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…

Extreme Fighting Championship Africa 18

Carnival City Casino in Johannesburg, South Africa
Event Date: March 1
Website: efcafrica.com
Watch Event: Final three fights air live via pay-per-view stream at efcafrica.com, on television networks E-TV (South Africa) and Fight Now! TV (U.S. and Canada) or at NuMetro Cinemas (South Africa).
Twitter: @EFCAFRICA

Spotlight Fight:
Ruan Potts (5-0) vs. Andrew van Zyl (6-1)

South Africa isn’t exactly a country that comes to mind when thinking about international MMA, but EFC Africa has made large strides in putting the country on the MMA map. For its 18th offering, the promotion has put together a highly anticipated rematch between its heavyweight champion, Ruan Potts, and Andrew van Zyl, whose only loss came at the hands of the champ.

Potts is just one fight removed from his first-round guillotine choke submission win over van Zyl at EFC Africa 11 in November of 2011. Following that victory, the heavyweight kingpin returned to action in October of 2012 to defend his belt against Bernardo Mikixi. A two-time national champion judoka, Potts has spent time training alongside John Hathaway in Brighton and with the Cheick Kongo and the Wolfslair Academy. The appropriately nicknamed “Fangzz” happens to be a dental technician who designs and produces mouthguards. Typically looking to knock out opponents, Potts’ only submission victory was the one he earned against van Zyl. The remainder of the five wins on his unblemished record have come via some form of knockout.

Much like Potts, van Zyl’s background is in the grappling arts, but his record reveals the South African’s penchant to look for a knockout. He’s found five such finishes, compared to just one submission victory. The 6-foot-3 heavyweight has a solid chin and has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under South African BJJ pioneer Rodney King. He now works under the tutelage of BJMMA coaches Bobby Karagiannidis and Marc Hebert for his ground game, and stand-up with Colin Nathan and Vusi Mtolo. Van Zyl has picked up two wins since his loss to Potts.

The first affair between these two went to the ground quickly and featured a number of scrambles for positional advantage. This rematch figures to be more of the same, and it will come down to who makes the first mistake. Although van Zyl has a background in BJJ, he struggled to hang with Potts on the ground. He didn’t get his hooks in when he had Potts’ back, which cost him the advantageous position before he could mount any offense. From top position, he was conservative in his output and ended up defending against a kimura attempt before leaving his neck open for the taking for the fight-ending choke.

Potts is by far the accomplished fighter van Zyl has faced. He didn’t do himself any favors by rebounding against fighters who now have records of 1-2 and 0-1. That doesn’t help him much in honing his skills to fight Potts, who has trained with UFC fighters in the past. Potts was willing to fight off his back in the first contest and was capable of reversing van Zyl. With van Zyl not offering a punishing ground-and-pound attack from the top, there’s not much he can do to threaten the more skilled and well-rounded Potts. Short of a lucky punch or Potts making a mistake on the ground, van Zyl doesn’t have a great chance to avenge his only career loss. Potts will once again find a way to tap van Zyl, though it might not happen as quickly this time around.

Legacy Fighting Championship 18

Arena Theatre in Houston
Event Date: March 1
Website: legacyfights.net
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @legacyfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Rafael de Freitas (5-0) vs. Antonio Banuelos (20-9)

The trend of intriguing offering from the Texas-based Legacy Fighting Championship promotion continues with its 18th show. The promotion has constructed a fight card that includes a heavyweight title showdown between Derrick Lewis and Ricky Shivers and a lightweight title clash between Jorge Patino and Derrick Krantz. But the bout that stands out on this show is the sophomore flyweight outing between Antonio Banuelos and undefeated prospect Rafael de Freitas.

Banuelos was once a mainstay in the WEC’s bantamweight division. But after the promotion was absorbed by the UFC, Banuelos was one and done in the Octagon, following a loss to former WEC champion Miguel Torres. He fought his way to split decision victories over Hideo Tokoro and Masakazu Imanari in Dream’s bantamweight tourney, before losing to Bibiano Fernandes via first-round TKO in the finals. The Pit product then moved to the flyweight division, only to suffer defeat in his 125-pound debut against Joshua Sampo. Banuelos is a scrappy fighter who prefers to stand and strike, but is well versed on the ground as well. In fact, he hasn’t lost by way of a submission since 2002.

De Freitas is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who even has a submission named after him. The Baratoplata is a shoulder lock submission that the 2011 Pan-American champion developed when he was a purple belt. He has submitted four of his five opponents in MMA competition, with his other fight ending in a split decision victory. Despite a highly decorated background in BJJ, de Freitas also trained in striking arts, including karate and Muay Thai, as a youth.

This fight is one of experience versus high-level grappling. De Freitas’ fight with Joshua Montoya, a 10-7 fighter that the Albuquerque transplant defeated via a split verdict on the judges’ scorecards, proved that the Gracie Barra fighter isn’t perfect. If he gets his opponent to the mat, de Freitas has a dangerous submission game that can spell doom for his foe, but a competent grappler who mixes in a bit of striking—as Montoya did—can give de Freitas a tough time.

The Banuelos that fans remember from his WEC days would be a stiff test for de Freitas, and likely one that the Brazilian could not have passed. But with just five fights under his belt, it would have been an honorable and expected loss. But with Banuelos coming off a disappointing showing in his flyweight debut against Sampo and having only fought once since the end of 2011, de Freitas’ chances look better. This could be “Barata’s” coming out party at a national level. Banuelos’ ability to avoid the submission and his willingness to engage in standing battles means this will be another close fight that could go either way. De Freitas will need to get the fight to the mat to truly dominate, but he might have a hard time doing so. The step up in competition here is steep, and while de Freitas has a respectable shot at winning this fight, Banuelos’ experience on the biggest stages of all leave him as the clear favorite to edge out the world-class grappler on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Derrick Lewis (8-2) vs. Ricky Shivers (10-5-1) for the heavyweight title, Jorge Patino (28-13-1) vs. Derrick Krantz (14-6) for the lightweight title, Todd Moore (14-5) vs. Charles Ontiveros (3-0), Alex Morono (4-1) vs. Brandon Farran (7-6)

Championship Fighting Alliance 10

BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla.
Event Date: March 2
Website: cfafights.com
Watch Event: live stream at Ustream
Twitter: @CFAFIGHTS

Spotlight Fight:
James McSweeney (10-10) vs. Dion Staring (28-8)

Championship Fighting Alliance has risen to prominence by featuring a combination of prospects and established veteran fighters. But this weekend, the focus is on upstart female fighters, with an eight-woman featherweight tournament prominently featured on the fight card. Although the tourney should be intriguing and could spawn a new featherweight prospect worthy of Invicta’s attention, the headlining spot on the card still belongs to the men, with UFC veteran and TUF alum James McSweeney locking horns with recent Strikeforce castoff Dion Staring.

Staring, despite an impressive 28-8 mark, was no more than cannon fodder for Zuffa heavyweight darling Daniel Cormier. Staring lasted until the second round with the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner before falling victim to a TKO. The 34-year-old Dutch fighter trained at Golden Glory, before joining the Blackzilians and reuniting with training partner Alistair Overeem. Staring is a striker, with 14 wins by some form of knockout, but he is also a threat on the mat, where he has picked up eight submission victories. Likewise, opponents can overcome Staring either standing (three losses by TKO) or on the ground (four submission defeats). Before the loss to Cormier, Staring had gone 9-1 over his previous 10 outings.

McSweeney enjoyed the national spotlight when he joined the cast of The Ultimate Fighter 10. After starting his career with a 4-8 mark, the former kickboxer has actually heated up lately, with a 6-2 run. His last fight ended in a TKO loss, and McSweeney’s chin, as well as his submission defense, have been called into question on numerous occasions throughout his career.

Anywhere this fight goes, McSweeney will be in trouble. Despite his kickboxing background, the Brit doesn’t have the chin to endure a beating on the feet. And on the mat, he’s a fish out of water. Staring has trained with some of the best in the kickboxing world while at Golden Glory, and he continues to spar with the likes of Overeem at the Blackzilians camp. If striking is the name of the game in this fight, McSweeney is going to come up short. And Staring has proven that he’s capable on the ground as well, which means that McSweeney has to be careful not to make a mistake and get snagged in a submission hold. McSweeney’s recent six wins may look good on his record, but it comes against some of the weakest competition he’s faced in his career. Now that he’s stepping up to fight tougher competition again, he’s going to find himself on the losing end of the outcome, most likely via TKO.

Other key bouts: Eight-Woman Featherweight Tournament

Photo: Antonio Banuelos (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)