Archive for Team Spain

M-1 Challenge: Team Spain vs. World Team

Posted in M-1 Challenge, TV Reports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2009 by jaytan716

With the championship battle lines drawn between Group A’s Team Holland and Group B’s Team Russia Red Devil, tonight’s M-1 Challenge is a war for moral victory, as Team Spain and the World Team look to end the year on a winning note.  Both sit at the bottom of the Group B standings, tied at 1-2 in team challenges.  Spain is just slightly ahead of the World Team in individual fights, 6-9 to 5-10.  A World Team victory of any score will at least tie them with Spain in team challenges and individual fights.  Likewise, if Team Spain can earn four victories tonight, they’ll finish the year with a 10-10 record, which will just put them over third place Team Japan.

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:    Juha-Pekka Vaininkainen (Team Spain) vs.  Jose Luis Zapater  (World Team)

Vaininkainen and Zapater both make their M-1 debuts tonight.  Vaininkainen has built a respectable 9-4 record, mostly in Finland’s “Fight Festival” promotion.  Zapater is probably more of a featherweight, weighing in at 149 lbs.

Round One:  Vaininkainen has a tremendous height advantage.  Zapater shoots in right away, but Vaininkainen stuffs it and clinches up.  Vaininkainen literally has to lean over on Zapater to keep his overhook grip.  Zapater finally gets Vaininkainen to the ground, but is caught in a high guard that prevents him from doing any damage.  Finally, the referee stands them up, and right away, Vaininkainen clubs Zapater with a straight left that drops him and ends the match at 2:00 of the first round.

The World Team wins the first match, 1-0.

Welterweight Division:  Jose Beltran (Team Spain) vs.  Jason Ponet (World Team)

Nineteen-year old Jason Ponet is one of M-1’s youngest prospects.  His previous M-1 Challenge match was a decision win over Sergey Verdesh.  He literally faces a fighter “old enough to be his daddy.”  Beltran has dropped down from light heavyweight, where he lost in controversy to a left body kick from Tatsuya Mizuno (Team Japan).

Round One:  Beltran sports long tight pants, ala Andy Souer or Shinya Aoki.  Beltran and Ponet take their time feeling each other out, although both look game for battle.  Beltran throws some stiff low kicks and goes for a takedown as Ponet swings a combination.  Ponet is all over the place, moving at different angles, whereas Beltran is staying in the middle.  Referee Marcel Homeijer steps in and warns them both that he wants action, much to the support of the crowd.  They trade leather a bit more, but nobody makes real contact.  Beltran finally tries to shoot, but Ponet responds with Muay Thai knees and pushes Beltran to the ground.  Beltran immediately goes for a toehold and gets the tap out at 3:33.

Team Spain ties it up at 1-1.

Middleweight Division:  Rafael Rodriguez (Team Spain) vs.  Jordan Radev (World Team)

Radev, a world-class wrestler originally from Bulgaria, is a seasoned veteran who won his last M-1 Challenge match by split decision against Yuya Shirai of Team Japan.  Rodriguez, eight years the elder, fought in the M-1 Challenge this year at light heavyweight and middleweight, losing both matches, including one to Shirai.

Round One:  Rodriguez looks out of place and nervous as he circles Radev widely.  Radev throws a kick-punch combination that’s just enough to push Rodriguez to the ground.  He jumps on Rodriguez and takes his back, slipping his hooks in.  Radev doesn’t quite have his arm sunk in underneath Rodriguez’s the chin, but he’s apparently got just enough to pull up on the neck and throat, as referee Mika Sinkkonen unfittingly stops the fight at 1:08 of the first round, much to the surprise of everyone.  Rodriguez and his corner are incensed, as Rodriguez did not look at all like he was in trouble.  The decision is declared a technical submission / referee stoppage.

This is something akin to a TKO / referee stoppage in that the decision to end the match can be a subjective judgment by the referee to protect the safety of the fighters.  The same decision was used in the Tim Sylvia-Frank Mir match in 2004, although Rodriguez was nowhere near the same level of injury or danger that Sylvia was.

World Team pulls ahead again, 2-1.

Light Heavyweight Division: Enoc Solves Torres (Team Spain) vs. Valdas Pocevicius (World Team)

Solves is making his M-1 Challenge debut and possibly his MMA debut, depending on who you ask.  Pocevicius is a veteran of over 30 matches, fighting since 2001.  Gotta love non-regulation territories.

Round Two (joined in progress):  Solves is ready to go, standing in the middle of the ring before the bell sounds.  Jimmy Smith mentions that Solves probably won round one.  Both men are cautious to engage.  Solves takes Pocevicius down with an outside trip from the clinch.  He follows up with some ground-and-pound, but ends up in the guard.  Pocevicius keeps throwing heel strikes to Solves’ lower back, which referee Marco Broersen strangely admonishes.  Pocevicius keeps Solves tight, but the Spaniard is able to get to his feet and pass the guard.  He pounds away from the side and almost gets Pocevicius’ back, but Pocevicius escapes to his feet.  The crowd starts to rally, but this being in Helsinki, and with no Finns in the match, I’m not quite sure for whom.  Solve shoots for two takedowns, one of which Pocevicius stops with help from the ropes.  The ref gives him a yellow card warning.  Solves attacks again and ends up with a front headlock, throwing some knees for action.  The ref restarts them standing, but we get little exchange before the round ends.

Judges award the match to Enoc Solves Torres.  The suspense continues, with Team Spain tying it up 2-2.  It comes down to the heavyweights.

Heavyweight Division:  Rogent Lloret (Team Spain) vs.  Michael Kita (World Team)

Lloret is 2-0 since making his M-1 Challenge debut in June of last year, taking a pair of decision wins over Akmed Sultanov (Team Russia Legion) and Yuji Sakuragi (Team Japan).  Kita went 2-1 in the first half of the year, but hasn’t fought since being knocked out by MMA bad boy Gilbert Yvel in May 2008.

Round One:  Although Lloret and Kita are listed has having only three pounds difference, Kita’s body looks significantly larger, like 20+ pounds.  Kita’s come to play, however, as he charges in with a combination that pushes Lloret back.  Lloret responds with a takedown attempt that Kita uses to throw Lloret to the ground.  Lloret tries unsuccessfully for a kneebar, but he transitions to top position, inevitably getting full mount. Kita holds a tight bodylock, but Lloret is composed and pushing Kita’s head down.  Kita tries to escape by spinning out the back door, but Lloret catches his back and keeps the match grounded.  As Kita fights to pull out, Lloret transitions to a straight armbar for the tap out at 2:09 in the first round.

In a fast-paced series of matches, Team Spain comes from behind and takes the win in a very back-and-forth team challenge, 3-2.  This gives them enough to tie Team Japan for third place, ending the season with a 2-2 record in team challenges and a 9-11 showing in individual fights.  The World Team ends the season 1-3 in team challenges and 7-13 in individual fights.

Today’s episode includes a superfight from M-1’s April 3rd event at the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Superfight:  Roman Zentsov vs. Daniel Tabera

Round One:  Both men start out trepidatious.  Zentsov gets the trip takedown off a clinch and works for a keylock.  Tabera escapes and reverses position.  He’s composed on top and rides Zentsov to take the Big Russian’s back.  Zentsov eventually shakes Tabera off, working underneath the north-south and to his feet, but Tabera has clamped on a standing guillotine.  Zentsov isn’t giving in, and finally escapes when Tabera throws a knee.  Tabera gets Zentsov to the ground again, in side position until the round ends.

Round Two:  Tabera shoots from afar, but Zentsov sprawls and takes the mount.  Tabera gets the full mount with a sweep and whizzer, but he’s too high and Zentsov reverses position out the back door.  Referee Yuji Shimada doesn’t tolerate much inaction before he restarts them standing.  Tabera with a lead left jab and Zentsov with a right kick.   Zentsov is stalking Tabera around the ring, throwing a high kick that just grazes his head.  Clinching against the ropes, Tabera works for a bodylock.  Referee Shimada separates them again.  Tabera pushes the action, but Zentsov lands a big knee as he fades back.  Zentsov pushes back with strikes and has Tabera wobbling, but he doesn’t capitalize.  Tabera shoots, but Zentsov holds him at bay with a front bodylock.  Tabera is on the ground as the second round ends.

Amidst a rather partisan crowd, hometown favorite Roman Zentsov takes the decision victory.  Jimmy Smith sees it differently.

Best Match**: Roman Zentsov vs. Daniel Tabera – Great transitions and action with these heavyweights.

Worst Match**: Rodriguez x Radev – The early referee stoppage really takes away from what could have been an exciting, action-packed match.

**(based on footage aired)

Next week will be a recap of the 2008 M-1 Challenge, as well as two superfights – Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Sang-soo Lee and Gilbert Yvel vs. Alexander Timonov.

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M-1 Challenge: Team Spain vs. Team Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakamura is now 4-0 in his individual matches.

Team Japan takes the opening match, 1-0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Japan again, 2-0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judges award the round to Lloret via unanimous decision.

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

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

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

**(based on footage aired)

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

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

Interview with Jerry Millen & Sean Wheelock of M-1 Challenge (Part 1 of 2)

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

Jerry Millen and Sean Wheelock, M-1 Global’s respective VP of U.S. operations and English play-by-play announcer, first worked together in the spring of 2007, when Millen, then a VP in PRIDE FC’s U.S. offices, hired Wheelock to call the prophetically-named PRIDE 34: Kamikaze!  Up to that point, Wheelock was known as an established soccer and American football announcer, but he had also called several smaller MMA events.  And although Kamikaze! would end up being the Japanese promotion’s swan song, for Millen and Wheelock, the end was the beginning.

While most of the rest of the PRIDE staff moved on to different promotions, such as FEG’s Dream, ProElite, and even HUSTLE, Millen and Wheelock would reteam at M-1 Global, the international MMA shingle created by Vadim Finkelstein, where they would assume similar roles as during their PRIDE days.  Millen now functions as the lead North American rep for M-1, while Wheelock, along with MMA fighter Jimmy Smith as color commentator, has assumed English broadcast duties for the M-1 Challenge, the promotion’s year-long round-robin tournament of team MMA action.

In this two-part interview, Wheelock and Millen offer a bigger-picture view of M-1’s history and future, including the company’s agenda, expansion plans, and why they see the world of M-1 as a crucial part of the larger MMA universe.

JT:  First off, fill in the blanks for us about M-1’s background.  I think a lot of North American fans don’t know much about M-1, other than that it was the group that was briefly connected with Monte Cox, and which is connected to Fedor.

JM:  About ten years ago, Vadim Finkelstein started an organization called MixFight.  He would do MMA fights.  A lot of guys like Andrei Arlovski, Denis Kang, and Fedor [Emelianenko] fought in that organization, in Russia, on small cards before they were anybody.  So he was responsible for cultivating a lot of the younger European guys in MMA.  Obviously a lot of these guys went on to bigger and better things.  If you go to the M-1 website, which is www.m1mixfight.com, you can see a lot of video links up there of the old fights, like Andrei Arlovski ten years ago when he had his head shaved.

SW:  It’s an early fight.  You can tell he’s new to MMA, the way he fights.  He’s come a long way.  It’s definitely pre-Freddie Roach.

JT:  What about the partnership with BodogFIGHT?  What was M-1’s thought process in working with them?

JM:  We weren’t involved, but Vadim’s always looking for opportunities to expose MMA and M-1. especially to broader audiences and I think he saw that, at the time, it was a very good option.  It exposed the brand and more MMA content.

JT:  What is Vadim’s vision of MMA, as a promoter, as well as his larger global vision of it?

JM:  If you go onto YouTube, there’s a video we shot with Vadim in Russia last week that talks about what M-1 is and his vision.  He talks about how, in Russia, fighting is a part of basic training in the army.  MMA, SAMBO, hand-to-hand combat.  It’s part of the actual Russian army training.  So he expounded on that.

SW:  The word “SAMBO” is an acronym in Russian.  It was developed by the Soviet military, which combined judo, Greco-Roman wrestling, boxing, and a lot of other practical things that a military person would need, like disarming an attacker and things like that.  That’s where SAMBO and combat SAMBO come out of.  Vadim expounds on that with Jerry, just talking about the fighting history in Russia.

JT:  Where did the idea for a global team concept come from?

SW:  We’ve been calling this the World Cup of Mixed Martial Arts.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the UFC is an outstanding organization and nobody can or should say otherwise, but to think that the UFC has 100% of the best fighters in the world, or even the vast majority of the best fighters in the world, is a naïve view.  By definition, because they don’t do dark shows, they don’t do non-televised shows, the UFC can only have such a big stable of fighters.  They’re essentially capped; whether it’s official or unofficial, they can only have so many.  And I think what Vadim saw, and certainly what Jerry and I are seeing as well, is that there are so many great fighters from so many countries, like Finland, Spain, Russia, and France.  We’re not seeing these guys in the USA, but these are legitimate top 10 or top 15 in the world fighters in their weight classes.  And I think with M-1 Challenge, it’s an opportunity to give these fighters a worldwide stage.

I know a lot of people have talked to us about the IFL.  My feeling is that it was difficult to see two teams representing cities that you had no allegiance with.  Because it’s not as through the fighters were necessarily from those cities.  Those cities really could have been anything, and you didn’t have a built-in allegiance to it.  But when you put on the M-1 Challenge, even if you’ve never heard of our fighters, if you see Finland vs. France, or the Red Devils vs. South Korea, if you’re a fight fan, that’s going to get you excited.  Just because of the international aspects of it.  What do Finnish MMA guys look like?  What do French MMA guys look like?  If you’re coming out of France, you’re probably growing up with certain disciplines.  If you’re coming out of Russia, you have these certain disciplines.  Holland, you have these certain disciplines.  And drawing it together is what I think makes it so incredibly intriguing.

JT:  That addresses my question about how M-1 sees itself as different from the IFL.  From a fan’s perspective, when I first started watching, there was some trepidation that we’d already seen this team vs. team concept, which most North American fans rejected.

JM:  You also have to remember that M-1 is a global organization where the IFL was more U.S.-based.  Sean comes from a soccer background; he’ll tell you that “nation vs. nation” is huge in soccer.  With the M-1 Challenge, we’ve seen a lot of countries get on board.  Television networks want to air it because they are into seeing France vs. Russia, or England vs. Spain.  They’re really into that.  So I think if it’s a world-based MMA organization . . . it’s our nationalism, it’s our pride, pardon the pun.  But y’know, USA can go over there and smash Spain, or beat England.  That deal.  So I think on an international level, it works.  In the U.S., Indiana against Iowa doesn’t have that much appeal in Los Angeles.

SW:  And especially because those fighters are being arbitrarily being put on those teams.  Some may be from that area, some may not have been.  But the guys who are fighting for Finland are Finnish.  Or they live there fulltime.  The American fighters are from America.  It’s not as though they’re having a draft, so it’s the same reason why soccer speaks to me so much.  And Jerry says this exactly right.  There is nothing more crazed than when you have country vs. country in soccer and I think that’s something we’re trying to replicate.  It’s a source of national pride.  You really hate if your side loses and you feel joy if your side wins, because they’re representing your country, your culture.  I think that’s what we’re really tapping into with M-1.

JT:  To that end, in countries like Finland, Spain, and Korea, how have the crowds reacted?  Is there a big demand for MMA in the countries you’re visiting?  Is M-1 returning?

SW:  We just had a sellout in Finland, and when there was success from a Finnish fighter, that place was bonkers.  I mean they were absolutely thrilled.  There were national chants in there.  It meant something to those people.  Sold-out crowds, standing room only, on a Wednesday night.

We’ve been to Russia three times this year and on our most recent trip, Jerry and I talked about this after the show.  There were about three or four thousand people in the arena chanting for this specific Russian fighter.  And that’s great.  Whether it’s something like mixed martial arts, the Olympics, or the World Cup, I think it’s fantastic that it gets people more involved and more into it.

JT:  How were the fighters recruited, and how were the teams put together, early in the process?

JM:  Apy Echteld is our matchmaker.  Apy puts the teams and coaches together.  Sean and I helped put the U.S. team together.  So it’s a collaborative effort from everyone on the M-1 staff.

SW:  Apy went through certain promoters and managers with whom he had previous relationships in certain countries to assemble a cohesive team.

JT:  Jerry, how is M-1’s internal operations compared with PRIDE?

JM:  The Japanese side of PRIDE was great.  Sakakibara-san was a great boss, a great leader, and a good friend.   Vadim Finkelstein is the same way.  I like to work with good people, and I enjoy working with people that want to perpetuate the sport.  And that actually care about the sport and the fighters.  Sakakibara cared about the fighters.  I saw him do things for fighters that no one would do.  I’ve seen Vadim Finkelstein do things for fighters that no one would do.  Obviously the U.S. PRIDE office had its issues with the two Japanese staff members who were let go [Yukino Kanda and Hideki Yamamoto].  Once they were let go, the PRIDE office ran a little smoother.  The Japanese staff worked very hard and the M-1 staff works very hard.

SW:  I’ll just say also that when we’re on the road, whether we’re in Russia, Finland, the Canary Islands, or Seoul, there’s a sense of family.  Jerry and I are essentially Midwesterners from the U.S., and we have people from Holland, Russia and from all over coming together.  That’s what struck me about M-1 immediately -how warm and welcoming everybody was to me personally from the beginning.  There were big hugs all around and it’s not artificial.  You really spend time with these people on the road and it’s not like “well, I’m in Finland and I sit in the hotel and I’m going to go to the arena.” You eat meals together, you hang out together.  You feel that cohesiveness.

And I think that goes back to Vadim, where he cares about people.  It’s not just “I’m in this for the money.”  Unfortunately, over the past 15 years, for a lot of people in MMA, it’s solely about the money.  They see an opportunity and they have no real love or passion for MMA or fighting sports in general.  They see this as an opportunity to make a buck.  Where we’re not like that at all.  It’s a family and something where we’re trying to be the best we can possibly be in this organization and really build this into a worldwide MMA organization.

JT:  Is that kind of thing attracting other fighters that might already be established?  Or is M-1 looking to strictly build the international names we haven’t heard of already?

SW:  Someone who’s able to main event a pay-per-view show is probably not going to fight for a team in the M-1 Challenge.  It’s not as through Andrei Arlovski is going to fight heavyweight if we have a Team Belarus, or Josh Barnett would fight heavyweight for Team USA.

That said, Gegard Mousasi fought for Team Holland before.  Daniel Tavera, not a lot of people know about him, but I think he’s legitimately top five in the world at 205 pounds, just fought for Team Spain.  The M-1 Challenge I think is really a chance to get people to the next level.   Whether it’s Jason Jones or Kiril Sidelnikov, whom they call “Baby Fedor.”

The parallel track to that is all of the big shows that we’re doing.  For instance, the Fedor vs. Arlovski pay-per-view that’s coming up in January – Kiril is fighting Paul Buentello on the undercard.  I think he’s got a real good chance to win that fight, and if he does, it’s going to be a real coming-out for him.  That’s where I think people are going to see that M-1 is a first-class organization.

In terms of up-and-coming fighters, fighters who are maybe fighting on unknown national circuits be it in the U.S. or whatever country they live in, I think M-1 is a really viable option.   We’re airing in over 80 countries around the world.  I don’t know that the UFC offers that type of exposure globally.

JM:  Exactly.  If Dana had his way, the UFC would be in the Olympics.  Well, to make the sport into the Olympics, you need to have all the countries on board.  It has to be accepted as a worldwide sport.  And I think M-1 is paving the way for that to happen.

JT:  In essence, M-1 is developing the international scene outside of what a lot of people would argue is the hotbed of MMA, North America.

SW:  I would disagree with that.  I would say that North America is a hotbed, but it’s not the hotbed.  Come to Helsinki and see a sold-out crowd on a Wednesday night.  Look at the reaction people like Fedor and Alexander Emelianenko get walking around South Korea, or their home country in Russia.  I think the U.S. and Canada are two of the top MMA markets in the world, but I think just saying that they’re above everything else, I don’t know that it does this sport justice globally.

MMA is a sport that’s taking off in a lot of countries that people haven’t even considered.  For instance, like France and Spain.

JT:  Have they passed legalization in France yet?

SM:  Not yet, which is ironic because they’ve produced some damn good fighters.

Part II will be posted later.  M-1 Challenge can be seen on HD-Net every Friday at 5pm, with repeats throughout the weekend.  Check your local listings for airings outside the U.S.

M-1 Challenge: Team 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.