Archive for Team Russia Legion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superfight:  Gilbert Yvel vs. Alexander Timonov

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

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

Superfight:  Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Sang-soo Lee

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

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

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

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

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M-1 Challenge: Team Russia Legion vs. World Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** (based on footage aired)

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

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

M-1 Challenge: Team Spain vs. Team Russia Legion

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2008 by jaytan716

Last week, the Team Finland vs. Team Red Devil meet aired several weeks ahead of its scheduled broadcast.  However, tonight continues the chronological sequence, as Team Spain takes on Team Russia Legion for third place in Group B.

Currently, Team Spain is tied for second place with Team Japan, standing 1-0 in team challenges and 3-2 in individual matches.  Team Russia Legion is just behind the pair, standing 0-1 in team challenges and 2-3 in individual matches.  A victory for Team Russia Legion would shift them into a three-way tie with Team Spain and reigning top dog Team Holland, pushing Team Japan to fourth place.  A dominating match performance of 4-1 or better would solidify Russia Legion’s second place status in individual matches, which could be just enough of an edge to help them usurp Team Holland from the #1 spot.  For Team Spain, victory will propel them to the top of the overall team standings.

This meet originally took place on June 27th of this year in St. Petersburg, Russia.  As always, announcers Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith are on-hand to call the matches.

Lightweight Division:  Carlos Valeri (Team Spain) vs. Yuri Ivlev (Team Russia Legion)

Although Carlos Valeri has an experience advantage by five matches, his Achilles heel is in defending against submissions, having lost at least five times to chokes and armbars.  Yuri Ivlev’s previous match was an explosive bout that he conceded to Daisuke Nakamura.by decision.

Round One:  Valeri has a significant height and reach advantage over Ivlev, which illustrates a recurring “David vs. Goliath” that will play out for the rest of the night.  Regardless, Ivlev, a judo and sambo expert, is unphased, and attacks with a flurry of strikes, including a surprise spinning back kick to the head.  Valeri is trying to get control of the pace of the match, but Ivlev sticks with his fundamentals and takes Valeri down with a textbook hip toss.  Ivlev opts to keep the match standing. Once Valeri is on his feet again, Ivlev attacks with another combination of strikes and subsequent hip toss, right into an armbar.  Valeri doesn’t even try to fight it before he taps out at 2:31 of the first round.  Awesome finish.

This is what an MMA Jamie Noble would look like, if he were booked to win.

Team Russia Legion is on the boards 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Juan Manuel “Juanma” Suarez (Team Spain) vs. Islam Karimov (Team Russia Legion)

“Juanma” Suarez is undefeated, with a series of victories prior making his M-1 debut in May.  Islam Karimov, a sambo and karate expert, hopes to redeem himself after a TKO loss to Team Japan’s Ken Hamamura.

Round One:  Again, Suarez towers over Karimov.  But Karimov takes the fight to Suarez, forcing him into the corner with a front kick and punch combination.  Suarez jumps into guard, but Karimov controls the momentum and slams Suarez onto the mat.  The next few minutes are a jiu-jitsu chess match, as Suarez works for triangles and armbars, both off his back and in mid-air, as Karimov attempts another slam escape.  Suarez is meticulous with his grappling, but Karimov, for his part, is composed and doesn’t flinch at the sign of danger.  Finally, Suarez sweeps Karimov, gets his hooks in, and attacks from above with submission attempts and ground-and-pound openings.  Suarez gets to his feet briefly, but then passes guard and takes mount control just as the round ends.

This is a great jiu-jitsu demonstration for the uninitiated fan.  Round One goes to Suarez for the ground dominance.

Round Two:  Karimov quickly drops Suarez with a kick-overhand right combination.  Suarez goes back to the well and tries to jump guard, but Karimov has learned his lesson and works to keep the fight standing.  Karimov peppers kicks to Suarez’ legs.  Suarez finally gets up and lands some rights, driving Karimov back.  Another jump guard against the ropes.  Referee Victor Korniev orders a stand up.  Suarez campaigns for a position restart in the middle of the ring, arguing that he was attempting a submission.  Great success for Suarez!  Kimura, sweep, stand-up.  Jump guard, sweep attempt.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Karimov grounds Suarez to the mat with a waist clinch until the round runs out.  As expected, Suarez takes the decision.

Team Spain ties the meet at 1-1.

Middleweight Division:  Eulogio Fernandez (Team Spain) vs. Ansar Chalangov (Team Russia Legion)

Eulogio Fernandez makes his MMA debut tonight.  Ansar Chalangov, a two-time UFC veteran from 2005-2006, was caught in a rear naked choke in his last M-1 Challenge match.  Aside from the obvious experience gap, the difference is a wash.

Round One:  Fernandez is jumpy and nervous.  Chalangov wants his redemption.  He shoots for a double-leg takedown and bulls Fernandez into the corner.  Fernandez keeps a tight guard on the ground, but Chalangov works from the feet, going for a standing toehold in the corner.  He gets caught in the ropes slightly, but Fernandez taps at 1:20 of the first round.  Chalangov breaks his 4-match losing streak.

Team Russia Legion regains the meet lead, 2-1.

Light Heavyweight Division:  Rafael Rodriguez (Team Spain) vs. Besike Gerinava (Team Russia Legion)

Rafael Rodriguez has several more matches under his belt than Besike Gerinava, but the Russian sports an unblemished 5-0 record.  Gerinava has strong takedown skills and is dangerous on the ground.  His previous outing was a decision victory against Yuji Sakuragi.

I didn’t remember Gerinava being so hairy in his match against Sakuragi.  Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, which makes Gerinava a Wookie.

Round One:  Rodriguez replaces Spanish MMA star Daniel Tavera in M-1 competition.  Gerinava charges Rodriguez and takes him down.  Rodriguez, who’s sporting a Dingo Warrior-style armband tied around his right arm, closes guard and keeps a clinch on the ground.  Gerinava escapes the guard and stands up.  Both try for leglocks.  Rodriguez sinks in a guillotine choke in the corner and weathers a Gerinava slam to the mat.  The Russian finally escapes the choke and opens guard with a can opener.  Gerinava takes side control, then the back, and sinks in a rear naked choke before Rodriguez taps at 4:57 of the round.  Jimmy Smith comments that with seconds left in a round, it’s better to pass out and hope to beat the clock rather than tap.  Clearly, Rodriguez’s strategy was “let the Wookie win.”

Team Russia Legion clocks in their third win, securing the team victory, 3-1.

Heavyweight Division:  Rogent Lloret (Team Spain) vs. Akmed Sultanov (Team Russia Legion)

Rogent Lloret is a relative newcomer to the sport, but he’s already fought outside his home country, taking on far more experienced competition (including Jared Hamman and Brazil’s Edson Paredao).  Sultanov (3-0) is a wrestler who scored a quick armbar victory against Katsuhisa Fujii.

Round One:  The two heavyweights feel each other out before clinching up.  Lloret trips Sultanov to the ground, working eventually to full mount.  He spins for an armbar, but Sultanov escapes.  They scramble for position, but Lloret ends up back in Sultanov’s guard, then side mount.  Lloret’s record betrays his skills, as he is very composed and adept on the ground.  Lloret wins the round for control, striking, and submission attempts.

Round Two:  As could be expected, Lloret is more relaxed, while Sultanov seems jarred.   Sultanov tags Lloret nicely with a hard right, but quickly gets taken down again.  Sultanov attempts a leglock, but Lloret takes full mount and starts to drop bombs.  Sultanov creates distance from the ground by arching his back with accompanying body lock.  Lloret tries unsuccessfully for an Americana; he’s able to keep full mount with little threat of being swept, but his ground and pound isn’t effective enough to finish the big Russian.  Lloret works from above to the bell, walking away with a decision win.

Team Spain has the last laugh with the heavyweight moral victory, but Team Russian Legion wins the meet, 3-2.

Best Match**: Carlos Valeri vs. Yuri Ivlev

Worst Match**: Rogent Lloret vs. Akmed Sultanov

**(based on footage aired)

Now two months in, it’s fair to say that M-1 Challenge, as pre-taped one-hour MMA programming, is far superior to predecessors like IFL and BodogFIGHT.  Editing five matches into less than 60 minutes while keeping the integrity of the event is not an easy task.  That said, M-1 Challenge has provided great back-and-forth MMA action, especially considering that there are no household names fighting.  Announce team Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what’s going on in the ring.  Their chemistry is the best this side of Goldberg and Rogan.

For those of you in the Kansas City, MO area, M-1-sanctioned action comes to the U.S. at Harrahs Voodoo Lounge on Wednesday, October 29th.  Two meets will occur: Team Japan vs.Team Spain and Team South Korea vs. Team France, as well as UFC / Affliction veteran Whitehead and hometown hero Bobby Voelker in superfight action.  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling 816-931-3330.  Visit http://www.TitanEntertainment.com for more information.

Next week, Team USA takes on Team France, from Tokyo, Japan.

M-1 Challenge: Team Japan vs. Team Russia Legion

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2008 by jaytan716

M-1 Challenge is the latest MMA organization to acquire US TV distribution, broadcasting 20 episodes of their 2008 international tournament on HD-Net.  And although the Russian promotion has existed for over a decade, it’s only recently gained notice in North America, mostly due to promotion head Vadim Finkelstein moonlighting as the manager of M-1’s poster boy, Fedor Emelianenko.

This year, M-1 borrows from the late IFL’s team-vs.-team format, dividing 11 different “national” teams into two different blocks (Group A and Group B) and pitting them against each other in a round-robin tournament.  The countries involved are France, Finland, Germany (aka “Team Europe”), Holland, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the United States, and Russia, which features two teams, Russian Legion and Russian Red Devil.  Currently, Team Finland leads in Group A, with a 4-1 victory over Team South Korea.  In Group B, Team Holland rules with a five-match straight sweep over Team Germany.

The rules are mostly PRIDE-based, with three judges scoring two five-minute rounds (with the possibility of a third round in the event of a draw).  Elbows to the head or the throat of an opponent are illegal, as is kicking or kneeing the head of a grounded opponent.  And much like the IFL, team rankings are based on team victories, followed by cumulative individual match victories.

We pick up tournament coverage with episode four, where Team Japan faces off against Team Russia Legion.  This event took place live at the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 3rd of this year.

This week’s show opens with a quick recap of the previous event, when Team Finland dominated Team South Korea with a clear-cut 4-1 victory.  Standing out in that clash was heavyweight Jarno Nurminen and welterweight Janne Tulirinta, both of whom who scored dominating TKO victories.

Calling the shots for M-1’s English broadcast are Sean Wheelock (Major League Soccer, PRIDE 34) on play-by-play and Jimmy Smith (Fight Nation) as color commentator.

Lightweight Division:  Daisuke Nakamura (Team Japan) vs. Yuri Ivlev (Team Russia Legion)

Nakamura is a Kiyoshi Tamura protégé who built up an impressive record in Japan’s DEEP promotion, but recently fought as a gun-for-hire journeyman since 2006, fighting in Cage Rage, PRIDE Bushido, K-1 Heros, and Dream.  Ivlev is a homegrown M-1 fighter.

Round 2 (joined in progress):

As the round opens, color commentator Jimmy Smith notes that Russia has the home team advantage, and that, going into the second of a two-round match, Nakamura should be motivated to prevent the fight from going to a judges’ decision.  Nakamura pays homage to his pro wrestling roots by sporting black trunks, shin pads, and wrestling boots with his name down the side.  The action is 90% standing, with Ivlev and Nakamura trading punches and knees.  There’s few combinations, and both fighters strangely keep their hands low.  In the last minute, Nakamura goes for a kimura, then an armbar, until the bell rings.

Ironically enough, the judges award the match to Nakamura.  Japan is up 1-0.  Nobody awards Jimmy Smith “best announcer” honors.

Welterweight Division:  Ken Hamamura (Team Japan) vs. Islam Karimov (Team Russia Legion)

Not the closest of match-ups, as Hamamura boasts a 13-4-1 record (mostly in DEEP), while Karimov comes in with a 3-1-1 record.  Sherdog has different records for them, but it still indicates a huge 13-match experience discrepancy.  Both weigh in several pounds less than the 170-pound weight limit.  Karimov is a kickboxer, while Hamamura claims a karate background (and a steady record of wins in a five-year career).

Round 1:

The first round offers a lot of solid up-and-down, back-and-forth action.  Karimov drops Hamamura with a sharp right to the temple, pouncing with right fists to try and finish the match early.  Hamamura scrambles, tries for a leglock, and eventually makes it back to his feet.  Karimov takes it to the floor again with a nice sambo throw.  Hamamura escapes again and the two trade leather.  Karimov is the proverbial house of fire, but Hamamura uses his height and a Muay Thai clinch to nullify the attack.  Another sambo hip toss from Karimov, but Hamamura transitions to a heel hook, then works his way into Karimov’s guard.  Hamamura ground-and-pounds his way to Karimov’s back, but the Russian escapes just before the bell ends the round.

Round 2

Hamamura’s style somewhat resembles Lyoto Machida’s, keeping his distance and attacking with kicks from afar.  Karimov is tired, but keeps the pressure on Hamamura, who takes the Russian down with a hip toss and gets full mount.  There’s not much behind Hamamura’s punches, but Karimov is simply covering up and not working for an escape.  Hamamura continues with his G&P assault until the ref stops the match.    Ken Hamamura wins by TKO at 3:09 in round two.  Japan is up 2-0.

Middleweight Division:  Yuta Watanabe (Team Japan) vs. Ansar Chalangov (Team Russia Legion)

Chalangov is trying to shake a three-match losing streak to Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck, and Nick Thompson, respectively.  Going against conventional wisdom, Chalangov has moved up a weight class.  Watanabe is a Tsuyoshi Kosaka protégé and the third straight fighter to hail from DEEP.  M-1 and DEEP have a longstanding history of talent trade, which explains the Team Japan roster.

Round 1:

Watanabe and Chalangov feel each other out until Chalangov shoots for a takedown.  Watanabe drops Chalangov with a looping right, then follows-through with guillotine and triangle chokes.  Chalangov escapes with a slam.  The two struggle for ground control.  Watanabe takes Chalangov’s back and keeps control with a body triangle.  Watanabe gets a rear naked choke and finishes Chalangov in the first round.  Big upset victory for Watanabe, and just a big upset for Chalangov.

Yuta Watanabe wins by submission in 2:32 of round one.  Japan wins the team competition, 3-0.

At this point, Japan’s three straight wins earns them team victory for the night, but with individual match outcomes also affecting team standings, Team Russia Legion is still adamant about scoring a few wins before the night is done.  Fedor’s Red Devil team had the same problems in their first round meet against Team France.

Light Heavyweight Division:  Yuji Sakuragi (Team  Japan) vs. Besiki Gerinava (Team Russia Legion)

Gerinava goes into this match looking to continue his unblemished 4-0 record.  Sakuragi has four times the experience on Gerinava, but with a 9-13-1 Sherdog record, it would appear that Sakuragi is being brought in to be another victim.

Round 2 (joined in progress):

According to the announcers, Sakuragi lost the first round.  Gerinava attacks with several bombs and follows up with a judo throw that almost sends Sakuragi out of the ring.  Gerinava goes for a leglock, but Sakuragi escapes.  Referee Yuji Shimada orders a stand-up.  Gerinava takes Sakuragi down and gets full mount.  Ground & pound is in effect until Gerinava gets an armbar.  But he’s in bad position and against the ropes.  Yuji Shimada stands them up again.

Gerinava scores another takedown and goes into Sakuragi’s guard.  Gerinava pounds Sakuragi’s midsection with rough body shots.  Another stand-up, another takedown, and more G&P.  Sakuragi reverses and takes the mount, then slaps on an armbar in the last few seconds of the match.

Basiki Gerinava wins a unanimous decision, turning Team Russia Legion’s luck for the better.

Heavyweight Division:  Katsuhisa Fujii (Team Japan) vs. Akhmet Sultanov (Team Russia Legion)

Fujii is 35-years old and is 8-13-1.  Sultanov is 27-years old and 2-0.  Ahem.  Both Katsuhisa and Sultanov come from wrestling backgrounds.  Kazuhisa is a Kazayuki Fujita protégé, and is wearing wrestling shoes.  Announcer Sean Wheelock notes that kicks to the head are NOT legal if wearing shoes or boots.  That’s one weapon less in the arsenal of “the other Mr. Fujii.”

Round 1:

Mr. Fujii takes Sultanov down, but the Russian heavyweight reverses and takes Mr. Fujii’s back.   Sultanov sinks his hooks in and goes for a rear naked choke.  He steps over for an armbar and gets the tapout at 0:38 in round one.

Final team score is Japan 3, Russia Legion 2.  Team Japan scores an upset victory over Team Russia Legion with a sweep of the first three matches.  But Team Russia Legion comes back with a moral victory, stealing the light heavyweight and heavyweight bouts.

As TV programming, M-1 Challenge faces similar as the IFL: needing to edit matches down for time, a lack of recognizable (or English-speaking) fighters, little opportunity to showcase

fighters’ personalities, and as-yet unproven team-vs.-team concept.  That said, Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith are a very impressive team, especially considering that M-1 Challenge is their first pairing together.  M-1’s live production value, with the white ring, referee uniform, overhead lighting grid, fighter gloves, and ring entrance design clearly is PRIDE-inspired.

M-1 won’t pose any threats to the American MMA scene anytime soon, but in hosting a year-long tournament that involves 10 different countries, Vadim Finkelstein’s promotion is breaking some new ground in the international MMA scene.

Best Match: Yuta Watanabe vs. Ansar Chalangov

Worst Match: Yuji Sakuragi vs. Besiki Gerinava

**(based on footage aired)

Next week, Team USA takes on Team Spain, from Gran Canadia, Spain.