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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superfight:  Gilbert Yvel vs. Alexander Timonov

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

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

Superfight:  Aleksander Emelianenko vs. Sang-soo Lee

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.