With no major U.S.-based organization offering an MMA card this July 4 weekend, the M-1 Challenge takes center stage.
Billed as the "World Cup of Mixed Martial Arts," the M-1 Challenge pits MMA clubs from different countries against each other. Each team consists of five athletes with one in each weight class ranging from lightweight to heavyweight.
The latest destination for this weekend's competition is Seoul, Korea, where six teams are in action. The slated matchups are Bulgaria (1-1) vs. Finland (1-1), USA West (2-0) vs. Imperial Russia (0-2), and Brazil Naja (1-1) vs. Korea.
The M-1 Challenge operates as a global minor league MMA system, and if successful, fighters can work their way to the main stage of the sport as elite fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Andrei Arlovski, Keith Jardine, AlistairOvereem, Yushin Okami, Ben Rothwell, Mike Pyle, Melvin Manhoef, Denis Kang, Martin Kampmann have done.
With that said, here's a look at five of the individual matches that feature potential MMA stars:
Janne Tulirinta (Finland/11-3) vs. Ivan Ivanov (Bulgaria/5-2)
Tulirinta is even better then his his 11-3 indicates. Already a talented submission fighter, his stand-up game has made remarkable strides this season and he is the best welterweight in this year's M-1 Challenge. With the division outside of the UFC lacking, Tulirinta could be ready now.
Tulirinta did not suffer a scratch during his 11-second TKO win over USA East's Anthony Ford just 30 days ago.
Giva Santana (USA West, 12-1) vs. Radmir Gabdullin (Russia Imperial, 4-1)
Eleven of Santana's 12 wins are by armbar submission. "The Arm Collector" is looking to add to that list and with a win over Gabdullin, but the Russian's strong Sambo background and four pro wins coming via submission could provide trouble for Santana.
Don't be surprised if we see some of Santana's stand-up game having improved, as his striking skills have begun to evolve thanks to sparring with USA West heavyweight Shane Del Rosario. Another submission win would make Satanta a nice addition to the Strikeforce middleweight division.
Shane Del Rosario (USA West, 6-0) vs. Maksim Grishin (Russia Imperial, 2-2)
After competing for ShoXC and once for the M-1 Challenge, Del Rosario finds himself with a perfect 6-0 record and a reputation for being one of the most dynamic strikers in the heavyweight division. A member of Colin Oyama's Team Oyama, Del Rosario has been working hard with Giva Santana to improve his ground game.
If his submission skills can rival his stand-up ability, Del Rosario will move one step closer to becoming a legitimate title contender, possibly landing him a high-profile fight under the Affliction or Strikeforce banner.
But a victory over Grishin won't come easy, as the Russian is among the top prospects in the new generation of Team Imperial fighters.
Hacran Dias (Brazil Naja, 11-0-1) vs. Yui Chul Nam (South Korea, 12-2)
Hacran Dias is one of the best blue chip prospects fighting out of Brazil right now. With an 11-0-1 record, he's good enough to compete in any organization in the world.
A Nova Uniao fighter, Dias made his M-1 Challenge debut in May during an event in Sao Paulo against fellow M-1 Challenge rookie Amirkhan Mazihov. Dias needed just 3:58 to finish the fight with a rear naked choke. As he looks to improve his M-1 Challenge record to 2-0, he faces a tough challenge against Nam.
Though the South Korean holds an impressive record, he has yet to earn an M-1 win; He took a decision loss to USA West's Dave Jansen in the '09 season opener. Being that Jansen is one of the top lightweight prospects in all of MMA, there is no shame in losing to Jansen, and with an upset win over Dias, Nam could get right back in the mix.
Do Hyung Kim (Korea, 25-5) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (Brazil Naja, 11-2)
Kim is one of the most charismatic fighters in the Challenge, and he's also a tremendous fighter who, without question, rates among the top prospects in this year's competition. The Sunhu Gym product holds notable victories over the likes of Mikhail Malyutin, Erik Oganov and Farouk Lakebir.
Moving up to 170, Kim seems poised for a thrilling matchup against Pamplona, who has just one loss in his last 12 fights. Pamplona is looking to take his career to the next level following impressive wins over Juliano Belgine, DanielAcacio, Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons and Jorge Pantino.
Dave Jansen (USA West, 11-0) vs. Amirkhan Mazikhov (Russia Imperial, 2-1)
Rising lightweight prospect Jansen improved to 11-0 after a hard fought decision victory over Yui Chul Nam during April's M-1 Challenge in Japan. The Team Quest member has already fought three times this year, capturing wins over Matt Lee and Flavio Alvaro.
Jansen wasn't originally part of the 2009 roster with Palace Fighting Championships 155-pound champion Brian Cobb listed as its lightweight representative. However, Cobb left USA West just 10 days prior to the M-1 season opener Feb. 21 in order to accept a contract with the UFC as a last-minute replacement at UFC 95.
The move from Cobb to Jansen has paid dividends for USA West, as Cobb was TKO'd by Terry Etim at UFC 95 and has not fought since. Meanwhile, Jansen will look to improve his record to 12-0 overall and 3-0 under the M-1 Challenge banner.