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…

Legacy Fighting Championship 17

Cowboys Dancehall in San Antonio
Event Date: Feb. 1
Website: legacyfights.net
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @legacyfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Pete Spratt (25-21) vs. Dan Hornbuckle (22-5)

Legacy’s 17th edition was to mark the promotional debut of Strikeforce veteran Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos. However, Santos was forced to withdraw, and another veteran looking to get his career back on track has stepped in to take his place. That man is Dan Hornbuckle, who will meet UFC vet Pete Spratt in the main event of the Texas-based show.

There was a point in time when Hornbuckle appeared to be the next big thing at welterweight. After rising to prominence in Sengoku, following a lengthy run on the regional circuit in Indiana and the surrounding area, Hornbuckle entered the Bellator promotion with an impressive 19-2 mark. Initially, the fighter of Native American descent found success there by notching submission wins over Tyler Stinson and Steve Carl to advance to the welterweight tournament finals. However, that’s where his career seemed to go sideways. After going to only one decision through his first 23 fights, Hornbuckle came up short in a grinding battle with Ben Askren in the tourney finals. It marked the beginning of a four-fight streak of bouts that have gone the distance. Worse yet, Hornbuckle has only managed one win—in a tournament qualifier versus Brad Blackburn—in that stretch and has suffered tournament quarterfinal round losses to Brent Weedman and Luis Santos. That last loss to Santos put Hornbuckle’s record at 22-5 and cost him a spot on the Bellator roster. The Santos fight took place in Sept. 2011, and Hornbuckle has been inactive since then.

His opponent, Spratt, is no stranger to disappointment. After an 8-1 start to his career, the 42-year-old has failed to string together more than two consecutive victories in his last 37 fights. Despite that fact, Spratt has had multiple stints in the UFC and has appeared under the Strikeforce and Maximum Fighting Championships banners. He is enjoying one of the more successful portions of his career, though, as he has won four of his last six outings, with a submission and two TKO finishes. In his last fight, Spratt knocked out Daniel Acacio with a spinning backfist, but the knockout blow came after the bell and the UFC vet had to settle for the decision win instead.

This boils down to being a fight between a guy who stepped away from the cage for more than 16 months and an aging veteran that hasn’t had sustained success in the fight game in more than a decade. The question is whether we’ll see two fighters ready to fight or two guys getting reacquainted with the idea of hitting someone else in the face and taking a fist to their own mug.

For Spratt, a win here would mark his first streak of more than two straight wins since he put together a four-fight run in 2001. A loss, however, could spell the end. He’s 42 and there’s not much left for him if he can’t manage to get his hand raised on the regional circuit.

For the 32-year-old Hornbuckle, there’s still time to turn things around, and a win could be the first step on a road back to success. The BJJ brown belt has demonstrated the ability to finish opponents on the mat or standing, but it seems as though he’s lost the fire to compete recently. That needs to change against Spratt, who does have issues with defending against submissions. It’s a hole in his game that has led to 16 of his 21 losses, and it could be the area that Hornbuckle targets in this fight.

Although Hornbuckle has been away from action for a significant amount of time, he’s approximately 10 years younger than Spratt and has had a much more successful career overall. He’ll use his reach to pick away at Spratt on the feet, and then he’ll drag the UFC vet to the ground and look for a submission. He’ll likely find it, but he’ll still need to post a few more victories before a major promotion gets interested in him again.

Other key bouts: Richard Odoms (7-0) vs. Jared Rosholt (4-1), Nick Gonzalez (18-10) vs. Kevin Aguilar (4-1)

ONE Fighting Championship 7: Return of Warriors

Stadium Putra in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Event Date: Feb. 2
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: live PPV stream at livesport.tv
Twitter: @ONEFCMMA

Spotlight Fight:
Honorio Banario (7-1) vs. Eric Kelly (9-0)

There are times when ONE Fighting Championship appears poised to step in as the new Pride…or Sengoku…or Dream. Then there are other times when the promotion seems like it will settle in as another significant Asian promotion along the lines of Shooto or Pancrase, as opposed to becoming an international force. The promotion’s seventh offering falls into the latter category. The intriguing fights are there, as illustrated by the flyweight title eliminator bout between Shinichi “BJ” Kojima and undefeated prospect Rey Docyogen and the featured featherweight title tilt between Honorio Banario and Eric Kelly. The problem is that neither of those fights will draw worldwide interest equivalent to what we saw from Pride, Dream or Sengoku. That’s a shame, though, as the featherweight championship is certainly worthy of attention.

Banario is a member of Team Lakay Wushu, which houses some of the best prospects emerging from the Philippines, including Docyogen, Eduard Folayang and Kevin Belingon. The 23-year-old Wushu practitioner took home lightweight gold in the URCC, the biggest MMA promotion in his homeland. He didn’t make the drop to featherweight until he joined ONE FC. After a six-fight undefeated run at lightweight, Banario dropped his featherweight debut via a quick submission. However, he has since bounced back with a TKO victory over Andrew Benibe. That win earned him a slot opposite Kelly for the ONE FC featherweight strap.

Kelly is already a featherweight champion—he holds the 145-pound title in the URCC. His fight with Banario has long been in the making, but their previously scheduled affair had to be postponed due to Kelly’s URCC commitments. Kelly, like Banario, hails from the Philippines and is a Wushu practitioner. He has won seven of his fights by way of submission, and he defeated Bae Young Kwon, the only fighter to hand Banario a loss.

Banario and Kelly have both logged a majority of their victories via submission, but there is a contrast to how they end fights. Banario is the striker of the two. Of his five submission wins, two were due to punches. He has also scored a head kick knockout and used kicks and punches to secure a TKO. Meanwhile, Kelly’s submissions have come through his use of grappling, and he prefers to go for the rear-naked choke. His lone TKO victory came versus Jens Pulver.

Common opponents aren’t always the best way to gauge how two fighters will match up, but it can help. In this case, both men have met Kwon, with Kelly winning the decision and Banario losing in just 56 seconds by way of a rear-naked choke. That doesn’t bode well for Banario. After all, Kelly likes to finish with that exact same choke and has proven to be a tough out for anyone.

Kelly is more accustomed to fighting at 145 pounds, and he has shown that he has the skills to protect his unblemished record. He is seven years the elder of Banario, and his maturity and experience could play a huge factor against the young upstart. There’s no doubt that Banario could become another Filipino star along the lines of Folayang, but he still needs time to develop. But right now is Kelly’s time, and he’ll seize the opportunity. Look for him to pressure Banario and force him into making mistakes. Until recently, Kelly had a habit of scoring first-round finishes, and given Banario’s loss to Kwon, there’s a good possibility that Kelly could return to dishing out early endings. He’ll take Banario’s back at the first sign of an opening and sink in the rear-naked choke for the finish.

Other key bouts: Shinichi “BJ” Kojima (12-5-5) vs. Rey Docyogen (10-0), Peter Davis (5-1) vs. Leo Krishna (2-0), Melvin Yeoh (6-1) vs. Raymond Tiew (4-2), Lowen Tynanes (2-0) vs. Vuyisile Colossa (5-3), Ryan Diaz (13-13) vs. Thanh Vu (2-1) in a bantamweight grand prix quarterfinal bout

Pancrase: 245

Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Feb. 3
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Tadahiro Harada (10-3-2) vs. Daniel Swain (7-2)

Pancrase is one organization that can routinely be counted on to deliver an event with at least one or two intriguing fights. Usually, those encounters occur on its Progress Tour series, but lately the numbered events have stepped up as well. For its offering this weekend, Pancrase pits rising featherweight prospect Tadahiro Harada against American Kickboxing Academy product Daniel Swain.

Harada won the 18th Pancrase Neo-Blood Tournament at featherweight. After getting his career off to a 2-3-1 start, the Paraestra Kitakyushu product has gone undefeated through his last nine outings, with eight wins and one draw. The biggest problem is that the best opponent Harada faced in that time was 10-8, with the rest of the wins coming against inexperienced fighters with records near the .500 mark or fighters with zero career victories. Even the draw in that nine-fight stretch came to a fighter with a losing record.

Swain can be a little more proud of his resume. His two losses have come to legitimate prospects, and he also happens to hold a submission win over TUF alum Sam Sicilia. Much like Harada, Swain tends to do his best work on the mat, where he has secured four of his wins. And in taking on Sicilia, he proved that he can deal with an opponent that has knockout power. He won’t have to worry about that against Harada, but it does show his grit. “Agent Orange” has seen his last three fights go the distance.

The biggest question here might be how the travel affects Swain. The 22-year-old has competed exclusively in Canada and the northern United States. For this fight, he’ll be travelling across the Pacific, and that could have an enormous impact on his performance. Harada, on the other hand, will be right at home.

Location truly could be the deciding factor. If this fight was based in the United States, Swain would gain an edge, but with the fight set for Japan, he’ll have his work cut out for him. However, Harada does appear to be a fighter who benefits from favorable match-ups, and he won’t get one here. If Swain can overcome the trip and perform at his optimum, he can take this fight by way of a decision.

Other key bouts: Keiichiro Yamamiya (44-28-10) vs. Will Noland (7-3), Yuki Kondo (54-27-8) vs. Seiki Ryo (9-9-3), Shoko Sato (18-11-2) vs. Taichi Nakajima (6-2-1)

Photo: Dan Hornbuckle (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)