Lövstad Calmly Stops Valtonen in Finland

By Markus Wikholm and Antti Latva-Kyyny Dec 9, 2007
HELSINKI, Finland, Dec. 8 -- Northern Europe is booming with MMA.

Just ask Martin Kampmann (Pictures), Joachim Hansen (Pictures) or David Bielkheden (Pictures), and they'll tell you that neither Denmark nor Norway, let alone Sweden, is unfamiliar with MMA. Add to the list Finland, and in a broader sense the Baltic countries Latvia and Lithuania, and you have a scene packed full of talented competitors.

The ninth installment of The Cage series this weekend showcased a good cross section of the talent the North holds. The main event of "Capital Concussion" could easily have been deemed a fight for the right to be called the best light heavyweight in Northern Europe, at least next to Mikko Rupponen (Pictures).

Representing Finland in this affair was Toni Valtonen, a veteran fighter from Espoon Kehähait -- the gym that has produced the likes of Rupponen and Niko Puhakka (Pictures). Valtonen has been fighting on the Finnish scene since 2001, making an impact with his wrestling-heavy style.

The ever game-faced Valtonen was matched up against a man of totally different demeanor. Jakob Lövstad from Trondheim Fight Gym of Norway is rarely seen without a calm smirk on his face, but under the laid-back image lies a fierce competitor who has garnered fame especially with his slick BJJ skills. Tonight the Norwegian made his comeback from a year-and-a-half layoff and calmly put on an MMA clinic en route to submitting his challenger.

Lövstad started the round looking relaxed and taking the initiative with straight punches and snapping low kicks, which repeatedly hit their target with a resounding slap. The Norwegian timed a single-leg just as Valtonen was stepping in and easily took the fight to the mat, where he worked his way to mount.

The Finn gave his back in trying to escape, only for Lövstad to flatten him out and pound Valtonen. The referee felt that Lövstad was punching to the neck, gave the man from Norway a warning and stood the fighters.

Lövstad kept cool and continued with the same game plan, shooting after some leg kicks. Valtonen was quick in trying to scramble away but was thrown back down with an uchi-mata. Lövstad took back mount again, and this time he was much more hesitant with his punching but showed composure and balance in not trying to rush a choke.

Once the action started in round two of this bout at 93 kg (205 lbs.), Valtonen immediately closed the distance with a superman punch and bull-rushed the "Striking Viking" to the mat. The experienced BJJ game of Lövstad was apparent as the Norwegian swept Valtonen and ended up in the side mount. From there Lövstad worked for a modified side choke.

The referee was calling for action, but Lövstad politely explained that he was indeed choking his opponent, and a few seconds later the tap came at 1:30. With a trademark smile on his face, Lövstad got up, shook the ref's hand and joined his corner in celebrating this well-earned victory and a successful return to MMA.

"I didn't expect it to go like this," Lövstad said after the fight. "From the videos we saw that Valtonen has good wrestling. So the plan was to outpoint him standing up and be prepared to be taken down and working for a submission from my back. After the initial low kicks, he seemed hesitant to take me down, so I decided to try to take him down instead."

In regards to his good takedown game, Lövstad thanked his training oversees in camps like MFS and Team Elite, which has vastly improved his wrestling.

"I was sick when this matchup was made, so I basically had four weeks to prepare for the bout," Lövstad said. "I felt it was important to stay relaxed through the camp and not push myself too much, so I did a lot of mental preparing and self-hypnosis to stay calm, and obviously my team helped me a lot."

Lövstad also addressed UFC possibilities: "I've been hinted that once I come back and get a few victories, I'd get a shot at UFC."

With the extremely professional showing Lövstad gave Saturday, it's not hard to imagine him calmly smiling in the Octagon soon.

On the undercard two previously undefeated light heavyweights, Swede Bobby Rehman and Finn Jevgeni Smirnov, punched away in a testing of chins.

Smirnov disposed of his last opponent at The Cage 8 in 24 seconds, and he attempted the same with a barrage of punches and kicks from the opening bell. Surviving the storm, Rehman's first counterpunch was a big cross that sent Smirnov down.

The Swede didn't manage to put away Smirnov, though, and the brawling continued in a similar vein with Smirnov keeping the constant pressure and Rehman timing some haymakers between the punches. Before the round ended, Smirnov was dropped another time but refused to be stopped.

In round two the same six-tits-for-a-tat continued, but it was Rehman's turn to be dropped and recoup in avoiding a stoppage. By this time both men had thrown dozens of punches, most of which connected, and showcased impressive intestinal fortitude. But Rehman had more success in intelligently saving his energy for vicious counters, and Smirnov was finally knocked out at 3:50 of round two.

Atte Backman (Pictures) from Espoon Kehähait was in an unusual predicament as the smaller man against Tadas Rimkevicius of Lithuania in a heavyweight clash. The size advantage was fully used by Rimkevicius when he stuffed an early takedown from Backman and cranked back the head of the Finn from the side mount for a submission victory 15 seconds into the first round.

Two teammates of Rimkevicius from Team Bushido MMA Lithuania, the middleweight Petras Markevicius and welterweight Erikas Petraitis (Pictures), also enjoyed success. The vastly experienced Markevicius quickly ended his bout against Matti Mäkelä of Sweden with a flying armbar at 48 seconds.

Petraitis, the Baltic MMA champion who has knocked out Hideo Tokoro (Pictures), faced Pasi Maliniemi. Petraitis started the fight by dropping the Finn with a one-two and then attempting a standing guillotine as Maliniemi tried to recover. Maliniemi managed to pull out a big crowd-pleasing slam, but the veteran Petraitis reversed his position almost mid-air. Quickly he took Maliniemi's back and secured a rear-naked choke at 2:33 of round one.

The last Lithuanian didn't enjoy the same success. At 77 kg (170 lbs.), the Finnish GB Gym fighter Jasse Junkkari outpointed Sergei Juskevic by pounding the Lithuanian for two rounds with knees in the clinch and on the ground. Juskevic's moments were in making distance from the clinch and delivering some big straights, but the Finn kept his cool and earned his win.

Another man from GB Gym, promising welterweight Anton Kuivanen, made a comeback from some tough losses by putting a textbook beating on Latvian Sergei Kudrjashov.

Kuivanen backed Kudrjashov away with some striking and then shot in explosively, quickly earning the mount. From there he locked in a tight arm-triangle choke to end the affair at 1:23.

Boxer-turned-MMA-fighter Juha-Pekka Vainikainen followed up his impressive showing in The Cage 8 and once again gained a very non-boxer-esque submission victory, this time over Latvian Andris Dadzis.

The welterweights exchanged some strikes early, but Vainikainen got the clear advantage with his clean handwork. The two men hit the clinch with Dadzis turning his back, only to be caught in a standing rear-naked choke attempt.

The vertical submission wrestling didn't produce success, so Vainikainen took Dadzis down and tried again. The rear-naked choke was locked, and the tap came at 2:18.

Lightweight Olli Hartikainen from GB Gym faced Urs Schwegler from Team Ghost in Switzerland. After some nervous-looking striking from Schwegler, Hartikainen hastily shot in for a takedown and routinely passed the guard, gained mount and secured an armbar at two minutes of the first round.
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