Every Thursday, The MMA Corner will take a look at three regional or international cards, previewing from each a single fight to which people should pay close attention. We will also list other significant bouts from the card, as well as information on how to follow each promotion and watch the events.

Let’s discover those prospects that fight in the obscurity of the regional and international circuits, waiting for their shot at the bright lights and big stage of the UFC, and those veterans looking for one more chance at stardom. It all begins here, in the small convention centers and high school gymnasiums. It all begins with promotions such as these…

Jungle Fight 47: Jungle Belt

Gigantinho Arena in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Event Date: Dec. 21
Website: junglefight.net.br
Twitter: @junglefc

Spotlight Fight:
Ildemar Alcantara (16-5) vs. Itamar Rosa (7-2)

The latest offering from the Brazilian Jungle Fight promotion is titled “Jungle Belt,” and rightfully so, considering that the event features several tournament fights. Chief among them is the final of the middleweight grand prix, which will crown a new champion in the division. Ildemar Alcantara has earned his spot in the bout opposite Itamar Rosa.

If the name Alcantara seems familiar, it should. Ildemar happens to be the younger brother of UFC fighter Iuri Alcantara. Ildemar might not be too far away from his own shot inside the Octagon. He has won 10 of his last 11, and a win here could be his ticket to the big show. His only loss in that 11 fight stretch came versus undefeated UFC fighter and former Jungle Fight middleweight kingpin Marcelo Guimaraes. Meanwhile, he notched wins over UFC veterans Edilberto de Oliveira and Antonio Mendes. In addition to Guimaraes, Alcantara has suffered losses to UFC vet Fabio Maldonado and Bellator vet Luis Santos, so he’s competed against some tough opponents throughout his career. He battled his way to the grand prix finals with a split decision over Eder Jones and a first-round armbar submission of Ederson Cristian Macedo.

Rosa also holds a win over a UFC veteran, having defeated Xavier Foupa-Pokam via knockout way back in 2005. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and Muay Thai specialist eked out a split decision win over Junior dos Santos’ training partner Kleber Orgulho and stormed to a TKO win over Pedro da Rosa Neto en route to securing his spot in the grand prix finals. Although Rosa holds a black belt, he clearly prefers to stand with opponents. He’s earned three knockout wins and an additional two by way of TKO.

This one hints at a possible slugfest. Both men prefer to use their fists to put a finish to their fights. However, a pairing of two strikers can sometimes result in a grappling affair. Alcantara’s biggest weakness comes in his ability to deal with wrestlers. The Muay Thai specialist struggled against Guimaraes in those aspects of their fight, and it’s an area Rosa could exploit to his benefit in this match-up.

Should this fight remain standing, it’s a matter of who lands the first knockout blow. Rosa has heavy hands, but Alcantara is not too shabby either. However, Rosa might just possess the better all-around game. He likes fighting on the ground, and that could spell trouble for Alcantara. Rosa will use his Muay Thai to set up takedowns. Once on the mat, he’ll be able to maintain positional control, following the blueprint laid out by Guimaraes, and will grind out a decision win to capture the middleweight strap.

Other key bouts: Dimitry Zebroski (8-3-1) vs. Sean Peters (4-0) in a lightweight grand prix semi-final bout, Mauro Chaulet (11-3) vs. Edmilson Souza (10-3), Claudir Dutkevis (10-1) vs. Wagner Noronha (7-4)

New Fighting Championship: Battle of the Stars

Ali Aliev Sports Palace in Makhachkala, Russia
Event Date: Dec. 22

Spotlight Fight:
Shamil Zavurov (19-2-1) vs. Juha-Pekka Vainikainen (20-5-1)

Russia has become a hot bed of MMA action lately, even beyond the scope of the well-recognized M-1 Global banner. Although New Fighting Championship may not possess the global reach of M-1, the promotion has brought together an intriguing group of talent, including at least a couple of M-1 veterans, for its “Battle of the Stars” event. At the top of the lineup is a lightweight showcase featuring standout Finnish prospect Juha-Pekka Vainikainen going up against former M-1 Global welterweight champion Shamil Zavurov.

The last time we checked in on Vainikainen, he was undefeated in his previous nine outings, with eight wins and a draw in that stretch, and was set to fight Anton Racic at Fight Festival 32. The prospect emerged from that affair with yet another victory, as he scored his first submission win in nearly two years with a second-round guillotine choke finish of Racic. Vainikainen has already notched wins over UFC veterans Kyle Watson, Steve Lopez and Brian Geraghty, but Zavurov promises to be his toughest challenge yet.

Zavurov is an International Master of Sports in sambo and a Master of Sports in freestyle wrestling, and he’s a three-time world champion in Combat Sambo. Needless to say, Zavurov should be able to take this fight to the mat whenever he so chooses. Although he holds five wins by submission and seven by way of some form of knockout, Zavurov’s resume shows a similar trend to that of Vainikainen—he has moved away from grappling and toward the striking aspect of his game. His last submission win came in Oct. 2010, and he’s relied more heavily on the TKO finish in the time since. Zavurov has hit the roughest patch of his career in the last year, going 1-1-1 and losing his M-1 strap to Yasubey Enomoto. He is coming off a win, however, and will hope to add an impressive opponent to his list of victims when he squares off with Vainikainen.

Zavurov has primarily competed at welterweight throughout his career. That might give him a slight size advantage in terms of bulk, but he’ll give up four inches in height to the 6-foot-tall Vainikainen. The Finnish fighter might use this edge to stay on the outside and pick Zavurov apart on the feet, but he’ll have to avoid Zavurov’s takedowns if he wants to survive the fight. Vainikainen’s losses have primarily come on the ground, and although he has defeated some UFC vets, he’s also lost to some awfully mediocre opponents in his career. Even over the course of his 10-fight undefeated run, his draw came against an opponent from the featherweight ranks that now sports a 6-4 record and was just 3-2 at the time of their fight.

As much as Vainikainen appears poised for a breakout career, those losses throw up some red flags. It’s unlikely that he can keep a high-level sambo specialist (and wrestler) at bay for three full rounds. At some point, Zavurov will close the distance and seek the takedown. Vainikainen has already demonstrated a susceptibility to submissions on the ground, and that has been against opponents with far less skill than Zavurov possesses. Unless the Russian barrels in head first and offers up his neck for a guillotine choke, or opts to stand and trade punches, Vainikainen might not find much luck in this contest. Zavurov should be able to use his sambo and freestyle wrestling skills to put his adversary on the canvas, wear him down and submit him.

Other key bouts: Mikhail Malyutin (24-10) vs. Sergey Grechka (8-2), Omari Akhmedov (8-0) vs. Rafal Haratyk (3-0-1), Bagautdin Sharaputdinov (7-2) vs. Florent Betorangal (10-5), Sultan Aliev (7-0) vs. Arunas Vilius (2-3-1), Saparbek Safarov (5-0) vs. Sylvain Potard (4-2)

Vale Tudo Japan 2012

Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo
Event Date: Dec. 24

Spotlight Fight:
Mamoru Yamaguchi (26-6-3) vs. Darrell Montague (11-2)

If Santa Claus is a fan of mixed martial arts, little boys and girls the world over should be concerned that jolly St. Nick might opt to forego his usual globetrotting, chimney-diving Christmas Eve festivities and instead point his reindeer-powered sleigh straight towards Tokyo to attend the Christmas Eve event from the Vale Tudo Japan series. It’s certainly difficult for anyone, even Santa Claus himself, to pass up a show that features Megumi Fujii taking on Mei Yamaguchi, Kyoji Horiguchi locking horns with Ian Loveland and such stars as Takeshi Inoue and Carlo Prater plying their trade. And to top it off, the promotion has paired two of the world’s top flyweights not currently under UFC contract, pitting Darrell Montague against Mamoru Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi has long been hailed as one of the best flyweights in the world. The afro-haired Shooto veteran has held titles at 132, 125 and 123 pounds. In the span of his career, he’s encountered many of the other top flyweights in the world, including Yasuhiro Urushitani, Jussier “Formiga” da Silva and Shinichi “B.J.” Kojima. He’s most well-known for his trilogy with Kojima, which saw Yamaguchi fight to a draw with his nemesis in a 2006 title defense before dropping both championship rematches via submission. Beyond his failure to beat Kojima, Yamaguchi also lost to Formiga by way of a unanimous decision and defeated Urushitani just once in two attempts. For as highly as the kickboxer is regarded, his track record suggests that he struggles to overcome his fellow top-tier flyweight cohorts.

Montague’s career is brief in comparison to that of his foe. The native Californian first entered the cage as a professional in June 2008, by which point in time Yamaguchi already sported a 20-4-1 mark. “The Mongoose” put together an impressive 8-1 run with his lone loss coming against current UFC fighter Robbie Peralta. That impressive stretch of his career earned him a shot at the Tachi Palace Fights flyweight title at a time when the Lemoore, Calif., promotion was developing into the mecca of flyweight MMA, well before the UFC established its 125-pound division. Montague overcame the highly-regarded Ulysses Gomez via unanimous decision to claim the belt, but lost it in his first defense versus current UFC flyweight contender Ian McCall.

Yamaguchi has been out of action for more than a year, and although he is just 33 years old, it already feels as though he is on the tail end of his career, though there is still a strong push from fans of Japanese MMA to see Yamaguchi inside the Octagon. Meanwhile, Montague, despite the loss to McCall, is surging. He bounced back from that defeat with two wins, and a victory over Yamaguchi would likely earn him a phone call from the UFC. However, both fighters must overcome hurdles to further their careers.

In Yamaguchi’s case, the hurdle is his ability to perform against high-level competition. His losses to Kojima, Urushitani and Formiga are cause for great concern as he enters into battle with an up-and-comer such as Montague. He’ll be dealing with ring rust, and he’ll be facing a fighter with excellent stand-up plus a background in wrestling. Furthermore, the fight takes place in a cage under unified MMA rules. Although Yamaguchi is no stranger to the chain link, his Japanese roots mean he is more at home in a ring than in a cage.

Meanwhile, Montague will need to prove that he’s a legitimate flyweight. He defeated Gomez, but lost to McCall. The remainder of his fights, outside of his war with Peralta, came against lesser competition. Montague will also have to overcome a trip across the Pacific Ocean to Japan. This could be the biggest hurdle of all, as Montague has yet to compete outside of California, let alone fight overseas.

Despite his wrestling background, Montague prefers to utilize a striking-oriented attack. He will likely opt to stand and engage with Yamaguchi. “The Mongoose” may even possess the reach advantage and he could stick to a tactical striking game and work towards a decision, as he did versus Gomez. He will have to be wary of Yamaguchi’s counterstriking strategy. However, the wildcard of fighting outside of his home state for the very first time could be the deciding factor. Yamaguchi might be rusty, but at least he’ll be comfortable in his surroundings.

This one will be close, but Yamaguchi will capitalize on his 25-year-old opponent’s mistakes and edge the American out on the judges’ scorecards.

Other key bouts: Megumi Fujii (25-2) vs. Mei Yamaguchi (10-4-1), Kyoji Horiguchi (8-1) vs. Ian Loveland (16-9), Takeshi Inoue (21-6) vs. Kenji Osawa (18-10-2), Kuniyoshi Hironaka (20-8) vs. Carlo Prater (30-12-1), Keita Nakamura (24-5-2) vs. Nobutatsu Suzuki (9-0-2), Hideo Tokoro (30-25-2) vs. Rumina Sato (26-16-2)

Photo: Mamoru Yamaguchi (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)

  • StealingFire

    Some excellent selections, man. If all three of these end up being available for live viewing in N.A., it will speak volumes about the current state of MMA. (the first two already were available)

    • Bryan Henderson, Editor-in-Chief

      Usually I’m able to find the viewing information for these, but I had absolutely no luck this time around. But I agree. Vale Tudo Japan is actually the type of event I’d like to see more of on AXS. It has some extremely intriguing match-ups, and it’ll be a shame if it’s not available in N.A.