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Saturday, May 2, 2009


-- M-1 Global


Amsterdam, Holland -- When the inaugural season of the M-1 Challenge (www.M-1Glolbal.com) in 2008 was complete, there were two teams left standing: Team Benelux (formerly Team Holland) and Team Imperial (formerly Russia Red Devil). Team Imperial went on to win the first-ever M-1 Challenge Championship Cup and was poised to repeat in 2009.

With both Benelux and Imperial in action during the 2009 "M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction" season opener in Tacoma, Wash. this past February, both were favored to win their respective matchups vs. Team Finland and South Korea. But a funny thing happened in their first steps towards returning to the finals, as Benelux and Imperial were on the receiving end of upset defeats.

Both teams are set to return to action in their second team matchup of the season during the fourth edition of the 2009 M-1 Challenge on Saturday, May 9 in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the Esporte Clube Síri. And as Imperial and Benelux look to get back to their winning ways, each team has made significant lineup changes.

For Team Imperial, there will be new fighters at lightweight and heavyweight. After going 5-2 during M-1 competition in 2008, Mikhail Malyutin established himself as the premier lightweight fighter in the M-1 Challenge. However, he was upset in Tacoma against South Korea's Do Hyung Kim and decided to take a fight for the Pro Fighting Championship promotion in Russia at the end of March.

In place of Malyutin, Fedor Emelianenko's Imperial Team will turn to hot shot prospect prospect Amirkhan Mazihov, a product of M-1 Global's M-1 Selection fight series. The M-1 Selection series is a season-long competition featuring the top gyms in Russia vying for the right to represent their home country in next year's M-1 Challenge.

For Mazihov, his chance to represent Russia will come sooner than expected after he dazzled M-1 matchmakers during his pro debut on March 13 in which he recorded a second round submission over Rustam Tasheuv. He will have to earn the right to remain on the Imperial roster by performing well during its head-to-head Group B matchup on May 9 against host country Brazil.

When Kirill Sidelnikov was signed by Affliction to fight Paul Buentello at "Day of Reckoning" in January, Imperial turned to Alexey Oleinik to fill-in as its heavyweight. All Oleinik did was go 2-0 with wins over both Jessie Gibbs and Sang Soo Lee via a pair of Ezekiel chokes. But with a Team Imperial gym loaded with prospects, the temptation to add Maksim Grishin to the roster following his impressive first round TKO over Magomed Umarov during March's M-1 Selection event in St. Petersburg, Russia was too good to resist.

Imperial's road to redemption will not be easy against host country Brazil. The official subtitle of the May 9 M-1 Challenge event is "Fourth Edition," but "M-1 Redemption" might be a more befitting name. In addition to Benelux and Imperial looking to bounce back, Team Brazil wants some payback after being upset during the '09 opener against USA West. The Brazilian team took its loss on foreign soil hard and a defeat on its home turf is not an option. With the exception of welterweight Eduardo Pamplona, a former IFL superfight veteran, Brazil has overhauled its entire roster.

Stepping up at lightweight to fight Mazihov in place of the injured Flavio Alvaro is Hacran Dias, a dynamic 24-year old prospect training out of Nova Uniao with a 10-0-1 record. After Juliano Belgine lost a split decision to USA West's Reggie Orr in Tacoma, Team Brazil coaches made the decision to bring in Leandro Silva Batata as its new middleweight fighter. Joining Batata and Dias as additions to Team Brazil are light heavyweight Alexander Machado and Joaquim Ferreira de Rocha.

Batata and Machado will be fighting Imperial holdovers Dmitry Samoilov and Mikhail Zayats, who is looking to rebound from his upset loss in Tacoma against Jae Young Kim while de Rocha will draw Grishin.

The most notable change for Benelux is the return of heavyweight Jessie Gibbs, one of the most dominant fighters during the 2008 M-1 Challenge. However, Gibbs disappointed his coaches after getting choked out during the Championship finals vs. Oleinik this past January. But with Gibbs re-focused and said to be training harder than ever, the decision was made to re-insert him into the lineup after Sander Duyvis, his replacement, was TKO'd by Finland's Toni Valtonen just 18 seconds into their fight in Tacoma.

With a 6-2 record that includes a win over current UFC heavyweight Denis Stojnic, Gibbs and light heavyweight teammate Jason Jones will look to move Benelux up the standings in Group C as it faces Team Bulgaria, which was routed 5-0 in its home country by USA East on March 28 during the second edition of the M-1 Challenge.

In all, a total of 30 fighters competing in 15 fights during three head-to-head matchups featuring six teams are scheduled for the May 9 event in Sao Paulo. In addition to Benelux vs. Bulgaria and the Imperial Team vs. Brazil fights, a much anticipated matchup between Germany and Russia Legion is also slated as well. Both Legion and Germany won in Bulgaria with Germany currently ahead of Legion in the standings as a result of the first tiebreaker of individual wins. The Germans hold a slight one fight lead over Legion with at 5-0 individual record compared to 4-1.

The complete head-to-head lineup for the event is as follows:

Team Challenge Number One: Bulgaria vs. Benelux

1. Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Yanko Yanev (Bulgaria) vs. Dan van Bergen (Benelux)
2. Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Ivan Ivanov (Bulgaria) vs. Raymond Jarman (Benelux)
3. Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Jordan Radev (Bulgaria) vs. Danny Smit (Benelux)
4. Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Emil Zaharev (Bulgaria) vs. Jason Jones (Benelux)
5. Heavyweight: (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Nikola Dipchkov (Bulgaria) vs. Jessie Gibbs (Benelux)

Team Challenge Number Two: Russia Legion vs. Germany

6. Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Yuri Ivlev (Legion) vs. Franco de Leonardis (Germany)
7. Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Magomed Shihshabekov (Legion) vs. Sven Heising (Germany)
8. Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Sergey Kornev (Legion) vs. Gregor Herb (Germany)
9. Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Gadzimyrat Omarov (Legion) vs. Adam Bakayoko (Germany)
10. Heavyweight: (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Akhmed Sultanov (Legion) vs. Lars Klug (Germany)

Team Challenge Number Three: Brazil vs. Team Imperial

11. Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Hacran Dias (Brazil) vs. Amirkhan Mazikhov (Imperial)
12. Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Eduardo Pamplona (Brazil) vs. Erik Oganov (Imperial)
13. Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Leandro Silva Batata (Brazil) vs. Dmitry Samoilov (Imperial)
14. Light Heavyweight (204.6 lbs./-93 kg): Alexander Machado (Brazil) vs. Mikhail Zayats (Imperial)
15. Heavyweight: (204.7 lbs.-plus/+93 kg): Joaquim Ferreira de Rocha (Brazil) vs. Maksim Grishin (Imperial)

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CONTACT: Jacob Schaap of M-1 Global at jacob.schaap@m-1global.com.

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M-1 Global (www.M-1Global.com) has been one of the leading Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) organizations in the world for over a decade. International MMA stars who have fought under the M-1 banner have included Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Aleksander Emelianenko, Keith Jardine, Alistair Overeem, Yushin Okami, Ben Rothwell, Mike Pyle, Melvin Manhoef, Roman Zenstov, Denis Kang, Martin Kampmann, Amar Suloev, and Chalid Arrab, to name a few.

Billed as the "World Cup of Mixed Martial Arts," the M-1 Challenge is a full season of MMA events sponsored by partner Affliction that showcases some of the best up and coming MMA fighters in the world. Broadcast to over 80 countries around the world, including HDNet in the United States, the M-1 Challenge pits teams of five fighters representing their respective countries against each other for international bragging rights and the title of M-1 Challenge Champions.

The "M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction" affords MMA prospects all over the world an opportunity to test their skills, gain valuable experience at the international level, and become future stars in the sport of MMA. Fighters who succeed on the M-1 Challenge's international breeding ground will earn the opportunity to participate in major MMA events presented by M-1 Global and their promotional partners such as Affliction Entertainment.