With a slim one win lead over Finland, USA East is hardly guaranteed an M-1 Challenge (www.M-1Global.com) post-season berth with the tightly-contested Group C title is still up for grabs.
Finland has a chance to finish the regular season with a 2-1 record on July 4 in Seoul, South Korea and could also greatly improve its individual win record when it faces third place Bulgaria.
A dominant win by Finland on July 4 coupled with a loss by USA East on Aug. 15 could propel the Fins into the ’09 “M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction” post-season. But in order to have any shot at the title, Finland first must make sure it takes care of business in Seoul, South Korea when they face the Bulgarians.
And Team Finland will have to try and keep their playoff hopes alive without the presence of its best pound-for-pound fighter, middleweight Lucio Linhares.
Linhares, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a 12-4 record, will be on the sidelines come July 4 as he prepares for his much-anticipated rematch with Mikhail Zayats at Affliction and M-1 “Trilogy” on Aug. 1 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Stepping in for Linhares will be Mikko Suvanto, 7-3-1. Suvanto had been expected to step in to face former UFC veteran Jordan Radev but like Linhares, Radev will also be sidelined. Instead, Suvanto is set to face fellow M-1 Challenge newcomer Rosen Dimitrov, 5-1.
While Linahres won’t be available on the fourth, Team Finland still will see lightweight Niko Puhaka, welterweight Janne Tulirinta, light heavyweight Marcus Vanttinen, and heavyweight Toni Valtonen all return to the team despite the fact all four fighters just competed on June 5 in Kansas City.
Puhaka will face Yanko Yanev, 8-1. Yanev, a standout amateur wrestler, recorded his first-ever M-1 Challenge victory when he submitted Team Benelux’s Danny van Bergen with an armbar at 2:23 of round 1 in May during an M-1 Challenge event in Brazil.
Tulirinta, 11-3, who currently leads the M-1 Challenge statistical rankings for “Fighter of the Year,” will look to win his fourth consecutive when he faces Ivan Ivanov, 5-2.
After upsetting Jason Jones during the ’09 M-1 Challenge season opener this past February in Tacoma, Wash., Vanttinen, 9-2, lost his next M-1 Challenge fight in June following a unanimous decision loss to USA East’s Rodney Wallace. He will look to return to his winning ways against Emil Samoilov.
Valtonen is also poised to return to his winning ways after losing in Kansas City. With a best-of-five series between Finland and USA East tied at 2-2 heading into the fifth and final contest, Valtonen lost the team challenge after tapping to a neck crank from Lloyd Marshbanks. He will be given every chance to redeem himself against Bulgarian heavyweight Nikola Dipchkov.
Dipchkov made his professional MMA debut during the M-1 Challenge event in Brazil against one of M-1’s best heavyweights, Jessie Gibbs. Dipchkov’s inexperience showed, as he tapped to punches by Gibbs at just 1:37 of round 1. Things won’t be any easier for him against Valtonen, 18-9.
In addition to the best-of-five showdown between Finland and Bulgaria, two other team challenge matchups between USA West vs. Russia Imperial and host country South Korea vs. Brazil Naja.
The event will be taped for future airing in the United States on HDNet, which broadcasts the M-1 Challenge each and every Friday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream of the event will also be available via Internet pay-per-view (note: live stream will not be available in the U.S. or South Korea). For more information on the M-1 Challenge, please visit www.M-1Global.com.
The current 15-fight lineup for the July 4 event is as follows:
Bulgaria vs. Finland –
Lightweight (-70 kg/154 lbs.) – Yanko Yanev (BUL) vs. Niko Puhaka (FIN)
Welterweight (-76 kg/167.2 lbs.) – Ivan Ivanov (BUL) vs. Janne Tulirinta (FIN)
Middleweight (-84 kg/184.8 lbs.) – Rosen Dmitirov (BUL) vs. Mikko Suvanto (FIN)
Light Heavyweight (-93 kg/204.6 lbs.) – Emil Samoilov (BUL) vs. Marcus Vanttinen (FIN)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/+ 204.6 lbs.) – Nikola Dipchkov (BUL) vs. Marcus Valtonen (FIN)
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)