While friends and family will be back at home in the U.S. celebrating the Fourth of July Holiday at BBQs and fireworks displays, Team USA West will find itself immersed in a best-of-five series with Team Russia Imperial in Seoul, South Korea.

And when the 2009 “M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction” (www.M-1Global.com) resumes with its “Sixth Edition” inside the Seoul Arena, Group B leading USA West (2-0 in team challenges and 8-2 overall individually) will find itself going head-to-head with an Imperial team that will not feature a single member from its 2008 M-1 Challenge Championship team.

After beginning its ’09 campaign with two team losses, Fedor Emelianenko’s Imperial team has made wholesale changes as it looks to unearth its next generation of superstars looking to follow in the footsteps of Emelianenko, Roman Zentsov, and Kirill Sidelnikov.

While lightweight Mikhail Malyutin and heavyweight Alexey Oleinik were absent from Team Imperial in Brazil in May, the team still retained three holdovers from last year’s squad with welterweight Erik Oganov, middleweight Dmitry Samoilov, and light heavyweight Mikhail Zayats. But Zayats, Samoilov, and Oganov will all be sitting out July’s challenge in order to create roster space for rising prospects Marat Ilaev (welterweight), Radmir Gabdulin (middleweight), and Viktor Nemkov (light heavyweight).

Illaev, Gabdullin, and Nemkov will join holdovers Amirkhan Mazikhov and Maksim Grishin as Imperial faces a USA West team with its sights set on clinching a semifinal berth in the ’09 M-1 Challenge post-season along with its first-ever Group title.

Not looking to coast into the playoffs, four of five fighters that helped USA West to its 4-1 win over South Korea in Japan this past April will be back, with light heavyweight Raphael Davis the lone fighter from the roster not set to compete on July 4.

However, team owners Steve Bash and Roy Engelbrecht have gone out and recruited King of the Cage light heavyweight champion Tony Lopez (12-2) to step up as a replacement against Nemkov, who has compiled a 4-0 record competing in M-1 Challenge events and earned his spot on the Imperial roster by going 2-0 in the M-1 Selections.

Returning at lightweight for USA West will be rising lightweight prospect David Jansen, who improved to 11-0 following his unanimous decision victory over Yui Chul Nam during April’s M-1 Challenge event in Japan. The Team Quest member has already fought three times this year with his other wins having come against BodogFIGHT veteran Matt Lee as well as Rio Heroes alum Flavio Alvaro.

Representing USA West at welterweight will be Fabio “Negao” Nascimento. Nascimento, a decorated jiu-jitsu black belt, improved to 9-4 following his majority decision victory over Myeon Ho Bae in his M-1 Challenge debut this past April in Japan. Negao will look to move his M-1 Challenge record to 2-0 when he faces Ilaev, who was promoted from Imperial’s Selection roster to its Challenge roster following last month’s first round submission over Havazh Beldurov.

USA West’s middleweight slot will once again be manned by Giva “The Arm Collector” Santana (12-1), who recorded an astonishing eleventh career victory via armbar during his M-1 Challenge debut this past April against South Korea’s Min Suk Heo. The former member of the Brazilian Armed Forces, Santana will take on Gabdulin, a 4-1 fighter who has recorded all of his wins via submission despite his reputation for possessing outstanding Muay Thai skills.

Despite having dual contract with Strikeforce and M-1, former EliteXC veteran Shane Del Rosario will once again compete for USA West as its designated heavyweight. The professional Muay Thai fighter improved to 6-0 in his MMA caeer following his first round knockout over Dool Hee Lee in Japan this past April.

In addition to the best-of-five series between Group B rivals USA West and Russia Imperial, the remainder of Group B will be in action as host country South Korea takes on Brazil Naja while Group C teams Finland and Bulgaria will square off.

The current lineup for the July 4 event is as follows:

USA West vs. Russia Imperial

Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Dave Jansen (USA) vs. Amirkhan Mazikhov (RUS)
Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Fabio Nasicmento (USA) vs. Marat Ilaev (RUS)
Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Giva Santana (USA) vs. Radmir Gabdulin (RUS)
Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Tony Lopez (USA) vs. Viktor Nemkov (RUS)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Shane Del Rosario (USA) vs. Maksim Grishin (RUS)

South Korea vs. Brazil

Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Nam Yui Chul (KOR) vs. Hacran Dias (BRA)
Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Do Hyung Kim (KOR) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (BRA)
Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Jae Young Kim (KOR) vs. Daniel Acacio (BRA)
Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Doo Hee Lee (KOR) vs. Alexander Machado (BRA)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Hae Joon Yang (KOR) vs. Joaquim Ferreira (BRA)

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