Amsterdam, Holland -- Usually the term "revamping" in team sports is reserved for rosters that are under-performing. However, while Team USA West is 1-0 in the "M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction" (www.M-1Global.com) following February's upset victory over Team Brazil Naja, owners Steve Bash and Roy Engelbrecht have made major changes at welterweight, middleweight and heavyweight.
Set to join Team USA West for its next head-to-head matchup during the third edition of the M-1 Challenge on April 29 at Shinjuku Face in Tokyo, Japan are former EliteXC veterans Giva "The Arm Collector" Santana and Muay Thai standout Shane Del Rosario as well as Affliction veteran Fabio "Negao" Nascimento.
Showing that it means business, Team USA West's change to Santana at middleweight is surprising when you consider that Reggie Orr -- the man Santana is replacing -- delivered for his team during the 2009 M-1 Challenge opener held on Feb. 21 in Tacoma, Washington. Facing Juliano Belgine, Orr improved to 8-5-1 following a split decision victory but now finds himself on the bench so that a roster spot could be created for Santana.
By going with Santana, Team USA West adds a jiu-jitsu black belt to its squad who is 11-1 in his pro MMA career with 10 wins coming via armbar. His lone defeat was a split decision loss to multi-time Gladiator Challenge champion Jaime Jara in his last fight this past September at a ShoXC event held in Santa Ynez, Calif. For his career, Santana holds notable wins over Jun Soo Lim, Matt Lucas, and Jaime Fletcher.
Bash understands that the switch from Orr to Santana is perhaps a little cut throat but believes the change increases Team USA West's chances of winning the 2009 M-1 Challenge Championship.
"When Roy and I first met with M-1 Global to discuss ownership of the USA West team, we told them that we were in it to win it," he said. "And we believe the starting and reserve rosters we have assembled reflect that commitment from top to bottom. We were the underdogs against the Brazilians during the first M-1 Challenge (and) for the next M-1 Challenge in Japan, we feel we are now the favorites."
Del Rosario replaces Carl Seumanutafa, who lost a split decision to Edson Franca during the '09 season opener. While Seaumantuafa remains a top heavyweight prospect, the change could be viewed as an upgrade as Del Rosario defeated Seamanutafa when the two went head-to-head during this past September's ShoXC event.
Following his second round TKO over Seaumanutafa, Del Rosario improved to 5-0 in MMA with all five of his victories coming inside the distance. A former high school basketball star, Del Rosario is also currently 5-1 while competing in professional Muay Thai with all five victories having come via way of knockout.
Like Santana, Del Rosario trains under Team USA West head coach Colin Oyama. According to Bash, the plan from the outset was to bring both of Oyama's blue chip prospects into the Team USA West fold as soon as they were ready.
"Colin didn't have enough time to get Giva and Shane ready for the first M-1 Challenge but now Santana is ready to get his next armbar submission and Del Rosario is ready for his next knockout," said Bash.
Negao replaces Dylan Clay, who suffered the first loss of his professional MMA career during an impressive performance at the Feb. 21 M-1 Challenge opener. Matched up against IFL superfight veteran Eduardo Pamplona, Clay forced a third overtime round after holding even with Pamplona during the initial stages of the fight.
Much like Santana, Negao is considered one of the best pure grapplers in all of MMA. Currently 8-4, he has fought top competitors such as UFC veterans Roan Carneiro, Rousimar Palhares, and Demian Maia. In his last bout during Affliction's "Banned" event this past July, Negao went the distance against Matt Lindland, losing via unanimous decision.
Joining Negao, Santana, and Del Rosario on the Team USA West roster are Dave Jansen and Raphael Davis, two victorious holdovers from the '09 opener.
Jansen, a standout wrestler who trains out of Team Quest in Portland, Ore., improved to 9-0 in his lightweight bout vs. Brazil's Flavio Alvara. Meanwhile, Davis, a former IFL veteran, improved to 5-1 following his impressive first round TKO victory in a light heavyweight bout vs. Brazil's Jair Goncalves.
Currently in second place in Group C with an overall record of 1-0 and a head-to-head record of 3-2, Team USA West will look to supplant division-leading South Korea when the two countries go head-to-head on April 29. South Korea got out to an early lead after recording a 4-1 upset in Tacoma over the 2008 M-1 Challenge Champions, Fedor Emelianenko's Imperial Team.
The third M-1 Challenge of 2009 will see Jansen matched up against South Korea's Yui Chui Nam in a lightweight bout (154 lbs./-70 kg); Negao taking on Myung Ho Bae in a welterweight contest (167.2 pounds/-76 kg); middleweights (184.8 lbs./-84 kg) Santana and Min Suk Heo going head-to-head; Davis vs. Jae Young Kim in a light heavyweight encounter (204.6 lbs./-93 kg); and a heavyweight tilt between Del Rosario and Doo Hee Lee.
Subtitled "Third Edition," the April 29 M-1 Challenge event will feature a total of 30 fighters representing six countries in three head-to-head matchups resulting in a total of 15 fights. In addition to Team USA West vs. Team South Korea, host country Japan will headline the event as it takes on the debuting Team United Kingdom in a Group A matchup. The event will open with a head-to-head matchup between the two remaining Group A teams, Team France and Team Spain.
The event will also feature a bonus superfight featuring French phenom Karl Amoussou, who will be taking on an unnamed opponent.
Complete lineups will continue to be made available at www.M-1Global.com leading up to the event with full standings and results from the current season also available at the site as well.