Tokyo, Japan -- After going winless in last year, Team USA West is now just one win away from clinching a post-season berth in the 2009 "M-1 Challenge Presented by Affliction."
The Colin Oyama-coached team took sole possession of first place following Wednesday night's 5-0 shutout over South Korea during M-1 Challenge's "Third Edition," which emanated from Differ Ariake.
Lightweight David Jansen improved to 10-0 after utilizing his outstanding wrestling ability to grind out a unanimous decision victory over Nam Yui Chul (8-2), an impressive prospect who had been 8-1 coming into the fight.
The win marked Jansen's second consecutive M-1 Challenge victory following his unanimous decision victory over Brazil's Flavio Alvaro during the '09 opener on Feb. 21, 2009. In a field of 16 lightweight competitors involved with this year's M-1 Challenge, Jansen is well on his way towards establishing himself as the competition's top 155 pound fighter.
Jansen's fight vs. Chul marked his first time competing in Japan, however, Jansen expressed his desire to return and has issued a public challenge to DEEP lightweight champion Katsunori Kikuno.
USA West then moved out to a 2-0 lead following Fabio Negao's (9-4) majority decision victory over the talented Myung Ho Bae (7-4). The fight was Negao's first bout since a unanimous decision loss to Matt Lindland at Affliction's "Banned" event last July.
Next it was time for the middleweights, with Giva "The Arm Collector" Santana (12-1) clinching the team victory for USA West following a armbar submission win over Min Suk Heo (4-8) at 4:05 of round 1. In an incredible statistic, Santana now has 11 career wins via tapout with all of them having come via armbar.
Despite having clinched the team win, Team USA still needed to rack up additional individual victories due to the fact that it competes in a deep Group B division that includes South Korea, Brazil, and the defending M-1 Challenge champions Imperial Team.
All eyes were on Jae Young Kim (12-7) in his return to the M-1 Challenge following his stunning upset over Imperial's Mikhail Zayats during the Feb. opener courtesy of a head kick. However, former IFL veteran and submission wrestling champion Raphael Davis (6-1) continued his evolution as a striker following a second round TKO over Kim.
Last for Team USA West was heavyweight Shane Del Rosario, who entered the ring wearing his WBC Muay Thai championship belt. The blue chip prospect also entered the contest with a perfect 5-0 record at stake but Del Rosario improved to 6-0 following a first round knockout over Doo Hee Lee (11-7).
The 5-0 shutout improved Team USA West's record to 2-0 with a combined individual record of 8-2. The team can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Team Imperial in its next matchup, with a date between the two juggernauts yet to be determined.
In addition to Team USA West's win over South Korea, the debuting Team England could possibly be the team to beat in Group A following its victory over host country Japan during the night's main team challenge.
The confident Ian "M-16" Butlin (6-8) ruffled several feathers during a Tuesday press conference in which the anointed England team leader informed the Japanese media that he and his teammates would shut out the Japanese by a 5-0 score.
Despite the bold proclamation, Butlin wasn't too far off the mark, as England dominated Japan by a 4-1 score. In a twist of irony, it was Butlin's first round loss to Luiz Andrada (9-6-3) that prevented the team from recording the shutout.
After promising a knockout win all week, Butlin was unable to implement his game plan as Andrada elected not to engage him in the standup and instead tapped him an armbar at 3:20 of round 1.
England then stole Japan's momentum after Simon "The Executioner" Phillips (7-2) displayed his professional boxing skills and put the entire M-1 welterweight division on notice following his crushing 20 second knockout over DEEP and Pancrase veteran Hidehiko Hasegawa (16-12-5).
Japan then appeared to be well on its way to regaining the lead with Yusuke Masuda forcing Matt Thorpe to fight on his heels for virtually the entire first round. Despite losing the first frame, Thorpe displayed one of the basic principles of jiu-jitsu as a self defense technique by overcoming a more aggressive Masuda with a rear naked choke at 1:30 of round 2.
Following his teammate's lead, Tom Blackledge (8-6) also used a rear naked choke to clinch a team victory for England after submitting Tatsuya Mizuno (5-5). However, Blackledge differentiated his win from Thorpe's by showing shades of Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg and utilizing a standing choke en route to victory.
In addition to having his teammates support him at ringside, Blackledge was also cornered by former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Jackson, a well-known figure in Japan thanks to his successful tenure in PRIDE, returned to the country in order to support Blackledge, his good friend and training partner at the Wolfslair Academy in London.
Looking to fortify its standing as the early leader of Group A, British heavyweight Rob "Godzilla" Broughton (9-4-1) displayed excellent ground skills for a big man during his unanimous decision victory over Yusuke Kawaguchi.
For Broughton, the win over Kawaguchi marked yet another notch on his belt when it comes to defeating rising heavyweight prospects. In addition to holding a win over British up-and-comer Martin Thompson, Broughton now can boast that he was the first man to inflict a loss onto Kawaguchi's record, who previously had been 8-0.
While Team England's next fight has yet to be finalized, officials with M-1 Global and Cage Warriors are currently working towards bringing a 2009 M-1 Challenge event to England.
The 19-bout M-1 Challenge Japan event also featured a superfight between Karl "Psycho" Amoussou and IFL veteran Kazuhiro Hamanaka, an M-1 Challenge Group A team matchup between France vs. Spain, and a special sparring exhibition between WAMMA heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko and WAMMA lightweight champion Shinya Aoki.
While Amoussou's countrymen suffered a 3-2 defeat to Spain, he lifted his former teammates' spirits with a brilliant flying knee knockout victory over Hamanaka just 23 seconds into their fight with the capacity crowd rising to their feet.
The Japanese crowd displayed even more emotion during Fedor and Aoki's public sparring session, which was advertised locally as a "special super exhibition." With no scoring in effect, the encounter between the two undisputed world champions resembled a training session that you might see inside of a fight gym. The only difference was that nearly 1,000 spectators were on hand to watch the two square off while donning Gis.
Fedor utilized his strength advantage to send Aoki soaring with several Sambo throws. At one point, Aoki played to the crowd and removed his Gi in jest and attempted a flying armbar on Fedor. With both fighters pressing each other well less than 100 percent, the two smiled for much of the session and embraced after the final bell had sounded. The video of the session will air free of charge on a video-on-demand basis starting on Monday, May 4 at www.M-1Global.com and www.Mixfight.ru.
Below are complete results from Wednesday's "M-1 Challenge" event.