Amsterdam, Holland – After making the 2008 M-1 Challenge Championship Finals as Team Holland, last year’s squad was re-christened at the start of 2009 as Team Benelux. The change was made to more accurately portray the diversity of its roster with its fighters not only hailing from the Netherlands, but neighboring Belgium and Luxembourg as well.
Locked and re-loaded, Team Benelux is poised to return to the finals in 2009 after losing the ’08 M-1 Challenge Championship Cup to Team Imperial on its home turf in Amsterdam. Led by dynamic striker Jason Jones, Benelux began its campaign for redemption vs. Team Finland at the 2009 “M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction” season opener this past February at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash.
The Benelux vs. Finland best-of-five series will debut this Friday in the United States on HDNet at 8 p.m. ET. The premiere of the third episode of this year’s M-1 Challenge will kick off a full night of MMA action on HDNet, as Benelux vs. Finland will be proceeded by “Inside MMA” at 9 p.m. ET and then a re-broadcast of DREAM.9 at 10 p.m. ET.
With both Benelux and Finland assigned to a deep Group C division that also includes USA East and Bulgaria, Friday’s matchup is a must-win for both teams with only one team from each division advancing to the M-1 Challenge playoffs.
Despite heading into the fight vs. Finland as the favorite, viewers will see a Benelux team on Friday that is pushed to the limit. Even though Jones moving from middleweight to light heavyweight in order to create a roster spot for rugged striker Kamil Uygun, Benelux found that this year’s version of Team Finland is even stronger than last year.
With aging veteran heavyweight Jarno Nurminen no longer competing on a full-time basis, Finland’s Toni Valtonen made the move from light heavyweight to heavyweight in order to create a roster spot for rising prospect Marcus Vanttinen. Jones learned first hand why Valtonen was willing to accommodate his talented teammate after Vanttinen took him the distance. Will the judges rule in Jones’ favor or will Vanttinen score the upset? Tune into HDNet this Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
Joining Valtonen and Vanttinen on the Finland roster is perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the M-1 Challenge, middleweight Lucio Linhares.
Linhares, who faces Uygun on Friday’s episode, is a jiu-jitsu black belt with an 11-4 professional MMA record. He has become one of the most well-known fighters in his adopted home country of Finland with notable wins over the likes of former UFC middleweight Sean Salmon, M-1 Challenge “Super Fight” competitor Karl Amoussou, current Bellator Fighting Championship competitor Moyses Gabin, as well as Valtonen, his current teammate.
Valtonen entered the ’09 opener with a 17-8 overall record and an impressive 3-1 mark recorded during M-1 Challenge competition last year. An expected mega-fight with Benelux heavyweight Jessie Gibbs was scratched due to an injury to Gibbs with Valtonen instead pitted against hotshot heavyweight prospect Sander Duyvis.
In addition to Jones vs. Vanttinen, Linhares vs. Uygun and Valtonen vs. Duyvis, viewers will also see two other fights at lightweight with Danny van Bergen of Benelux taking on Juha-Pekka Vainikainen and a welterweight contest with Finnish submission specialist Janne Tulirinta taking on Benelux’s Tommy Depret.
The ’09 M-1 Challenge will be airing all season long on HDNet every Friday at 8 p.m. ET. For more information on how to watch HDNet, go to HDNetFights.com. And for more information on the M-1 Challenge, please visit www.M-1Global.com.