Saturday’s ACB 38 isn’t the only major show going down this weekend on the Russian MMA scene, as promotional stalwart M-1 brings the “Rage” (ring/cage) to Saint Petersburg, Russia for a stellar Friday showcase. M-1 Challenge 71 is one of the promotion’s most well-rounded offerings of the year, featuring two world class matchups at light heavyweight and an intriguing 5 round bantamweight title co-main event pitting a pair of up-and-coming 25 year old Ukrainian bantamweight prospects. And this event’s English-language broadcast will feature the M-1 return of the old-school voice of Bellator and excellent all-around combat sports announcer, Sean Wheelock.
Watch M-1 Challenge 71 this Friday, 10/21/16 streaming free at M1Global.tv (6 PM Moscow, 4 PM UK, 11 AM EST, 8 AM PST).
The marquee attraction features a familiar face to Western MMA fans in ex-Bellator 205 pound champion Attila “Pumukli” Vegh (29-7-2, #79 HW), who takes on former M-1 title holder Viktor Nemkov (23-6, #24 LHW) in a light heavyweight contest. The Kazakhstan-born Nemkov earned the M-1 belt in a Fight of the Night performance versus Stephan Puetz last December, which was revenge for an earlier Puetz victory. Nemkov’s reign was to be short-lived, however, as he relinquished the strap via split decision to heavy underdog Rashid Yusupov in May. After two straight close decisions expect Nemkov (10 subs, 4 KOs) to work hard for a finish against Slovakian striker Vegh, who is seeking to right the ship in the face of a three fight losing streak. Still just 29 years old, Nemkov boasts a wealth of proven success over world class competition and looks to use this high-profile matchup to enhance his future prospects in M-1 and possibly worldwide.
Check out the full fight video from Nemkov and Puetz’s first battle at M-1 Challenge 46 in March 2014, courtesy of M-1 Global:
Vegh’s three recent setbacks have all come against elite competition, dating back to his unsuccessful first Bellator title defense against Emanuel Newton in March 2014. Vegh has focused on quality of opportunity over quantity of competition since his Bellator release, losing via split decision in a KSW title fight versus top Croatian star Goran Reljic in his only outing of 2015 before making an ill-fated foray into the land of giants to challenge recent UFC signee Alexander Volkov for the M-1 heavyweight title in his first appearance of 2016. A win against Nemkov is key for Vegh’s continued viability as a headliner and title contender in major Eurasian promotions, and M-1 fans are hopeful that those high stakes will drive “Pumukli” to renew the aggressive style that helped him become a Bellator star in the first place.
In the co-main event the inaugural M-1 bantamweight title is up for grabs when Saint Petersburg-based Pavel Vitruk (13-2, #104 BW) locks horns with streaking fellow Ukrainian national Vitali Branchuk (23-5, #111 BW). The 5’5 Vitruk, who appears to have the frame of a natural flyweight, actually started his M-1 career with six straight victories at 145 before the size disadvantage finally caught up to him in a pair of losses to larger fighters in Germany’s Max Coga and USA’s Lee Morrison. Dropping to 135 in his most recent outing proved fruitful for Vitruk, who earned Fight of the Night honors for his M-1 Challenge 64 decision win over the previously undefeated Sergey Morozov. He’ll again be facing an opponent his own size in Branchuk, who has enjoyed a 10 fight winning streak spanning the flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight divisions since his last defeat in May 2014. Branchuk’s stellar run has mostly come at the expense of respectable regional Ukrainian competition, with a split decision win over premier Croatian bantamweight Antun Racic at M-1 Challenge 64 representing his most impressive triumph to date. Vitruk should be an odds-on favorite to come out on top and claim the 135 pound title, but anything is possible given Branchuk’s track record of six KO/TKO stoppages during his recent hot streak.
Plus three classic Eurasia vs. Brazil matchups round out the main card:
At 29 years of age, Stephan “T-800” Puetz (14-2, #27 LHW) has already staked a claim as one of the world’s best light heavyweight combatants. The towering 6’5 German all-rounder has proven his mettle with wins over many of Russia’s best 205ers including card headliner Viktor Nemkov, Valery Myasnikov, and Andrey Seldtsov. Puetz, who walks around south of 230 pounds, even mixed in an impressive 2015 TKO win over then-undefeated Polish heavyweight star and current UFC top 20 heavyweight Marcin Tybura. Puetz can truly do it all in the cage, and he may well prove to be a class above Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s Marcus Vinicius “Montanha” Lopes (10-4, #156 HW). Lopes earned his shot at facing the top international star with a surprising win over hard-hitting heavyweight prospect Kurban Ibragimov at M-1 Challenge 69 in July. For occasional middleweight Lopes, this fight is a return to a much more comfortable weight class but also represents a huge step up in competitive caliber. Thus far Lopes has struggled when facing known Brazilian regional vets such as Dirlei Bronstrup, Luis Melo, and Carlos Eduardo; there’s a good chance that this fight will turn into a showcase for Puetz’s UFC-caliber skills, although this is MMA and Lopes is too skilled a competitor to discount entirely in a battle with 4 ounce gloves.
Natal, Brazil native Carlos “Indio” Pereira (37-11-1, #199 WW) finally earned a second chance in major league MMA last September, three-and-a-half years after losing a close split decision call in a Bellator welterweight tournament matchup versus eventual finalist Bryan Baker. Pereira took full advantage of his 2015 call-up to the M-1 ranks, thwarting Russian prospect Ruslan Zhemukov with a nifty triangle armbar at M-1 Challenge 61 to earn a shot at Russian MMA star Alexei Kunchenko at a December indie show. Although unsuccessful in his bid to topple the supremely talented Kunchenko (14-0, #77 WW), Pereira’s performances have been impressive enough to earn him another prominent main card slot opposite Russian prospect Sergei Romanov (9-1, #259 WW). The lanky Romanov is riding a 7 fight winning streak that includes a pair of first round TKO finishes of Andreas Birgels and Sergio de Fatima in his two prior M-1 fights. Friday’s contest with Pereira represents the toughest competition that the relatively untested Romanov has faced to date.
Workhorse Ukrainian lightweight Alexei “Iron Capture” Butenko (41-11-2, #122 LW) has proven himself to be among the best prospects to emerge from the defunct Oplot promotion, earning two of the best wins of his career in his last two M-1 outings versus Ultimate Fighter 22 veteran Sascha Sharma and longtime top-level Russian MMA mainstay Artiom Damkovsky. If it sounds ridiculous to consider Butenko a prospect after 54 pro fights, keep in mind that he’s still just 29 years old, possesses a strong all-around game, and has looked better than ever in his last few outings. Butenko faces an unknown commodity in Brazilian Rubenilton “Rubinho” Pereira (16-2, unranked), who recently lost in a XFC (Brazil) lightweight tournament semifinal bout to halt his 11 fight undefeated streak in regional competition.
Never miss another MMA, kickboxing, or boxing event with CombatDocket.com! And be sure to watch M-1 Challenge 71 emanating from Saint Petersburg, Russia, this Friday 10/18/16 – click here for the live stream via M1Global.TV.
6 PM Moscow
4 PM UK
11 AM EST
8 AM PST