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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM FINLAND VS. TEAM BENELUX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM SOUTH KOREA VS. TEAM IMPERIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM USA WEST VS. TEAM BRAZIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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M-1 Challenge: 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.

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

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2009 by jaytan716

With happy New Year regards to everybody, we start 2009 with one of the closing rounds in the M-1 Challenge.

Thus far, ten teams from nine different countries, split into two different groups, have fought a round-robin tournament internationally throughout the year.  Last week, Team Holland defeated Team Russia Legion, claiming first place in Group B.  They will square off later against Group A champions Team Russia Red Devil.  This week, Team France & hometown favorites Team Finland vie for a second place finish in Group A.

As of now, Finland and France are neck-and-neck in the standings.  Both are 2-1 in team challenges, although Finland is just slightly ahead in individual challenges, trumping France 9-6 to 8-7.  As such, a win by either team will vault them to a 3-1 record over.  However, France will have to win by 4-1 or better in individual fights in order to finish with a stronger record than Finland.

As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Fight Quest’s Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.  This meet originally took place on November 26, 2008 in Kisahalli in Helsinki, Finland.

Lightweight Division:  Maktar Gueye (Team France) vs. Niko Puhakka (Team Finland)

Gueye is 2-1 in overall M-1 action, splitting a win (Mikhail Malutin at lightweight) and loss (Erik Oganov at welterweight) against Team Russia Red Devil in previous years.  Puhakka is 2-1 in this year’s M-1 Challenge, with wins over David Martinez (Team Spain) and Kim Jong-man (Team Korea).

Round Two (joined in action):  Jimmy Smith gives the first round to Puhakka, 10-9, for control on the ground.  Not surprisingly, Gueye is anxious to push the action and controls the pace on the feet.  Puhakka circles the ring, looking for an opening and avoiding Gueye’s strikes.  Puhakka finally gets the takedown as Gueye swings a left hook.  Fans are into this match, cheering and chanting.  Puhakka works the body as he tries to pass guard.  Gueye is pretty active on the ground, throwing combinations and some elbows.  Puhakka starts to strike effectively from the top as the round ends.

Both men kept busy during round two, and Puhakka was on top for most of the round, but the judges see this as Gueye’s round.  As such, we go into a third round overtime.

Round Three:  Puhakka again is careful to engage.  Gueye drops him with a low left kick, but gets right back up.  Puhakka works hard for a takedown, finally forcing top position with a trip.  Gueye engages from the bottom, swinging away at times and also tying Puhakka’s arms up to nullify any ground-and-pound assault.  Puhakka gets side control right at the bell.  Close round, but I’d give it to Gueye.

Judges award the match to Niko Puhakka, giving Team Finland the first point of the night, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Farouk Lakebir (Team France) vs. Janne Tulirinta (Team Finland)

Lakebir, a relative latecomer to the sport, has not fared well in this year’s M-1 Challenge, going 1-2 this year, with his sole win being a decision win in March against Erik Oganov of Team Red Devil.  Tulirinta was stopped by Oganov in June by TKO, but won his two M-1 Challenge matches prior to that.  Today, Lakebir and Tulirinta look to end the year on a high note.

Round One:  Lakebir starts the striking right away.  They clinch up and exchange knees while jockeying for position.  Lakebir tries to use his body weight to spin Tulirinta down, but Tulirinta braces himself, drops down, and ends up on top.  Lakebir works for an armbar from below, but Tulirinta is swinging punches from above.  About halfway through the match, Lakebir looks to his corner, then to the referee, who suddenly stops the match at 2:23.  Lakebir is doubled over by a shoulder injury that prevents him from continuing.  Tulirinta is awarded the win by TKO / referee stoppage.

Team Finland takes a 2-0 lead.  Lakebir is in serious anguish, needing his cornerman to help support his left arm.

Middleweight Division:  Karl Amoussou (Team France) vs. Lucio Linhares (Team Finland)

This has been one of the more anticipated matches in this year’s M-1 Challenge.  It’s striker vs. grappler here, as Brazilian-born Linhares is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt, while Amoussou is a vicious kickboxer and judoka whom some have compared to a young Wanderlei Silva.

Round One:  Linhares throws the first strikes but Amoussou responds with combinations that push Linhares to the ground.  Amoussou takes top position, but Linhares neutralizes Amoussou in a closed guard, almost catching the Frenchman in a triangle.  Standing up, Linhares follows up with a powerful right straight that drops the Frenchman.  Amoussou wraps Linhares in a closed guard that Linhares actually carries while standing.  Amoussou starts throwing head kicks from the bottom.  As this is going on, Linhares actually tries complaining to referee Marcel Homeijer, who doesn’t know enough to call the foul.  I guess you have to be kicked in the head before you can claim the foul of being kicked in the head.  But Linhares continues with ground and pound, passing Amoussou’s guard, taking full mount, and securing a juji-gatame armbar.  Amoussou pushes Linhares away, but Linhares takes full mount again with 30 seconds left in the round.  He rains lefts and rights down on Karl Amoussou until the ref stops the match with six seconds left in the round.

Lucio Linhares wins the match and leads Team Finland to a 3-0 lead, thus securing the team challenge victory against Team France.

Light Heavyweight Division: Christian M’Pumbu (Team France) vs. Marcus Vanttinen (Team Finland)

This is Vanttinen’s M-1 Challenge debut, but he enters with an impressive 8-0 MMA legacy.  M’Pumbu has only fought in M-1 once, scoring a TKO stoppage against Barry Guerin (Team USA).

Round One:  Vanttinen comes in with a significant height and age difference.  They clash with a body lock.  M’Pumbu trips Vanttinen to the ground, going into the Finn’s closed guard.  Vanttinen keeps a tight high guard, pushing some offense from the bottom.  M’Pumbu tries to pass guard, standing up, and almost getting north-south, when Vanttinen rotates around.  Unfortunately, Vanttinen rotates his back right into M’Pumbu, who locks in a ridiculously tight rear naked choke that Jimmy Smith refers to as a “lion killer.”  Vanttinen taps out at 2:25 of the first round.

M’Pumbu’s victory gives France their first victory of the night, preventing a clean sweep by Team Finland.

Heavyweight Division:  Moussa Niangane (Team France) vs. Toni Valtonen (Team Finland)

Valtonen, 15-8 as a light heavyweight, moves up one weight class to fight Niangane, a European San Da / San Shou champion who makes his MMA debut tonight.  Niangane himself weighed in at 206, to Valtonen’s 229 lbs.  You gotta be kidding me.

Round One:  Valtonen takes Niangane down with a body lock.  Eventually, he gets the full mount, and spins around to side position.  Niangane is completely out of his element on the bottom, almost rolling to give up his back.  Valtonen takes top position again, then sits on Niangane’s chest for the spinning armbar.  Niangane immediately taps out at 2:00 of the first round.

Team Finland definitively claims second place in the Group B standings, with a 3-1 team challenge record and 13-7 in individual fights, compared with Team France’s 2-2 team challenge and 9-11 individual fight finish.

Best Match**: Karl Amoussou vs. Lucio Linhares.  This was one of the most anticipated matches in the M-1 Challenge, and it delivered.  Linhares landed the knockdown of the night with his right straight on Amoussou, and his impromptu complaining about Amoussou’s head kicks made for a particularly dangerous moment.  For Linhares to regain control from there and claim victory is the kind of exciting finish that makes MMA great.

Worst Match**: There wasn’t a particularly bad match on this show.  The Lakebir vs. Tulirinta match was hurt by an unfortunate non-finish, although both fighters were working hard up until that point.  Niangane vs. Valtonen was certainly a mismatch of experience, although not a particularly boring fight.

**(based on footage aired)

Next week, the World Team and Team Spain duke it out to see who escapes from the last place “basement placement.”

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 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.