA is not yet legal in their country, forcing aspiring fighters to train and get matches outside their homeland.  This probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise, given France’s reputation as “the Country of Human Rights.”  As such, Lakebir, nicknamed “Paco,” has made Holland his home base for training.

Ellenberger and Lakebir burst out of the gate swinging.  Ellenberger gets rocked with a powerful overhand right, but he buys some recovery time with a clinch and high knees to the body.  The two fall to the ground and get up again in the clinch.  Very exciting first round action.  Ellenberger imposes his will on Lakebir with a clinch in the corner and high knees.  Lakebir unsuccessfully tries to counter with a single leg.  Ellenberger takes it to the ground with a spinning armdrag takedown.  Lakebir has no answers at this point and is simply holding on, hoping for a stand-up.  Sure enough, they’re back on their feet, but Ellenberger scores another takedown just as quickly and keeps the pressure on Lakebir to the round’s end.

Round Two:  Both fighters are clearly aware of who won the first round, as Ellenberger is composed, while Lakebir looks rabidly for an opening.  They trade leg strikes.  There’s not a lot of power behind Lakebir’s shots, but they’re far more prevalent.  Ellenberger catches Lakebir with an effective knee to the chin, but isn’t able to finish him off, and accepts half-guard control.  Referee Noichi Takamura orders a stand-up, which gives us some more leg kicks and punch combinations, but once again, Ellenberger takes it to the mat.  Lakebir shows some submission skills for the first time with a kimura.  He gains top control and is working ground-and-pound combinations and a rear naked choke, but it’s too little too late, as round two ends with the bell.  Judges award the match to Ellenberger via majority decision, with one judge calling it a draw

Team U.S. is up 2-0.

Middleweight Division:  Mike Dolce (Team USA) vs. Karl Amoussou (Team France)

The theme of this match is age vs. experience, as both these men come in with the same number of matches, but Amoussou has a ten-year youth advantage over Dolce (who, in his own right, is the strength and conditioning coach for Team Quest).  Amoussou, nicknamed “Psycho,” is a fan of head games, as he stars Dolce down with a homicidal stare ala Wanderlei Silva.  This is gonna be good.

It’s firsts of fury from the get-go as Amoussou drops Dolce with a wicked combination and goes for the kill with heavy ground-and-pound assault.  The ground fighting gets caught in the ropes several times, leading to restarts in the middle.  Finally, the fight resumes on its feet, and once again, Dolce and Amoussou swing for the fences.  Dolce scores a double-leg takedown, which results in another restart in the middle.  Amoussou goes for a triangle choke, but Dolce escapes and keeps the pressure on with steady ground-and-pound.  Another stand-up restart.  By now, Amoussou is clearly fatigued.  Both fighters are more selective with their shots, but Dolce still has gas in his tank.  Amoussou trips Dolce a few times with some low kicks, but doesn’t capitalize on them.  Ding.

Round Two:  Amoussou is squinting in his left eye, indicating some vision problems, but he doesn’t shy away from attacking with high kicks.  Amoussou scores a solid right kick to the body, which Dolce instinctively no-sells.  Seconds later, the pain kicks in, as Dolce turns his back and waves the Frenchman away.  Amoussou, unsure if the paperwork is fully signed on this match, pounces on Dolce with punches, but the ref jumps in quickly and ends the match.

Team France gets on the board with their first win of the night.

Light Heavyweight Division:  Barry Guerin (Team USA) vs. Christian M’Pumbu (Team France)

M’Pumbu, a Zaire native who was raised in France, comes in with an impressive 9-1 record, with six of those wins by submission.  He made his debut in mid-2004 and didn’t fight again until March 2006, but has been on a tear since then.  Barry Guerin is a Detroit native who now resides fulltime in Tokyo.  He teaches from his extensive background in martial arts, including taekwondo, jiu-jitsu, and pankration.

Round One:  Guerin is jumpy from the start, possibly in part because of the M’Pumbu’s huge height and reach advantage.  Guerin overcommits to an overhand right that misses by a mile.  The momentum sends him spinning to the mat.  M’Pumbu jumps on Guerin and throws ground-and-pound flurries until the expat American taps out at 32 seconds into the first round.

With the meet tied at 2-2, the meet victory comes down to the heavyweights.

Heavyweight Division: James Jack (Team USA) vs. Malick N’diaye (Team France)

Between weight and win-loss records, this looks to be a fairly even match.  James Jack is an MMA rookie in 2008, but he’s kept a very busy pace, going into this match with a 2-1 record.  N’diaye (1-1), is building his MMA record on the lower-level circuit in Japan, although both of his previous matches were in 2006.  Both are hovering around the 265 lb. heavyweight limit, with Jack at 263 lbs. and N’diaye at 271.

Round One:  Jack shoots for, and scores, a takedown, but N’diaye is quick to try for a  guillotine.  Jacks gets side mount and works for a keylock.  Unsuccessful, he moves to the side mount and drops hammerfists and elbows.  N’diaye doesn’t have an answer from bottom, but he does escape to his feet.  Jack shoots for takedowns several times, but N’diaye ends up on top each time.  Finally. N’diaye falls into half-mount and sinks in an Americana for the tap at 3:54 in the first round.

Team France snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, 3-2.

Best Match**: Mike Dolce vs. Karl Amoussou

Worst Match**: Barry Guerin vs. Christian M’Pumbu

** (based on footage aired)

It was a good night for Team France, who came back from a 0-2 individual match deficit to win their second team victory 3-2, subsequently moving them into second place in Group A.  Ironically enough, Team USA’s two individual match victories for the night push them out of last place, leapfrogging over Team Korea.  However, this moral victory could be short-lived, as the Koreans still have another team meet before the standings are truly even.  Similarly, top-ranked Team Finland has an artificial advantage over their Group A compatriots, as they are the only team with three meets under their belts.

Next week, Team Holland vs. Team Japan.