Seoul, South Korea – At the start of the 2009 “M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction” season, USA West’s playoff fortunes were hardly a lock due to being placed in a loaded Group B that includes South Korea, Brazil, and the defending ’08 M-1 Challenge Champions, Fedor Emelianenko’s Team Imperial.

But thanks to a deep roster, USA West is currently 2-0 and just one win away from clinching a semifinal berth. With a win in Saturday’s best-of-five series vs. Imperial, USA West can claim its first-ever Group title.

The 15-bout event will emanate from the Olympic Hall in Seoul and will be available live on Internet PPV courtesy of starting at 5 p.m. (local Seoul time – Online PPV not available in Korea or U.S.). Additional team matchups include Finland vs. Bulgaria and host country South Korea vs. Brazil Naja with every bout being finalized after all 30 fighters made weight Friday morning at the Lotte World Hotel.

Leading the way for USA West will be its pair of blue chip prospects, lightweight David Jansen (11-0) and heavyweight Shane Del Rosario (6-0). Jansen, a product of Matt Lindland’s Team Quest, is scheduled to face Imperial’s Amirkhan Mazikov (2-1) while Del Rosario, a former EliteXC veteran, will square off with Maksim Grishin (2-2).

If USA West is upset by Imperial, South Korea still has a mathematical chance of supplanting USA West and advancing to the post-season. However, they will not only have to improve their team record to 2-1 but will need to sweep Brazil by a 5-0 score in order to win the tie-breaking category of individual wins.

A clean sweep is unlikely for South Korea against a talented and tough Team Brazil, which is led by former IFL superfighter Eduardo Pamplona. Pamplona, a former middleweight who has had trouble reaching the M-1 Challenge welterweight limit of 167.2 pounds twice this season, easily made weight on Friday.

Already 2-0 in this year’s Challenge, Pamplona was not happy with his previous victories and revealed shortly after weigh-ins that he has recently changed training camps and believes he has improved since his last M-1 Challenge appearance this past May. Not one to be shy, Pamplona expressed his desire to defeat South Korea’s Do Hyung Kim with a one-punch knockout.

Kim, who like Pamplona is also highly charismatic, is South Korea’s most athletically gifted and experienced fighter and has no desire to lose on his home turf. His clash with Pamplona is one that many pundits believe could be the fight of the night.

“Kim and Pamplona represent what the M-1 Challenge is all about,” said M-1 Global Live Events Vice President Joe Kelly. “We really feel that these two fighters have the potential to put on one of the most exciting fights the M-1 Challenge has ever seen. In the end, the winner of the fight will move on to an even bigger stage.”

Another anticipated matchup in the Brazil vs. South Korea series is a lightweight matchup between Brazilian ace Hacran Dias, 11-0-1. Dias is one of the most talked about prospect s to come out of Brazil in recent years and is on the verge of transcending from prospect status to world title contender.

Kicking off the 15-bout event will be a team challenge series between Group B rivals Bulgaria and Finland. The Fins are competing on less than a 30-day turnaround following their June 5 loss to USA East in Kansas City. After getting out to a 2-1 lead vs. the Americans, Finland then dropped two consecutive bouts and ended up losing by a 3-2 score.

Despite the loss and the short rest, Finland is a determined team with hopes of supplanting USA East for the Group C title and a trip to the M-1 Challenge semifinals. With a dominant win over Bulgaria on Saturday coupled with a USA East loss to Team Benelux in Amsterdam on Aug. 15, the Fins will be able to pull off the improbable rally.

But winning 3-2 against Bulgaria will not be sufficient, as a 4-1 margin of victory or better is needed in order for Finland to keep their post-season hopes alive. They will have to try to pull off the dominant victory without the services of its best fighter, 12-3 middleweight Lucio Linhares. Linhares, a jiu-jitsu black belt, was taken off the card in order to prepare for his first major appearance on a U.S. event when he fights M-1 Challenge veteran Mikhail Zayats on Aug.1 at Affliction and M-1’s “Trilogy” event.

Stepping in for Linhares will be Mikko Suvanto. Despite the lineup change, each and every one of Suvanto’s teammates has publicly pledged their support for their new teammate. He will look to keep Finland’s playoff hopes alive when he faces Bulgaria’s Rosen Dmitriov.

Even without Linhares, Finland still rates as one of the M-1 Challenge’s most talented teams. Leading the charge Saturday night will be welterweight Janne Tulirinta, who is a leading contender to win the “M-1 Challenge Fighter of the Year” award with two first round finishes on the season. Recently promoted to brown belt by Linahres, the underrated Tulirinta will look to finish the regular season with a 3-0 record when he takes on Ivan Ivanov, 5-2.

Complete weigh-in results are available below:

Bulgaria vs. Finland
1. Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Yanko Yanev (BUL – 69.1 kg/152.02 lbs.) vs. Niko Puhakka (FIN – 69.9 kg/153.78 lbs.)
2. Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Ivan Ivanov (BUL – 75.75 kg/151.5 lbs.) vs. Janne Tulirinta (FIN – 75.9 kg/166.98 lbs.)
3. Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Rosen Dmitirov (BUL – 83.65 kg/184.03 lbs.) vs. Mikko Suvanto (FIN – 83.65 kg/184.03 lbs.)
4. Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Emil Samoilov (BUL – 92 kg/202.4 lbs.) vs. Marcus Vanttinen (FIN – 92.7 kg/203.95 lbs.)
5. Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Nikola Dipchkov (BUL – 95.6 kg/210.32 lbs.) vs. Toni Valtonen (FIN – 100.3 kg/220.66 lbs.)

USA West vs. Russia Imperial
6. Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Dave Jansen (USA – 69.85 kg/153.67 lbs.) vs. Amirkhan Mazikhov (RUS – 69.8 kg/153.56 lbs.)
7. Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Fabio “Negao” Nasicmento (USA – 75.9 kg/166.98 lbs.) vs. Marat Ilaev (RUS – 75.3 kg/165.66 lbs.)
8. Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Giva Santana (USA – 83.3 kg/183.26 lbs.) vs. Radmir Gabdulin (RUS – 84 kg/184.8 lbs.)
9. Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Tony Lopez (USA – 92.3 kg/203.06 lbs.) vs. Viktor Nemkov (RUS – 91.8 kg/201.96 lbs.)
10. Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Shane Del Rosario (USA – 108.2 kg/238.04 lbs.) vs. Maksim Grishin (RUS – 99 kg/217.8 lbs.)

South Korea vs. Brazil
11. Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Nam Yui Chul (KOR – 69.9 kg/153.8 lbs.) vs. Hacran Dias (BRA – 69.75 kg/153.45 lbs.)
12. Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Do Hyung Kim (KOR – 75.85 kg/166.87 lbs.) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (BRA – 74.8 kg/164.56 lbs.)
13. Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Jae Young Kim (KOR – 84 kg/184.8 lbs.) vs. Daniel Acacio (BRA – 83.5 kg/183.7 lbs.)
14. Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Dool Hee Lee (KOR – 92.6 kg/203.72 lbs.) vs. Alexander Machado (BRA – 92.6 kg/203.72 lbs.)
15. Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Hae Joon Yang (KOR – 104.7 kg/230.34 lbs.) vs. Joaquim Ferreira (BRA – 106 kg/233.2 lbs.)

Leave a Reply