Last month, M-1 Global announced that they had signed Alexander Shlemenko to a multi-fight contract even though the Russian middleweight was serving a suspension for a positive drug test in California. His signing brought with it the announcement that the promotion would host a four-man middleweight Grand Prix tournament that will play out over the first half of the year, and which will commence at M-1 Challenge 64 event in Moscow, Russia.
The headlining bout between Shlemenko and former M-1 champ Vyacheslav Vasilevsky is a legitimate mega-fight for Russian MMA. Not only does it make for an exciting battle between two tested competitors, but also a meaningful clash between two fellow Russian stars keen on victory in front of their Muscovite countrymen. For Shlemenko, this is an opportunity to redeem himself following a turbulent year handling a doping suspension, while Vasilevsky is looking for a couple of big wins before he try his luck in the UFC.
"Slava" Vasilevsky has already had one stint in the United States but wasn't too impressed with how it came to an end. Following a win against Victor O'Donnell at Bellator 61, he lost a unanimous decision to Maiquel Falcao in his second and final outing with the promotion. He returned to Russia and compiled a nine-fight win streak that included a title win against Ramadan Emeev in one of the best fights of 2014. He would later lose his title in a rematch to Emeev last year in Moscow but followed up with a submission victory in his most recent fight to set up the anticipated showdown.
Over a four-year period, Shlemenko compiled a 13-fight win streak that included wins over Falcao, Brett Cooper, Doug Marshall and Brennan Ward. However, his momentum came to a screeching halt when he lost to Tito Ortiz by submission at Bellator 120. He then lost a second consecutive fight to Brandon Halsey by submission less than four months later, which was just the second time that Shlemenko lost back-to-back fights in his entire career. Following a win against Yasubey Enomoto in Russia, Shlemenko returned to Bellator and KO'd Melvin Manhoef with a spinning back fist. That win was overturned when Shlemenko tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone shortly thereafter.
The evening's co-main event will feature another impressive match-up for the vacant heavyweight title. Following Marcin Tybura's exit from M-1 Global to sign with the UFC, the Russian promotion opted to sign former Bellator champion Alexander Volkov to their roster. He will challenge Denis Smoldarev to determine the next champion. it should be noted that Volkov is on a two-fight losing streak to Tony Johnson and Cheick Kongo that cost him his place on the Bellator roster.
Since losing his first title fight to Tybura back in 2014 -- his first and only career loss to date -- Russian-Estonian Denis Smoldarev has compiled two consecutive wins against Maro Perak and Chaban Ka. His most recent fight took place back in December.
The event will also feature Russian prospect Pavel Vitruk, as well as the debut of Joe Ray on the main card. Ray used to compete under the Strikeforce banner and more recently took part in the BattleGrounds MMA one-night elimination tournament, where he lost to Brock Larson.
Check out the full fight card below, which airs live on M1Global.tv at 11 AM ET/8 AM PT on Friday, February 19th:
Alexander "Storm" Shlemenko vs. Vyacheslav Vaselevsky [Grand Prix Semi-Final]
Alexander "Drago" Volkov vs. Denis Smoldaraev [Vacant Heavyweight Title Fight]
Pavel Vitruk vs. Sergey Morozov
Antun "Killer" Racic vs. Vitaly Branchuk
Joe Ray vs. Nodar Kudukhashvili
Kurban Ibragimov vs. Dmitriy Mikutsa
Magomed Mutaev vs. Vadim "Archie" Orischak
Valery "The Russian Hammer" Myasnikov vs. Vyacheslav "Bison" Bogomol
Stefan Larisch vs. Timur Nagibin
Andrey "Iron" Lezhnev vs. Timur Nagibin