Considered by many pundits to be the odds-on favorite to win the 2009 M-1 Challenge, Team USA West announced Monday four fifths of its roster for its upcoming semifinal matchup on Sept. 26 in Rostov, Russia.
USA West earned front-runner status after besting Brazil Naja, Russia Imperial, and South Korea in a deep Group B pool by posting a perfect 3-0 record and a stellar individual record of 13-2. But while USA West will field a formidable lineup vs. its U.S. counterparts, noticeably absent from the roster are two of its top fighters, lightweight Dave Jansen and light heavyweight Raphael Davis.
Jansen went 3-0 during M-1 Challenge regular season play with wins over Flavio Alvaro of Brazil, Uicheol Nam of South Korea, and Amirkhan Mazihov of Russia Imperial. His stellar season landed him a multi-fight contract with World Extreme Cagefighting and he is set to debut for the promotion on Oct. 10 vs. Richard Crunkilton.
In place of Jansen, head coach Colin Oyama has turned to California-based fight prospect Gregg “Dynamite” Dalton to fill the shoes of Jansen. Dalton, 7-2, has won his past three consecutive fights and trains out of Thomas Denny’s “Team Wildman” fight gym in Victorville, California.
Meanwhile, Davis went an impressive 2-0 during M-1 Challenge regular season play with early finishes in both of his matchups. However, he was unable to compete on July 4 in South Korea as a result of getting married and the reason for his omission from the playoff roster has not been disclosed by team officials. A replacement light heavyweight for Sept. 26 has not yet been named.
The losses of Jansen and Davis are no doubt tremendous blows to the team’s championship aspirations but Oyama has confirmed that Fabio “Negao” Nascimento, middleweight Giva Santana, and heavyweight Shane Del Rosario are all slated to compete vs. USA East.
Negao, a decorated jiu-jitsu black belt and one-time Affliction veteran, improved his overall record to 10-4 during the course of the M-1 Challenge regular season with wins over South Korea’s Myeon Ho Bae in Japan this past April and Russia Imperial’s Marat Ilaev in South Korea this past July.
He will be joined once again by Santana, a fellow native Brazilian and BJJ black belt. Santana, a veteran of EliteXC, now sports an impressive 13-1 record following a 2-0 showing during the M-1 Challenge regular season. Twelve of Santana’s 13 wins have come via submission with 11 of his 12 submissions having come via armbar, earning the former Brazilian Armed Forces member the nickname of “The Arm Collector.”
Completing the trifecta of returnees is none other than Del Rosario, one of the top heavyweight prospects in the world. Del Rosario, a professional Muay Thai competitor, is a perfect 7-0 in MMA and holds notable wins over Analu Brash, Amedeo Viola, and Carl Seumanutafa. All seven of Del Rosario’s wins have come via early stoppage.
The inclusion of both Del Rosario and Santana on the playoff roster for USA West comes as a mild surprise, as there had been rumblings that Del Rosario would be competing for Strikeforce in September and that Santana has been fielding offers from major promotions as well. But with Del Rosario and Santana both in the fold, USA West still has a strong chance of making the finals in spite of the losses of Jansen and Davis.
In addition to USA West vs. USA East, the second M-1 Challenge semifinal matchup scheduled for Sept. 26 in Russia will feature Team England vs. Russia Legion. Full roster information will be made available on M-1Global.com along with information on how to watch the event live via Internet pay-per-view.