BY PETER LAMPASONA
In December, European MMA promotion M-1 Global will return to New Jersey for its M-1 Challenge series. The M-1 Challenge features the winners of each global region’s Selection tournament* fighting against each other in a team-style competition similar to the old days of the IFL. In spite of the relative obscurity M-1 Global has in the US compared to its massive presence in Eastern and Western Europe, America’s team is a far cry from the underdog at the Challenge.
The US winners are composed of a motley crew of young up and comers hailing from camps such as the famed Team Quest and America’s Top Team, representing the next generation of raw talent looking to make a name for themselves. Yet, the Americans carry with them an odds on expectation to do very well against far more seasoned teams from parts of the world where M-1 Global can more easily court established fighters.
The explanation for how young men with high potential but few fights to their name can feasibly compete against more experienced names the world over is simple: MMA is America’s combat sport.
Other combat sports that have previously been strongly associated with American champions have since began to wane on US soil and flourish abroad. Probably the strongest example of this talent seep and creep has been in boxing, where the only remaining dominant American champion is Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is far from a young up and comer. Meanwhile, in Russia, Mexico and the Philippines, young athletes still have great champions and financial hopes that they can chase in the sport.
In the US, the heroes and tough men no longer clash in the sweet science of the boxing ring or the death defying stunts of professional wrestling. To every aspiring athlete just hitting the age where they can begin to take competition seriously, a fighter wears four ounce gloves.
The competitive structure of American wrestling programs, beginning in junior high, where tax money funds athletics, and ending in college, where state subsidized schools are often the big names in the NCAA, is the closest thing to a government funded talent hunt since the Soviet Union fell. MMA has provided these young athletes who have been training to fight since puberty with a new terminal stop to their career outside of the Olympics. And, if the rosters of every major American MMA promotion are any indication, it is a stop more and more NCAA stars are getting off at.
The US also fosters a better environment for young fighters to cut their teeth than other nations around the world. The latest generation of MMA fighters coming from the US will be the first in the sport’s history to enjoy a thriving amateur scene. For Americans six years ago, and just about every other country in the world today, a 3-0 undefeated record meant that a fighter has fought three times somewhere where they could find a cage and an opponent.
For young American fighters now, a 3-0 record means that a coach hand picked a teenage fighter with promise and past combat sports experience, probably including years of wrestling, and worked with an amateur matchmaker to give that fighter multiple years of progressively more difficult MMA matches held in front of large local crowds. Then, after surviving that shark tank, the young fighter begins to train at or near full time before going up against, and defeating, three other athletes who went through the same grooming process.
Suddenly, a 3-0 record stateside can mean a lot more professional support and fighting experience than 10-4 anywhere else in the world. European matchmakers at M-1 looking at the record of each region’s team might be a bit surprised come fight night.
The first challenge for the American team will take place earlier and far from the neon shores of Atlantic City, as American heavyweight Kenny “Deuce” Garner will be competing at M-1’s show in Moscow on October 23. Garner, whose bout was moved up from the rest of the American team due to an injury withdrawal, will be facing the undefeated Georgian, Guram Gugenishvili.
Originally from MATCombatSports.com.