England is considered one of the top regions in the world when it comes to the increasing popularity of the sport of mixed martial arts. However, a contingent of British fighters was noticeably absent from last year's M-1 Challenge (www.M-1Global.com), an team-based International competition featuring 16 teams from all over the globe competing for the right to be world champions.
But on Wednesday, April 29 at Differ Ariake in Tokyo, Japan, Team England will make its much anticipated debut during the 2009 "M-1 Challenge presented by Affliction."
At the helm the England's first foray into the M-1 Challenge is Andy Lillis, the Director of Warrior Promotions, the parent company of the U.K.-based Cage Warriors MMA promotion. Lillis also helps manage top British fighters such as UFC welterweight Dan Hardy, top prospect Jim Wallhead, and Rosi Sexton, the number one-rated 125 lbs. female fighter, according to the World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts.
"I think (the M-1 Challenge is a) great concept and I think the British fighters and fans will embrace it with open arms," said Lillis. "England has a history of getting behind our national teams and I know the guys are looking forward to fighting in Japan, as they have always wanted to fight out there."
Lillis has assembled an elite-level group of five fighters in hopes of bringing the 2009 M-1 Challenge Championship Cup back to England. But England's road to the title will not be easy, as it resides in Group A, a four-team division that also includes Spain, France, and Japan.
Set to welcome Team England into the M-1 Challenge will be Team Japan, with both teams sets to collide against each other during the third edition's headline attraction on April 29. Lillis believes that while Team England is in for a challenge that the roster he's put together has enough talent to win.
"I don't think fighting Team Japan on their own patch will bother them or will negatively affect them as they are really up for the Challenge," he said. "(The team) has a lot of belief in their own abilities and have been holding regular joint training sessions amongst themselves and other Warriors Promotions Fight Management fighters and other top U.K. talent. A lot of people are backing the team and we hope this support will grow in the future."
Selected to represent the England at lightweight is Ian "M-16" Butlin, a strong prospect with deep roots in amateur boxing. Butlin is not short on confidence as he has gone on record to proclaim himself England's number one lightweight fighter.
Butlin's proclamation has generated its fair share of critics, who point to his 6-7 record as evidence why his claim is not a valid one. However, Butlin has never taken an easy fight and has increased his training schedule as he prepares to issue his critics a response on April 29 when he takes on Luiz Andrade of Team Japan.
Representing the England at welterweight is Simon Phillips, one of the U.K.'s most decorated amateur MMA fighters. In addition to a sterling 16-1 record, Phillips won four major titles while competing on the amateur circuit. Since turning pro, he has accumulated an impressive 6-2 record with notable wins over Cage Rage veteran Sami Berik, kickboxing champion Zbigniew Kroll, and Lee Doski.
No stranger to wearing gold as an amateur, Phillips has also won a title as a pro. Facing Lewis Barrow during Fightzone 3 on Dec. 8, 2007, he claimed the promotion's welterweight title after submitting Barrow with a triangle choke just 3:18 into the fight. Phillips will bring his strong Judo background to Japan when he takes on Hidehiko Hasegawa.
King of the Cage U.K. veteran Matt "12 Gauge" Thorpe will represent his home country in the M-1 Challenge as its designated middleweight. Also a veteran of the Cage Warriors and BodogFIGHT promotions, Thorpe, 10-7, holds a notable winner over Cage Rage veteran Che Mills, who recently tried out for Team U.K. during the current ninth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality television show.
Thorpe, who once suffered a split decision loss to Hardy, will be put to the test again when he faces Japan's Riki Fukuda. Fukuda, 14-4, recently improved his win streak to four following his upset victory over former EliteXC middleweight champion Murilo "Ninja" Rua at DREAM.8 earlier this month.
At light heavyweight is eight-year pro MMA veteran Tom Blackledge. Blackledge currently trains at the prestigious Wolfslair Academy under TUF 9 U.K. coaches Mario "Sukata" Neto and Dave Jackson. While in the gym, Blackledge is able to call upon current UFC fighters such as Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Michael Bisping, Cheick Kongo, and Paul Kelly as training partners. He is ready to help his team start out the M-1 Challenge right as he looks to take out Japan's Tatsuya Mizuno.
Standing 6'3'' and weighing over 265 pounds, Rob Broughton will perhaps rate as the biggest heavyweight to compete in this year's M-1 Challenge when he debuts for Team England on April 29 vs. up-and-coming Japanese heavyweight Yasuke Kawaguchi.
Broughton, 8-4-1, has been fed a steady diet of Britain's top heavyweights and has defeated them all. The talented wrestler's impressive resume of wins includes victories over former PRIDE star James Thompson, current UFC heavyweight Neil Grove, retired Cage Rage standout Robert "Buzz" Berry, rising prospect Martin Thompson, and multi-time Cage Rage champion Ryan Robinson. He also made headlines at Cage Rage 18 on Sept. 30, 2006 when he submitted professional boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch in the second round with punches.
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 host country Japan facing the debuting Team England, the event will also feature Team USA West battling Team South Korea for supremacy in Group B along with a Group A matchup featuring Team France and Team Spain.
The third edition will also include a bonus superfight featuring French phenom Karl Amoussou, who will be taking on an unnamed opponent.
Full standings and results from the current season also available at www.M-1Global.com as well with the complete head-to-head fight card lineup consisting of the following:
Japan vs. England (best-of-five series
Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): Luiz Andrade (Japan) vs. Ian Butlin (England)
Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Hidehiko Hasgawa (Japan) vs. Simon Phillips (England)
Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Riki Fukuda (Japan) vs. Matt Thorpe (England)
Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Tatsuya Mizuno (Japan) vs. Tom Blackledge (England)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Yasuke Kawaguchi (Japan) vs. Rob Broughton (England)
USA West vs. South Korea (best-of-five series
Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): David Jansen (USA West) vs. Yui Chui Nam (S. Korea)
Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Fabio Negao (USA West) vs. Myung Ho Bae (S. Korea)
Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Giva Santana (USA West) vs. Min Suk Heo (S. Korea)
Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Raphael Davis (USA West) vs. Jae Young Kim (S. Korea)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Shane Del Rosario (USA West) vs. Doo Hee Lee (S. Korea)
France vs. Spain (best-of-five series)
Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): Makhtar Gueye (France) vs. Jose Luiz Zapter Aguirre (Spain)
Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Farouk Lakebir (France) vs. Jose Beltran (Spain)
Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Christophe Dafreville (France) vs. Rayco Zebenzui Romero Silva (Spain)
Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Christian Mpumbu (France) vs. Enoc Solbes (Spain)
Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Soufian Elgarne (France) vs. Rogent Lloret (Spain)
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