Dissecting Damkovsky’s title defense: Can “The People’s Champ” dethrone THE champ

25 year old Belarusian mixed martial artist Artiom Damkovsky walked away from his last battle carrying M-1 Global’s first-ever lightweight championship belt and extended his current win streak to five, improving his record to a respectable 11-4. Capping off a seemingly ‘Cinderella story’ torrent through the 2010 Eastern Europe M-1 Selection tournament with back-to-back-to-back decisions, Damkovsky’s run was viewed as one of the toughest passes to championship status across the tournament brackets in any region and his quest culminated with gold.

The champion is now ready to cross the Atlantic ocean to make his first title defense against American Top Team protégé, Jose Figueroa in the headline bout at M-1 Challenge XXIV; the battle from the Constant Center in Norfolk, Virginia can be seen LIVE on SHOWTIME on Friday, March 25th at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).

Although only 5’8”, Damkovsky possesses a substantial reach and its clear this talented prospect understands how to effectively use this advantage. Being able to sit back and counter with explosive, powerful striking comparable to a welterweight, the Belarusian has shown to be extremely tactical in his game plan and apt in his defence; he’s also proven to critics that he has a durable chin capable of taking the heaviest of shots and then continue on relentlessly.

Inside the gruelling 2010 M-1 Selection tournament structure and his title bout against Mairbek Taisumov, Damkovsky’s showcased an incredible combination of power, speed and skill that he uses effectively to wear out his opponents. He possesses a keen awareness for ring positioning which enables him to unleash stinging leg kicks and spinning back-fists and to engage in taunting cat-and-mouse counters; with an innate ability to take down his opponents, it’s not uncommon for Damkovsky to put his opponents on the ground just to stand back up to his feet as a show of commanding athletic prowess.

Waiting patiently since his last trip inside the ring when he won the 2010 M-1 Selection Americas lightweight tournament, Jose Figueroa will stand opposite the champ come fight night and is ready to seize an unprecedented victory over Damkovsky, making his reign short-lived.

The 6’3” Orlando, Florida native is a monstrous lightweight from the famed A.T.T. camp who made his professional debut in 2006 with a decisive TKO Victory over Chandler Belaston. From here, he went on to win another three consecutive bouts before tasting his first defeat by way of submission thanks to a suffocating guillotine choke sunk in by notable Jonathan Brookins. The loss was shaken off and Figueroa went on a three-fight tear before falling off the horse and losing three straight. Some may see the string of losses as a fighter losing his game and ability – until you look deeper into the story. These three losses came against top-tier competition: Eric Reynolds, Edson Barboza and Luis Palomino, who have a combined record of 35-11. Figueroa has been fighting high level competition from day one and is one tough competitor himself holding a respectable 9-4 record.

In his performances throughout the 2010 M-1 Selection tournament, Figueroa effectively utilized his reach advantage and showed overwhelming control on the ground; fighting from guard, the imposing fighter is capable of posting up and dropping down heavy strikes at will and has solid conditioning that go the distance should the judges need to decide the outcome.

“The People’s Champ” has been focussed on his training and eagerly waiting for his opportunity to seize the championship spotlight; he’s done all he can in preparation to make Damkovsky’s first title defense a miserable experience on route to becoming the next M-1 Challenge lightweight champion.

As Europe’s leading mixed martial arts promotion’s first-ever fighter to sport the 155 pound strap, Damkovsky represents a formidable roadblock for Figueroa, who marks the Belarusian’s toughest opponent to date. Expect Damkovsky to maintain composure should he end up on an adverse position and implement a strategic ad hoc change to his game plan.

Damkovsky vs. Figueroa will be a back-and-forth war between well matched warriors ready to go deep into the championship rounds; one making a trip around the world to confirm his #1 status, the other looking to leverage home-country advantage to seize glory and etch his name in M-1 Global history.

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