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USA East and Russia Legion headed to M-1 Challenge Championship Cup following respective 4-1 victories

usaeastchampionsRostov on don, Russia — Sixteen teams began the season in the 2009 “M-1 CHALLENGE PRESENTED BY AFFLICTION” (www.M-1Global.com) but now just two are left standing following Saturday’s semifinal playoff round at the Russian Sport Palace in Rostov on don, Russia.

Headed to the finals following dominating team performances are both USA East and Russia Legion, setting up a renewal of a classic sports rivalry that will be played out later this year at the M-1 Challenge Championship Cup.

While Legion entered the semifinals a favorite to advance, USA East’s 4-1 win over USA West came as a to those who have been following the M-1 Challenge closely this season.

Despite being the underdog, USA East got off to a fast start on Saturday in a lightweight matchup after Brazilian improved his perfect record to 10-0 by handing Steve Magdaleno (6-1) his first-ever professional loss. Magdaleno, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, was making his M-1 Challenge debut as a replacement for Dave Jansen, who was signed by the Zuffa-owned World Extreme Cagefighting after finishing the M-1 Challenge regular season with a 3-0 record.

USA East then backed USA West into a corner after IFL veteran Delson Heleno’s blitzkrieg strategy earned him a unanimous decision victory over Affliction veteran Fabio “Negao” Nascimento. With both BJJ black belts neutralizing each others’ skills on the ground, Heleno’s aggressive standup proved to be the difference in garnering the judges’ decision in an action-packed bout.

Heleno vs. Negao would normally have been a cinch for “Fight of the Night” honors, but a middleweight bout between of USA East and of USA West stole the show. Giving up eight pounds and putting himself in a deep hole after being deducted a point following a yellow card for holding onto the ropes, dos Santos rallied and defeated his larger opponent at 3:50 of round 1 following a referee’s stoppage due to ground and pound.

The win sent USA East to the finals over USA West even though USA East’s 2-1 team record and 10-5 individual record during the M-1 Challenge regular season paled in comparison to USA West’s perfect 3-0 team record and impressive 13-2 record in individual fights. USA West finished the regular season tied as the number one ranked team in the M-1 Challenge and was perceived as the favorite to win the entire competition.

USA West’s loss on Saturday was especially surprising considering USA East barely made the playoffs, ‘back-dooring’ its way into the semifinals after losing to Team Benelux at the M-1 Challenge regular season finale on Aug. 16 in Hilversum, Holland. Tied with Team Finland in both team and individual wins, USA East was able to claim its Group C title and advance to the semis due to its 3-2 head-to-head victory over Finland in June.

While Heleno’s win clinched the victory for USA East, they added insult to injury after one-time WEC veteran and former professional basketball player Chuck “The Reverend” Grigsby earned a unanimous decision victory over amateur wrestling standout .

After losing as a heavyweight in August against Jessie Gibbs, Grigsby felt he was too tentative during the Gibbs bout and vowed to show more aggression. Grigsby, who stands 6’6”, used his reach advantage to dominate round one. Round two was much closer, as Hooker fought through two separate cuts to the face and brought the fight to Grigsby. However, the judges scored the bout in Grigsby’s favor, eliminating the need for a third and decisive round.

USA West saved face when its blue chip heavyweight prospect Shane Del Rosario improved his record to 8-0 following a TKO at 1:34 of round 1 against Lloyd “Kadillac” Marshbanks. The game plan for Marshbanks coming into the fight was to take Del Rosario, the current WBC Heavyweight Muay Thai Champion, down to the floor. Marshbanks, an All-American wrestler in high school, nearly executed that strategy after hitting an early leg takedown. However, Del Rosario popped right back up.

Marshbanks then attempted to change his approach by bodylocking Del Rosario and laboring for an upper-body takedown. The strategy did not prove fruitful, as Del Rosario was able to deliver a series of devastating knees to the body and . After softening Marshbanks up, Del Rosario delivered a vicious knee to Marshbanks’ rib that potentially resulted in a fracture. Marshbanks fell to the ground and the referee quickly called a stop to the bout at 1:34 of round 1.

Following the USA East vs. USA West opener, the headline challenge fight of the night between Russia Legion and England was almost a mirror image of the matchup between the two USA team with Legion. Team England coach Ian Butlin caused quite a stir in the Russian media when he went on local television in Rostov this week and apologized in advance for his British teammates defeating the Russians on their home turf. The apology proved unncessary, with Legion defeating England by a 4-1 score.

Entering the semifinals as the heavy favorite after winning Group D with a 3-0 team record and 13-2 individual record, Legion still felt the need to make changes with talented fighters such as Rustam Khabilov, Sergey Kornev, and left off of its semifinal roster.

Yura Ivlev helped Legion get off to a quick start by utlizing an impressive throw to ground former English Football playher and earn a TKO victory due by result of ground and pound just 54 seconds into the fight.

The second fight between Legion and England ended even quicker with highly-toughted Magomed Shikshabekov — voted the eighth best European MMA prospect by Sherdog.com — submitted knockout artist Simon Phillps with a reverse heel hook just 15 seconds into round 1. With the win, Shikshabekov’s proffessional record is now 10-0 and he could be in line for a coveted spot on the second M-1 Breakthrough event, which is tentatively scheduled be held in late-2009 or early-2010.

Up 2-0, Legion punched its ticket to the finals with UFC veteran Ansar Chalangov requiring just 41 seconds to submit Matt Thorpe with a reverse heel hook. The fight was Chalangov’s first since November of last year and improved his lifetime MMA record to 13-4.

Legion sent a message and secured its fourth victory in the best-of-five clash when Besiki Gerenava halted an early charge by former Lee Austin courtesy of a unanimous decision.

Much like USA West saving face in its heavyweight matchup, England did the same with Rob Broughton submitting Akhmed Sultanov with a keylock at 4:31 of round 1. The win came less than a month after Broughton’s disappointing loss at “HDNET FIGHTS PRESENTS M-1 BREAKTHROUGH” and improved Broughton’s overall record to 10-4-1 and his M-1 record to 3-1.

Fight footage of the M-1 Challenge Playoff Semifinals will be made available in the United States in coming weeks on HDNet. Be sure to check M-1Global.com and HDNetFights.com for an exact air date. M-1Global.com will also reveal the date and the venue for the second annual M-1 Challenge Championship Cup to take place later this year, along with official lineups for both USA East and Russia Legion.

Official results with updated records are available below:

USA EAST VS. USA WEST -

1. Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Ivan Jorge (USA East/10-0) def. Steve Magdaleno (USA West/6-1) via unanimous decision.
2. Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Delson Heleno (USA East/17-4) def. Fabio “Negao” Nascimento (USA West/10-5) via unanimous decision.
3. Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Gerson Dos Santos (USA East/19-3) def. Joao Asis (USA West/9-5) via TKO (strikes) at 3:50 of round 1
4. Light Heavyweight (204.8 lbs./-93 kg): (USA East/19-5) def. Spencer Hooker (USA West/6-2) via unanimous decision
5. Heavyweight (+204.8 lbs./+93 kg): Shane Del Rosario (USA West/8-0) def. Lloyd “Kadillac” Marshbanks (USA East/52-10) via TKO at 1:34 of round 1

Team USA East def. Team USA West 4-1

TEAM ENGLAND VS. RUSSIA LEGION -

6. Lightweight (154 lbs./-70 kg): Yura Ivlev (Russia Legion/9-3) def. Scott Hewitt (England/2-1) via TKO (strikes) at 0:54 of round 1
7. Welterweight (167.2 lbs./-76 kg): Magomed Shikshabekov (Russia Legion/10-0) def. Simon Phillips (England/10-4) via submission (reverse heel hook) at 0:15 of round 1
8. Middleweight (184.8 lbs./-84 kg): Ansar Chalangov (Russia Legion/13-4) def. Matt Thorpe (England/13-8.) via submission (reverse heel hook) at 0:41 of round 1
9. Light Heavyweight (204.8 lbs./-93 kg): Besiki Gerenava (9-1-1) def. Lee Austin (4-5) by unanimous decision
10. Heavyweight (+204.8 lbs./+93 kg): Rob Broughton (England/10-4-1) def. Akhmed Sultanov (Russia Leagion/3-4) via submission (keylock) at 4:31 of round 1

Russia Legion def. Team England 4-1

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