Team Finland, Spain Take M-1

By Markus Wikholm and Heikki Hujala Nov 27, 2008
HELSINKI, Finland – The home team rallied from a rough start to earn a 4-1 victory over their French counterparts at M-1 Challenge Finland on Wednesday.

At the start of 2008, the little country with a rapidly growing love for MMA assembled a group of fighters who spent most of the year fighting at a high pace in the global team tournament.

With both the year and the tournament coming to an end, it was time for Finland to do their part and host an edition of its own.

The end result was arguably the largest event in the ten-year history of Finnish MMA and drew a captive audience to match.

The kick-off fight was a bumpy one for Finland. When lightweights Niko Puhakka and Maktar Gueye clashed, the Finn barely survived the explosive standup of Gueye to get enough groundwork in to earn a decision.

The numbers were quickly evened out when Christian M'Pumbu, of France, handed the first loss not only to Team Finland, but his previously undefeated opponent Marcus Vänttinen via a smoothly applied rear-naked choke.

But then there was turn and the Finns came back strong. Toni Valtonen, who fought at 205 earlier in the tournament, moved up to replace former heavyweight talent Jarno Nurminen, who had suffered a broken hand. The new size didn't faze Valtonen, who had no trouble getting his opponent Mousa Niangane on his back, where he coaxed out the tapout with an armbar.

Heikki Hujala/

Victor Valimaki (top)
chokes Rodney Glunder.
Welterweight Janne Tulirinta delivered another in-and-out performance when his opponent Farouk Lakebir injured his shoulder during the first takedown.

Team Finland’s performance was topped off when Lucio Linhares, the highly respected teacher and “in-house Brazilian” for Finland, blew the roof off in his bout against Karl Amoussou at middleweight. After some intense staredown action, Amoussou kept things tense and opened up with a relentless barrage of strikes. Linhares attempted to pull guard, but the Frenchman quickly backed off and out.

On its feet, Amoussou stormed in again but was served a stern counter cross and stumbled to the mat. From there, Linhares worked to mount and attempted to armbar his opponent. After Amoussou escaped, Linhares settled with the traditional art of fist-meet-face-fu and was awarded the TKO.

“I was amazed at the strength of Amoussou; he was good in countering by jiu-jitsu,” said Linhares. “I'm not a striker, but that cross is the one thing I've been getting good at.”

Once the numbers were crunched Finland finished third in the whole tournament. The finals will be held on Dec. 26 in Seattle between the Russian Red Devil team and Holland.

“Team Finland will definitely be making a comeback into the mix come next season,” said M-1 rep Jerry Millen. “The crowd was one of the hottest we've seen and really well-educated in the game. We want to make MMA big globally and the whole M-1 Challenge series has been a great experience in aiding this. Next year we’ll widen that even more with a Team China, for example.”

The superfight of the night matched Dutch striker Rodney Glunder and Canadian light heavyweight and UFC veteran Victor Valimaki. Valimaki showcased his seasoned poise and skills in calmly timing the first leg kick from the kickboxer and taking him down. Once there, Valimaki breezed his way to mount and a rear-naked choke to end it all.

“I had injured my knee in training and lacked some cardio, so I was hoping to end it quickly,” said Valimaki, whose grandparents hail from Finland. “What you saw out there was basically our plan working out immaculately. I've been wanting to fight in Finland forever. This is one of my goals achieved and a great experience; I've had a great time up here.”

In another series of team bouts, Team Spain defeated Team World. Finn Juha-Pekka Vainkainen opened the series for the World team by knocking out Jose Luis Zapater with a devastating lead hook.

Bulgarian Jordan Radev followed with a TKO via rear-naked choke in his bout against middleweight Rafael Rodrigues.

The Spaniards countered with both Jose Beltran Martinez and Rogent Lloret submitting their respective opponents Jason Ponet and Michael Kita.

Lastly, rookie Enoc Solves was impressive with takedowns and clinches to out-work the seasoned vet of the north, Valdas Pocevicious of Lithuania.

Having started the season with a successful first event, Team Spain was able to end it in a similar fashion with three victories.

In non-tournament bouts, two small Finns made heavy statements. The 18-year-old prodigy Janne Elonen-Kulmala introduced Nicklas Bergman to three consecutive left hands, knocking the Swede out in the process.

Kickboxing wrecking machine Mathias Klockars was able to avoid the slick grappling of Jordy Peute, of Holland, and earn a unanimous decision. Klockars delivered non-stop kicks no matter where Peute was, rapidly turning the Dutchman's legs to something else other than a whiter shade of pale.
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