Archive for Team France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superfight:  Gilbert Yvel vs. Alexander Timonov

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

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

Superfight:  Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Sang-soo Lee

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

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

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

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

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M-1 Challenge 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: 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 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.