Tokyo, Japan -- A literal parade of 38 fighters made their way through official weigh-ins on Tuesday at the Pearl Kasai Hotel in Tokyo in preparations for Wednesday's "M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction" event scheduled to emanate from Differ Ariake.
A total of 19 fights are planned with a scheduled local start time in Tokyo of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday's lineup includes two preliminary fights, a Superfight between rising French phenom Karl Amoussou and IFL veteran Kazuhiro Hamanaka, M-1 Challenge team matchups featuring France vs. Spain, USA West vs. South Korea, Japan vs. England, and a special grappling exhibition between WAMMA lightweight champion Shinya Aoki and WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko.
While much of the local media in Japan is fixated on Fedor's return to the "Land of the Rising Sun," there is a tremendous amount of intrigue regarding Team USA West's best-of-five series vs. South Korea. Both teams are one-and-two in the standings in Group B, with South Korea holding a slim one fight lead over the USA West team. Team USA West will not only have a chance to close the gap but also take a resounding leading in the division.
Despite defeating Team Brazil Naja by a score of 3-2 during the 2009 M-1 Challenge opener in Tacoma, Wash. in February, Team USA West has changed three of its five members. Joining returnees David Jansen (lightweight) and Raphael Davis (light heavyweight) are welterweight Fabio Negao, middleweight Giva Santana, and heavyweight Shane Del Rosario.
According to head coach Colin Oyama, the changes to the roster were not performance-related, as Negao, Santana, and Del Rosario had all initially been planned to compete in the opener but were unavailable for various reasons.
"The changes had nothing to do with the guys that we had," Oyama began to respond when asked about his team's roster makeover. "This was the original team we had planned on. Shane Del Rosario had an injury and we had to bring in a replacement. Negao had also competed at middleweight and needed additional time to get down to 170. Giva also had other obligations. So the five you will see in this event are the original five guys we intended to start with."
Del Rosario is a former WBO Muay Thai champion who is 5-0 in MMA. A veteran of EliteXC's ShoXC series, he will look to improve to 6-0 when he faces South Korea's Doo Hee Lee. For Rosario, he considers it an honor to represent his home country on foreign land.
"I'm flattered to be able to represent my country," said Del Rosario. "Last year we were winless and coming into this year a lot of teams thought they were going to walk all over us. We proved them wrong after winning our first fight and I see us being in St. Petersburg (Russia) in the championship final."
Del Rosario is not the only member of Team USA West who will have a perfect record on the line vs. South Korea. Team Quest's Jansen improved to 9-0 with his stunning win over Rio Heroes veteran Flavio Alvaro during the '09 opener. Set to face Yui Chul Nam, Jansen was candid in admitting that he is feeling some pressure in trying to retain his perfect record.
"There is some pressure. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't," he remarked.
But pressure doesn't appear to be too big of an issue for Jansen, as he is already making plans for his next fight. Wednesday will mark his first time competing in Japan, but he would like to return again and challenge DEEP lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno.
"I don't speak a whole lot of Japanese but I do know how to say one phrase: Kikuno itai meni kaketekoi, which basically means ‘Kikuno, if you want to feel pain, bring it on!'"
First, Jansen must get past Nam in order to have a chance at garnering a shot at Kikuno. The Matt Lindland-trained Jansen doesn't seem too concerned about the challenge that lies ahead.
"I'm looking forward to this fight. He's a big striker but he telegraphs his strikes and comes out very aggressive. I think that's going to play into my takedown game. He's going to throw looping punches but look for me to throw straight punches. I'm going to take him down and clobber him. It's clobbering time!"
Even more confident than Jansen is all of Team England, which will be making its M-1 Challenge debut against host country Japan. In fact, lightweight Ian Butlin promised during the pre-fight press conference held at the 21 East Hotel earlier in the day that the Brits will defeat the Japanese 5-0.
Bold remarks are nothing new for Butlin, who has proclaimed himself the best lightweight fighter in all of England.
"I don't call myself the best lightweight fighter in England - I am the best lightweight in England," Butlin stated without hesitation. "All the guys that say they're the best, stand up and fight me! Just don't talk about it! Get in there and do it! I'm sick of fighters pulling out that are supposed to fight me. I'm the best lightweight in the U.K. - that's right! Because I'm not just looking to submit you, I'm looking to knock you the [expletive] out!"
Butlin will have to back his proclamation of being England's top lightweight on Japanese soil when he takes on Luiz Andrada, a long-time veteran of DEEP with notable wins over Shinobu Miura, Yusuke Suzuki, and Kosuto Umeda, along with a draw against current DEEP lightweight champ Kikuno.
Against Andrada, Butlin is hoping to wow the crowd with a brawl for the ages.
"A lot of people say they want to fight a striker like me and then they try to take it to the ground," he said. "These grapplers think they can [expletive] tap me but they're the ones that [expletive] tap like a little girl when I punch them in the [expletive] head!"
Opening the event will be a Group A battle between Team France, led by blue chip light heavyweight prospect Christian Mpumbu, and Team Spain, which boasts heavyweight Rogent Lloret as its top gun.
The live stream of the event will be available for non-U.S. residents at www.Mixfight.ru with full coverage for U.S. fans at www.M-1Global.com. The Fedor vs. Aoki exhibition will not be available during the live stream of the event and will instead premiere on a video-on-demand basis on Monday, May 4 at both www.Mixfight.ru and www.M-1Global.com.
Complete weigh-in results and lineups for tomorrow's event are listed below:
1. Featherweight (65 kg/143 lbs.): Takayuki Hosakawa (65 kg) vs. Tomoaki Ueyama (64.6 kg)
2. Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): Kosuke Umeda (69.9 kg) vs. Muneyuki Sato (69.9 kg)
Team France vs. Team Spain:
3. Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): Makhtar Gueye (France/70 kg) vs. Jose Luiz Zapter Aguirre (Spain/69.2 kg)
4. Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Gael Grimaud (France/75.9 kg) vs. Abner Lloveras (Spain/75.9 kg)
5. Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Christophe Dafreville (France/84 kg) vs. Rayco Romero Silva (Spain/83 kg)
6. Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Christian Mpumbu (France/92.6 kg) vs. Enoc Solbes (Spain/90.8 kg)
7. Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Soufian Elgarne (France/115 kg) vs. Rogent Lloret (Spain/104 kg)
8. Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Karl Amoussou (France/83.9 kg) vs. Kazuhiro Hamanaka (Japan/83.9 kg)
Special Super Exhibition:
9. Fedor Emelianenko (Russia) vs. Shinya Aoki (Japan)
USA West vs. South Korea (best-of-five series):
10. Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): David Jansen (USA West/69.9 kg) vs. Yui Chul Nam (S. Korea/70 kg)
11. Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Fabio Negao (USA West/76 kg) vs. Myung Ho Bae (S. Korea/75.8 kg)
12. Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Giva Santana (USA West/83.7 kg) vs. Min Suk Heo (S. Korea/83.8 kg)
13. Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Raphael Davis (USA West/92.9 kg) vs. Jae Young Kim (S. Korea/92.7 kg)
14. Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Shane Del Rosario (USA West/109 kg) vs. Doo Hee Lee (S. Korea/103 kg)
Japan vs. England (best-of-five series):
15. Lightweight (70 kg/154 lbs.): Luiz Andrada (Japan/71.2 kg) vs. Ian Butlin (England/69.9 kg)
16. Welterweight (76 kg/167.2 lbs.): Hidehiko Hasgawa (Japan/76.6 kg) vs. Simon Phillips (England/75.9 kg)
17. Middleweight (84 kg/184.8 lbs.): Yusuke Masuda (Japan/83.8 kg) vs. Matt Thorpe (England/82.9 kg)
18. Light Heavyweight (93 kg/204.6 lbs.): Tatsuya Mizuno (Japan/91.2 kg) vs. Tom Blackledge (England/93.3 kg)
19. Heavyweight (+93 kg/204.7-plus lbs.): Yusuke Kawaguchi (Japan/105 kg) vs. Rob Broughton (England/120 kg)