Six teams and 30 fighters have converged on Tacoma, Washington in anticipation of Saturday’s “M-1 Challenge Presented By Affliction” season opener at the Emerald Queen Casino (tickets still available at Ticketmaster.com).
One of the preseason favorites to challenge the defending champion Russia Imperial Team (formerly Team Russia Red Devil) is a team with roots to last season’s runner-up, Team Holland.
For the new season of the M-1 Challenge, Holland has elected to increase its potential talent pool by partnering with neighboring countries Belgium and Luxemborg to form Team Benelux, which is scheduled for its debut on Saturday.
The formation and existence of all three countries are intertwined by history with Dutch also spoken prevalently in all three. A synergy between the three nations exists to this day, as there are no restrictions regarding travel between the three countries.
Lacking the combined resources of its neighbors, Holland was still a dominant team during the 2008 M-1 Challenge and made it to the finals against Russia. As Team Benelux, the Dutch fighters believe they now have the resources needed to claim a championship in 2009.
Returning to the team is one of the M-1 Challenge’s biggest breakout stars of 2008, the explosive and athletic Jason Jones. Jones competed last year at middleweight but is moving up to light heavyweight against Team Finland’s Marcus Vanttinen for Saturday’s opener.
Jones made a name for himself in ’08 thanks to several dramatic knockout victories and he is planning more of the same vs. Vanttinen.
“I will hit him so hard that his mother won’t recognize him,” Jones said in succinct fashion.
Jones’ aggressive attitude is one that is shared by heavyweight Sander Duyvis, who is scheduled to face the returning Toni Valtonen.
“He will get a makeover in the ring,” Duyvis began. “Forget about a submission. The fight will end with either me finishing him with my striking or my ground and pound. I intend to inflict damage.”
Team Benelux lightweight Danny van Bergen will be fighting in the U.S. for the first time and plans to leave the live crowd with something to remember him by when he faces Juha-Pekka Vainikainen.
“My fight will be an old school slugfest,” van Bergen promised. “I have seen Vainikainen fight and I think this will be a matchup of equals.”
The best-of-five matchup between Team Benelux and Team Finland will also include a welterweight encounter between Tommy Depret (Benelux) and Janne Tulrinta (Finland) as well as a middleweight fight featuring Kamil Uygun (Benelux) vs. Lucio Linhares (Finland).
In addition to Team Benelux vs. Team Finland, the ‘09 season opener will feature a total of three head-to-head matchups with 15 fights. The debuting Team USA West will be taking on Team Brazil Naja and the defending ’08 M-1 Challenge champions Russia Imperial Team will begin the defense of its crowd against South Korea.
Tickets are currently available at Ticketmaster.com (search keyword: M-1 Challenge).
Complete lineups for Saturday’s opener are as follows:
Finland vs. Benelux (best of five)
Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Juha-Pekka Vainikainen (Finland) vs. Danny van Bergen (Benelux)
Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Janne Tulrinta (Finland) vs. Tommy Depret (Benelux)
Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Lucio Linhares (Finland) vs. Kamil Uygun (Benelux)
Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Marcus Vanttinen (Finland) vs. Jason Jones (Benelux)
Heavyweight (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Toni Valtonen (Finland) vs. Sander Duyvis (Benelux)
South Korea vs. The Imperial Team (best of five)
Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Do Hyung Kim (South Korea) vs. Mikhail Malyutin (Imperial)
Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Myungho Bae (South Korea) vs. Erik Oganov (Imperial)
Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Hyungyu Lim (South Korea) vs. Dmirty Somoylov (Imperial)
Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Jae Young Kim (South Korea) vs. Mikhail Zayats (Imperial)
Heavyweight (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Sang Soo Lee (South Korea) vs. Alexey Oleinik (Imperial)
Team USA West vs. Team Brazil Naja (best of five)
Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Dave Jansen (USA West) vs. Flavio Roberto Alvaro (Brazil)
Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Dylan Clay (USA West) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (Brazil)
Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Reggie Orr (USA West) vs. Juliano Cioffi Belgine (Brazil)
Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Raphael Davis (USA West) vs. Jair Goncalves Junior (Brazil)
Heavyweight (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Carl Seumanutafa (USA West) vs. Jose Edson dos Santos Franca (Brazil)