M-1 Challenge 80 Kharitonov Sokoudjou
M-1 Challenge 80: Battle in the Celestial Empire 2 - Credit: M-1 Global

Legendary heavyweight Sergei Kharitonov makes his return to M-1 Global this week as he meets fellow PRIDE veteran Rameau Sokoudjou in the main event of M-1 Challenge 80. The Russian promotion is teaming up with Chinese counterparts World Kings Glory on their return to China and the card is set to feature a mixture of homegrown and international talent.

M-1 Challenge 80: Battle in the Celestial Empire 2 is set to take place on Thursday, June 15 at the Harbin International Conference Exhibition Sports Center in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China and will mark M-1 Global’s return the country after the first Celestial Empire instalment in Beijing. In addition to the main event, M-1 featherweight champion Ivan Buchinger defends his 145lb belt against top prospect Timur Nagibin.

Kharitonov returns to China for marquee fight despite Bellator success

Sergei Kharitonov Bellator
Sergei Kharitonov – Credit: Bellator MMA

Russian MMA star Sergei Kharitonov (24-6) has enjoyed an illustrious career since turning pro back in 2000 and has become most well known for his time in legendary Japanese promotion PRIDE. The 36-year-old heavyweight faced the promotion’s biggest names such as “Minotauro” Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum on his way to a 9-3 record during his four-year tenure.

Remaining in Japan for a period after PRIDE was purchased and absorbed by the UFC, “The Paratrooper” would avenge one of his earlier losses with a first round knockout of Overeem in K-1 HERO before moving Stateside for a short spell with Strikeforce.

The respected striker headed back to his native Russia and signed with M-1 Global in 2013 before five straight wins saw him called up and signed to Bellator last year. With many anticipating his arrival due to his cult status earned in PRIDE, Kharitonov’s debut could not have gone any worse as he was knocked out in just 16 seconds by Javy Ayala at Bellator 163.

Kharitonov, who has only been to a decision twice in thirty career fights, rebounded from the loss with a trademark performance over Chase Gormley at Bellator 175, where he scored a stunning KO victory in the first round. Having finished 23 of his 24 wins inside the distance, Kharitonov will be eager to impress and build on his previous performance which could see him enter the frame for an opportunity at Bellator’s vacant heavyweight title.

Sokoudjou returns to action as late replacement nineteen days after KSW loss

Sokoudjou Bellator 127
Rameau Sokoudjou – Credit: Bellator MMA

Former UFC and Bellator heavyweight Rameau Sokoudjou (18-17) looks to get back to winning ways after three losses in his last four fights as he steps in as a late replacement for the injured Marcus Vinicius Lopes to face Kharitonov.

Exploding onto the MMA scene with two KO victories over PRIDE legends “Minotoro” Nogueira and Ricardo Arona in 2007, Sokoudjou was tipped by many for stardom. Despite holding a professional record of just 4-1, “The African Assassin” was signed to the UFC and matched against an undefeated Lyoto Machida at UFC 79 where the more experienced Machida would win by a second round choke.

After two losses in three, Sokoudjou was released and has become something of a globetrotter and definition of a journeyman during his career. Fighting in countries such as Australia, Russia, South Korea, Poland and Israel, Sokoudjou has fought for many promotions and enjoyed an impressive three-fight spell in Bellator where his only loss came to light-heavyweight contender Linton Vassell.

The 33-year-old Cameroonian has suffered a dip in recent times with only two wins in his last five fights, however this could be down to the heavy work schedule he chooses to keep. Sokoudjou will fight for the sixth time in just over a year when he faces Kharitonov and it will only be 19 days since he contested a hard-fought split decision loss to Lukasz Jurkowski at KSW 39.

Buchinger attempts to put non-title loss behind him with defence against promising Nagibin

Ivan Buchinger M-1 Global
Ivan Buchinger – Credit: YouTube/Tomi Kid

M-1 featherweight champion Ivan Buchinger (31-5) was left counting his blessings after Magomed Idrisov missed weight for their M-1 Challenge 73 bout and could not win the title despite knocking Buchinger out in the first round. It was the Slovakian’s first loss since suffering a first round KO defeat to an up-and-coming Irishman by the name of Conor McGregor at Cage Warriors 51 in a bout for the vacant lightweight title.

Since then, “Buki” was on a 10-fight win streak including wins over UFC lightweight challenger Stevie Ray and ACB’s Tural Ragimov on his way to becoming a champion in M-1 Global. The 31-year-old has a strong submission game and has finished 17 of his opponents via that method.

His challenger, Timur Nagibin (9-2), is one of the most promising youngsters to come from the Russian MMA scene and has set tongues wagging with a string of impressive performances against far more experienced opponents like Brazilian veteran Diego D’Avila.

The 24-year-old looks very solid in all areas of his game and will be hoping to catch a reeling Buchinger who may be thinking more about his previous loss than the task at end,

Further down the card, TUF alum Sascha Sharma faces top Chinese talent Musu Nuertiebieke and former Bellator light-heavyweight Carlos Eduardo takes on undefeated German prospect Rene Hoppe.

M-1 Challenge 80: Battle in the Celestial Empire 2 – Fight Card

Heavyweight Bout: Sergei Kharitonov (24-6) vs. Sokoudjou (18-17)

Featherweight Title: Ivan Buchinger (31-5) vs. Timur Nagibin (9-2)

Featherweight Bout: Asikerbai Jinensibieke (12-5) vs. Mikhail Korobkov (10-2-1)

Middleweight Bout: Brandon Ropati (8-2) vs. Artem Kazbanov (7-1)

Featherweight Bout: Sascha Sharma (13-3) vs. Musu Nuertiebieke (8-1)

Welterweight Bout: Alexander Butenko (43-12-2) vs. Corey Nelson (20-6-1)

Light-Heavyweight Bout: Carlos Eduardo (15-4) vs. Rene Hoppe (7-0)

Lightweight Bout: Kang Kang Fu (1-1) vs. Adam Tsurov (5-5)

Welterweight Bout: Maksim Melnik (3-3) vs. Kurbanjiang Tuluosibake (9-8)

Bantamweight Bout: Ibragim Navruzov (3-0-1) vs. Huyixbai (1-0)