European Throwdown: Notes from Iberia to Siberia

By: Tim Leidecker
Jun 17, 2008
For the past days, the European Football Championship has outdone MMA events a bit in the eyes of European sports fans. In Austria and Switzerland, 16 teams are fighting for the Euro crown on the pitch. After thrashing world champions Italy by 3-0 and outclassing number seven in the world, France, by 4-1, the Netherlands have crystallized into temporary top contender for the title.

And speaking of the Netherlands, three Holland-based fighters also caused quite a sensation at Sunday's Dream event in Yokohama. Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem (Pictures) overpowered Korean giant Tae Hyun Lee (Pictures) in just 36 seconds, while Gegard Mousasi (Pictures) and Melvin Manhoef (Pictures) moved into the semifinals of the middleweight grand prix with wins over Dong Sik Yoon (Pictures) and Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures).

The Dutch duo is joined by Croatian kickboxer Zelg Galesic (Pictures) in the semifinals, which takes place Sept. 23. Dream has generally made good use of their connections to Europe, using fighters from Norway, Russia, Croatia, Armenia and Holland in their first four events. And with three of the final four participants coming from those countries, there is a good chance that the tournament champion will come from Europe this year.

Bielkheden dropping to 155

Swedish BTT member David Bielkheden (Pictures), who made his Octagon debut in a first-round submission loss to "The Ultimate Fighter" winner Diego Sanchez (Pictures) in March at UFC 82, has recently stated that he plans to move down to lightweight for his sophomore appearance with the promotion. At 5-foot-10, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt would be among the biggest fighters in the 155-pound division.

The 29-year-old grappler from Stockholm usually walks around at 185 pounds and has spent the majority of his career fighting at middleweight. In 2006, he had a brief run at 160 pounds, resulting in two decision losses.

Ironically, lightweight is the same division that fellow Swedish UFC fighter Per Eklund (Pictures) calls home. Under the right circumstances, both men have declared that they would have no problem fighting each other. Eklund is due to return on Sept. 6 at UFC 88 in Atlanta, Georgia, while Bielkheden will have his next fight either at UFC 88 or UFC 89.

Hardy idle until October

Cage Warriors champion Dan Hardy (Pictures) became the latest welterweight addition to what is arguably the strongest division in the UFC. The 26-year-old kickboxer inked a deal with Zuffa in early May. "The Outlaw" will make his debut in the Octagon at UFC 89 on Oct. 18 in England.

Possible opposition for the man from Nottingham is likely to come from the promotion's second string of 170-pound fighters like George Sotiropoulos (Pictures), Mike Swick (Pictures) and Yoshiyuki Yoshida (Pictures).

Hardy has a bone to pick with Yoshida after the Japanese veteran spoiled his run in the Cage Force welterweight tournament last year via a controversial disqualification.

Shooto champ out for year

Shooto light heavyweight champion Siyar Bahadurzada (Pictures) is unlikely to step into the ring again in 2008.

"I just had broken hand twice and an elbow surgery," the 24-year-old Golden Glory fighter told "I might not be able to fight in 2008, but I will come back. In 2009, I will be among the top five middleweights in the world if everything goes according to my plans."

Bahadurzada won the Shooto 183-pound title from Shiko Yamashita (Pictures) in July 2007. Instead of defending the belt, he signed a four-fight deal with upstart promotion Sengoku. In his March debut, he lost an unfortunate battle against former Pride welterweight grand prix champion Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) by submission.

Bahadurzada, who had previously been unbeaten in seven straight fights, still has three more fights on his contract with the Japanese organization.

Baron boosts French faction

Shooto European champion David Baron (Pictures) increased the number of French fighters in the UFC to four, when he signed a multi-fight contract with Zuffa last week. France is now only trailing the UK as the European country with most fighters in the Octagon. He joins his compatriots Cheick Kongo (Pictures), Jess Liaudin (Pictures) and Samy Schiavo (Pictures) in world's biggest promotion.

The 35-year-old firefighter from Bois-Colombe in Northern France had the biggest win of his seven-year career in May when he submitted former Shooto middleweight champion Hayato Sakurai (Pictures) in the first round. The stocky judoka also holds wins over fellow European standouts Sauli Heilimo, Dan Hardy (Pictures) and Abdul Mohamed (Pictures).

The only time the Haute Tension fighter has been finished in his career was by Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi (Pictures) at Pride Bushido 12 in August 2006. Baron has only gone the distance twice in his 15 career victories, knocking out four and submitting nine of his opponents. Despite competing as a welterweight for most of his career, Baron will fight at lightweight in the UFC.

The return of "Judo" Jim

British judo black belt Jim Wallhead (Pictures) has been on the brink of big success before. After reeling off seven wins in eight fights from 2005-2006, the Roughouse Gym fighter was expected to sign with the UFC in the winter of 2006. But, despite controlling the majority of the bout, Wallhead lost to Dennis Siver (Pictures) in December 2006 and Siver eventually got the nod by the Zuffa brass.

Eighteen months and another five-out-of-six wins later, "Judo Jim" has a second chance at beating a big-name opponent. On July 12, the 24-year-old will fight Fabricio Nascimento (Pictures) in Cage Warriors. Nascimento, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras, has dropped two straight and is itching to return to his winning ways.

The 170-pound bout is part of the stacked Cage Warriors "Enter the Rough House 7" card, which also includes the main event between Cage Rage champion Paul Daley (Pictures) and undefeated Slovenian prospect Bojan Kosednar and a promising lightweight clash between shooting star Andre Winner (Pictures) and Ian Freeman (Pictures)'s top student Abdul Mohamed (Pictures).

"Top 10 European Fights" mailbag

As per your quote, "the northwestern part of the Old World has not been able to make a mark as a fighting continent quite like the three aforementioned countries."

There are some interesting reasons why that may be the case. In France and Britain (likewise Australia and Argentina), a lot of people with the athletic talent for combat sports play rugby, which is almost a team version of wrestling.

The Netherlands is an exception to your statement about "the northwestern part of the old world," because the Dutch are generally tall people with a tradition in combat sports rather than rugby.

The dominant grappling style in northwest Europe is judo by a long distance. Judo is a good grappling art for the street, arguably the most complete, but not really well-suited to MMA due to its dependence on clothing. Regarding the Russians, apart from the popularity of sambo and wrestling, the Russian style of judo is different and better suited to MMA.

For a variety of reasons, Eastern Europe simply has a stronger combat sports tradition and that is certainly the case in Russia (where) kids who can't play soccer or basketball (see) combat sports as a way out of poverty.
-- Hugh Logan

Thank you to Mr. Logan for the interesting feedback.

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