Many fans thought the addition of M-1 to the Showtime network would be a disgusting reminder of "bad" mixed martial arts. After all, this is the regime in which Vadim Finkelstein runs the show, and he was the reason many of our favorite promotions died, right? Whatever your opinion of M-1, it's difficult to scoff at the exciting action that took place from the Constant Center in Norfolk, Virginia on Friday night at M-1 Challenge: Damkovsky vs. Figueroa.
In the main event of the evening, Russian striker Artiom Damkovsky attempted to defend the M-1 lightweight strap as he battled American Top Team Orlando product Jose Figueroa. After a brief feeling out period in the opening moments of the bout, Damkovsky fired off blazing straight punch combinations into Figueroa's chin. Figueroa reeled at the speed and quickness of Damkovsky early, circling away from Artiom's speed and pawing a slow jab. Realizing his days would be numbered if the fight continued to play out on the feet, Figueroa uses his immense height and length to press the action to the floor, dominating Damkovsky in the latter part of the first round.
Damkovsky came out of his corner in the second round bleeding profusely from the damage he sustained from the brutal ground and pound of Figueroa. Figueroa continued his successful gameplan, burying Damkovsky in the canvas and transitioning to full mount. A few moments later, Figueroa was raining down blow after blow unanswered, finishing off Damkovsky and securing the M-1 lightweight title.
Perhaps the more impressive fight on the card was the second title fight featuring Russian karate and kickboxing champion Magomed Sultanakhmedov taking on 22-year-old Team Quest product Tyson Jeffries in a race for the vacant M-1 middleweight belt. Jeffries, who possessed a mediocre 7-4 record heading into the match-up, was garnering some interest from hardcore fans as a potential prospect for the future due to his youth and training partners in Matt Lindland and Chael Sonnen. Unfortunately, Sultanakhmedov completely outclassed the young wrestler with superior stand-up skills and beautiful combinations.
Sultanakhmedov dominated the affair with quick, powerful left hook, left body kick combinations that bruised and battered Jeffries early and often. Jeffries attempted to bring the fight to the ground on multiple occasions, but Sultanakhmedov's takedown defense was nearly impenetrable. After receiving a beating at the hands of "The White Wolf" in the first round, Jeffries was able to attain full mount in the second round, setting himself up to potentially upset Sultanakhmedov. Beautifully, Sultanakhmedov bucked out of mount, regained his feet, and unleashed a barrage of powerful kicks, knees, and pinpoint punches, landing nearly every strike in what seemed like an endless fury of destruction. Jeffries withstood all the damage miraculously, but eventually dropped to one knee, ending his evening.
In non-title action, BloodyElbow.com's #7-ranked lightweight prospect on the 2011 World MMA Scouting Report, Alexander Sarnavskiy, blew out late replacement Beau Baker in the opening main card bout of the evening. From the start, Sarnavskiy proved his wild, aggressive style of flying knees, spinning backfists, and aggressive striking were too much for the wrestler. Battering him on the feet and landing at will as the fight progressed, the only thing Baker proved was that his chin was made of granite.
After withstanding uppercut after uppercut in the first round, Baker pressed forward in the second, hoping to change his fate. Sarnavskiy continued his barrage, eventually taking Baker's back after a lackadaisical attempt by Baker to shoot for a takedown. Sarnavskiy pounced immediately, locking in a rear naked choke for the win.
UFC veteran Vinny Magalhaes made quick work of the undefeated Jake Doerr in a light heavyweight affair. In the opening seconds, Magalhaes landed a stunning overhand that dropped Doerr immediately. Magalhaes quickly moved to side control, then full mount in a matter of seconds. With no other choice, Doerr tried to turn his back and squeeze from Magalhaes' grips back to his feet. Vinny wasn't having it. He locked down a body triangle and beat up Doerr from back control until the stoppage.
Fort Sill Army Captain Jason Norwood proved that smothering wrestling wins fights. Over the course of three rounds, Norwood proved time and time again that his physical superiority and wrestling ability were too much for Mojo Horne to handle, slamming him with authority repeatedly. Norwood didn't offer much in terms of offense from top control, but it's difficult to see him as not having some upside with such a dominant wrestling game and relentless cardio.
For all the criticism that M-1 received in the lead-up to this event, the event itself produced exciting action and a look at a few great prospects out of Eastern Europe. M-1 still needs to use bigger names to attract eyes, but they have some talent in their ranks that is often ignored. I would know, I've been preaching their stranglehold on the talent market in that region of the world for a couple of years. It's nice to see some of these prospects get the face time with American fans they deserve.
Mauro Ranallo and Pat Miletich were solid as a pair. Ranallo didn't go overboard with the hyperbole, and Miletich offered insightful analysis of the fight as it progressed. Hell, we even got the typical Ranallo rant on exciting vs. boring, and Miletich rightfully stepped in and offered the counter argument that a win is a win.
The production was great, and the ring, for as much criticism as it gets, is still the king when it comes to viewing action. M-1 did it right in securing the ropes tightly. We didn't have a Brazilian MMA debacle where a guy falls into the scorers' table.
Overall, I'm pleased with the product. We were treated with exceptional performances from Figueroa, Sultanakhmedov, and Sarnavskiy. I'm looking forward to what M-1 has in store for us next.
Jose Figueroa def. Artiom Damkovsky via TKO, 2:28 of Round 2.
Magomed Sultanakhmedov def. Tyson Jeffries via TKO, 3:07 of Round 2.
Vinny Magalhaes def. Jake Doerr via TKO, 1:47 of Round 1.
Jason Norwood def. Mojo Horne via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Alexander Sarnavskiy def. Beau Baker via submission (rear naked choke) (2:32 of Round 2)