With no major U.S. based organization offering an MMA fight card this July 4th weekend, the M-1 Challenge takes center stage.
M-1 Challenge, billed as the “World Cup of Mixed Martial Arts,” is a team-based competition which features a series of events around the world where MMA clubs from different countries compete against each other. Each team consists of five athletes with one in each weight class ranging from lightweight to heavyweight. Teams are placed in Group A though Group D.
The latest destination for this weekend’s competition is Seoul Korea where six different teams are in action. The slated match-ups pit Bulgaria (1-1) vs. Finland (1-1), USA West (2-0) vs. Imperial Russia (0-2), and Brazil Naja (1-1) vs. Korea.
The M-1 challenge operates as a global minor league MMA system, and if successful, fighters can work their way to the main stage of the sport like past M-1 fighters Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Keith Jardine, Alistair Overeem, Yushin Okami, Ben Rothwell, Mike Pyle, Melvin Manhoef, Denis Kang, Martin Kampmann, and others have done.
With that said, lets take a look at five of the individual matches which feature fighters who could be headed to a major MMA organization in the not too distant future.
Welterweight Fight: Janne Tulirinta (Finland/11-3) vs. Ivan Ivanov (Bulgaria/5-2)
Tulirinta is even better then his his 11-3 indicates. Already a talented submission fighter, Tulirinta’s standup game has made remarkable strides this season and is the best welterweight in this year’s M-1 Challenge. With the welterweight division outside of the UFC lacking, Tulirinta could be ready now.
Tulirinta did not suffer a scratch during his 11 second TKO over USA East’s Anthony Ford just 30 days ago. Ivanove is a legitimate threat and with the win for Tulirinta will put himself in a position to take his career to the next stage.
Middleweight Fight: Giva Santana (USA West/12-1) vs. Radmir Gabdullin (Russia Imperial/4-1)
11 of Santana’s 12 wins are via armbar submission. “The Arm Collector” is looking to add to that list and take Gabdullin’s arm back home with him to Team Oyama in Orange County, Calif. But with a strong Sambo background and all four of his pro wins coming via submission, Santana will not have an easy time on the ground.
As such, don’t be surprised we if we see some of Santana’s improving standup, as his striking skills have begun to evolve thanks to a lot of sparring with USA West heavyweight Shane Del Rosario. With a another submission win, Satanta would make a nice addition to the Strikeforce Middleweight division.
Heavyweight Fight: Shane Del Rosario (USA West/6-0) vs. Maksim Grishin (Russia Imperial/2-2)
After competing for ShoXC and once for the M-1 Challenge, Del Rosario finds himself with a perfect 6-0 record and a reputation for being one of the most dynamic strikers in the heavyweight division. A member of Colin Oyama’s Team Oyama, Del Rosario has been working hard with Giva Santana to improve his ground game.
If his submission skills can rival his standup ability Del Rosario will move one step closer in his evolution from a top heavyweight prospect to a legitimate title contender. A win there could send Del Rasario into a high profile fight under the Affliction or Strikeforce banner.
But a win over Grishin is hardly a given, as he is rates as one of the best prospects coming up in the new generation of Team Imperial fighters.
Lightweight Fight : Hacran Dias (Brazil Naja/11-0-1) vs. Yui Chul Nam (South Korea/12-2)
Hacran Dias is one of the best blue chip prospects fighting out of Brazil fight now. With a record of 11-0-1, Dias is good enough to compete in any organization in the world right now. A Nova Uniao fighter, Dias made his M-1 Challenge debut in May during an event in Sao Paulo.
Facing fellow M-1 Challenge rookie Amirkhan Mazihov, Dias needed just 3:58 to finish the fight courtesy of a rear naked choke. Dias will look to improve his M-1 Challenge record to 2-0 and if successful the sky appears to the the limit for his undefeated prospect.
Nam has a impressive record but is looking to record his first M-1 Challenge win following his decision loss to USA West’s Dave Jansen during the ‘09 season opener. Being that Jansen is one of the top lightweight prospects in all of MMA, there is no shame in losing to Jansen, and with an upset win over Dias, Nam will be right back in the mix.
Welterweight Fight: Do Hyung Kim (Korea/25-5) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (Brazil Naja/11-2)
Kim is one of the most charismatic fighters in all of the M-1 Challenge Kim is a tremendous fighter who without question rates as one of the top prospects in this year’s competition. The Sunhu Gym product holds notable victories in his career over the likes of Mikhail Malyutin, Erik Oganov, and Farouk Lakebir.
Kim is moving up to 170 for what looks on paper to be an amazing matchup against Pamplona. With just one loss in his last 12 fights, Pamplona is looking to take his career to the next level following impressive wins over notables such as Juliano Belgine, Daniel Acacio, Jose “Pele” Landi-Jons, and Jorge Pantino. A win over Kim could be exactly what he needs.
Lightweight Fight: Dave Jansen (USA West/11-0) vs. Amirkhan Mazikhov (Russia Imperial/2-1)
Rising lightweight prospect David Jansen improved to 11-0 following his hard fought decision victory over Yui Chul Nam during April's M-1 Challenge event in Japan. This Team Quest member has already fought three times this year capturing notable wins having over Matt Lee and Flavio Alvaro.
Jansen wasn’t originally part of the 2009 roster with Palace Fighting Championships 155 lb. champion Brian Cobb listed as its lightweight representative. However, Cobb left USA West just ten days prior to the M-1 Challenge season opener on Feb. 21 in order to accept a contract with the UFC as a last-minute replacement at UFC 95.
The last-minute move from Cobb to Jansen has paid dividends for USA West, as Cobb was TKO’d by Terry Etim at UFC 95 and has not fought since. Meanwhile, Jansen will look to improve his record to 12-0 overall and 3-0 under the M-1 Challenge banner.