Lest we all think our MMA universe consists of only the UFC and Bellator, M-1 Challenge stepped out of the shadows for another installment on Showtime. Dubbed M-1 Challenge 27: “Magalhaes vs. Zayats”, the event was originally supposed to be headlined by a title fight between heavyweight champ Guram Gugenishvili and challenger Kenny Garner. But an injury put that bout on the shelf, so vying for the interim title of the Russian-centric promotion would be Garner and Maxim Grishin, while champ Vinny Magalhaes would be defending his light-heavyweight crown against Mikhail Zayats. Given these pairings, plus three others featuring hungry fighters (literally – these guys were plain old starving), you just knew the event was going to be worthwhile. So how did it go?
The cards were stacked against Daniel Madrid in his match-up against Tom Gallicchio. Gallicchio was the winner of last year’s M-1 Challenge ‘Americas’ welterweight tournament, he had over twice as many fights under his belt, and he had spent the last few weeks training with Dan Henderson et al. at Team Quest. But Madrid made the most of his promotional debut, knocking the head of “Da Tank” back with a punch in the opening seconds of their bout, and when Gallicchio put him on the canvas with a takedown, Madrid deftly swung into an armbar from the bottom. Gallicchio attempted to slam his way out but he was caught, and he tapped out at 48 seconds into Round 1.
Swiss fighter Yasubey Enemoto must’ve wanted to outdo Madrid, because he too nailed a quick and smooth submission against opponent Josh Thorpe. After a few seconds of back-and-forth overhand rights and crosses, Thorpe abruptly changed levels and easily took his foe to the mat. But as soon as they went horizontal Enemoto was working his magic, trapping Thorpe’s arm and head with his legs and cinching on a tight triangle choke. Thorpe tapped at 1:07 of the first round.
Arthur Guseinov introduced himself to American viewers by decapitating Tyson Jeffries with a spinning backfist at the last US edition of M-1 Challenge. Tonight, he was just as impressive, although he went in the other direction with his finish. Taking on local boy Eddie Arizmendi, Guseinov came out winging a spinning back-kick, then attempted a throw. The two scrambled, and once the Russian got on top he snagged Arizmendi’s foot and fell back into a heelhook. This time the finish came at 50 seconds into the first round.
Garner’s best work comes when he’s swinging wildly. So it was that in his interim title match against Grishin, he scored early on with the kind of punches that would’ve made a windmill proud. But Garner tired soon after, and when he began leaning into the Grishin, forcing him to carry his substantial 255-pound frame, the Russian grew exhausted and lethargic as well. Round 2 saw Grishin take control with a takedown, a visit to mount and a close armbar attempt at the bell. Unfortunately, that effort returned only briefly in the fourth round, where again Grishin got Garner down and went for an armbar and triangle choke. The rest of the bout was ugly, though, with Garner and Grishin engaged in the sloppiest heavy-breathing festival ever. Making matters worse was the referee, who flubbed a timeout when a fighter was fouled, messed up two restarts when the fighters slipped under the ropes, and even began a round while a cornerman was still in the ring cleaning up spilled water (!). The end mercifully came when Garner got side-control and pounded on the Russian’s face, eliciting a tap out at 4:07 of Round 4, but I wouldn’t call Garner’s win a “victory” as much as I’d call it “meh”.
How good is champ Magalhaes at jiu-jitsu? So good, the Abu Dhabi champ can submit people just by looking at them (okay, not really). Yet all that grappling prowess means nothing when your opponent can dodge most of your takedowns, escape trouble on the ground, and chop your lead leg with kicks that would fell a tree, all of which was the case with challenger Mikhail Zayats. Magalhaes did have his moments when it came to man-hugging – in Round 2 he nailed a trip and landed directly into mount – but throughout it seemed Zayats was going to beat the TUF veteran to a pulp. That is, until Magalhaes switched things up and threw an out-of-nowhere high-kick that clubbed Zayats in the neck and left him stunned and on all fours. The champ wasted no time following up with punches, and the referee jumped in at 1:13 of the third round.
-Vinny Magalhaes def. Mikhail Zayats via TKO (Punches) at 1:13 in Round 3
-Kenny Garner def. Maxim Grishin via Submission (Punches) at 4:07 in Round 5
-Arthur Guseinov def. Eddie Arizmendi via Submission (Heelhook) at :50 in Round 1
-Yasubey Enemoto def. Josh Thorpe via Submission (Triangle Choke) at 1:07 in Round 1
-Daniel Madrid def. Tom Gallicchio via Submission (Armbar) at :48 in Round 1