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…

Shooto: 2nd Round 2013

Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: March 16
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Hiromasa Ogikubo (10-2-2) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (9-1)

The last time that Hiromasa Ogikubo fought was May of 2012. He was the underdog challenging Koetsu Okazaki for the 132-pound Shooto title. Ogikubo scored the upset, and now he’s ready to mount his first defense of the title. His challenger will be Shooto 2010 Rookie champion Kyoji Horiguchi.

Ogikubo’s conservative approach versus Okazaki allowed him to not only claim the Shooto crown, but it also capped a four-fight winning streak for the new champ and avenged a 2009 TKO loss to Okazaki. The 2009 defeat was the first in Ogikubo’s career. He’d go on to lose his next outing to Eduardo Dantas before righting the ship with three straight decision victories to earn the rematch. The Paraestra Matsudo product utilizes a takedown game and looks for submission finishes, though he’s not always successful in earning a stoppage. Ogikubo has settled for the decision win six times in his career, whereas he has only submitted three foes (and scored a single TKO).

In Horiguchi, Ogikubo is fighting someone whose tendencies lean in the opposite direction. The blonde Krazy Bee product prefers to finish his fights via strikes. Horiguchi is a sparring partner of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and holds a background in boxing and karate. His knockout power has resulted in six wins by some form of knockout, with his other three wins and his lone defeat coming on the judges’ scorecards. The 22-year-old’s only loss came against the tough Masakatsu Ueda.

This will be a contrast in styles, with Horiguchi seeking to keep the fight standing and Ogikubo intent on taking it to the ground. Horiguchi’s use of range should allow him to land an array of punches and hard kicks, and he has the strength and takedown defense to avoid succumbing to Ogikubo’s takedown attempts. Horiguchi’s only loss came by majority decision against a fighter considered among the best in Japan at the weight class, whereas Ogikubo has been finished on two occasions. That gives Horiguchi the better outlook in what will be a close fight. He might have to fend off some submission attempts, but eventually the “Kid” Yamamoto protege will land a punch that rocks the champ. From there, the finish will be soon to follow, giving Horiguchi his first major championship.

Other key bouts: Yusuke Yachi (8-3) vs. Yoji Hoshino (18-7-7) for the Pacific Rim lightweight championship, Caol Uno (26-16-5) vs. Kyu Hwa Kim (1-0), Hideki Kadowaki (14-13) vs. Hiroshige Tanaka (9-1), Manabu Inoue (14-8-3) vs. Kenji Yamamoto (5-1-1), Yusaku Inoue (8-1) vs. Dae Seong Park (0-0)

KSW 22: Pride Time

Torwar Hall in Warsaw, Poland
Event Date: March 16
Website: konfrontacja.com
Twitter: @KSW_MMA

Spotlight Fight:
Jan Blachowicz (16-3) vs. Goran Reljic (11-3)

When one hears the word “Pride” in association with MMA, the first things to come to mind are Japan and the glory days of Pride FC. But in this case, the location is Poland and the promotion is KSW, and “Pride” is only part of the event’s title. However, that doesn’t mean the match-ups are any less intriguing. In fact, Jan Blachowicz could very well be making his audition for UFC consideration when he puts his light heavyweight title on the line against UFC veteran Goran Reljic.

Blachowicz is considered one of the best light heavyweights not currently under contract with the UFC. His first two professional losses came early in his career, and his third—versus Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou—can be attributed to his struggles with injury, as he was unable to answer the bell for the third round due to an injured leg. The 30-year-old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt has since avenged the loss to Sokoudjou and is riding a four-fight winning streak. The Polish fighter is 13-1 over his last 14 outings and holds wins over Christian M’Pumbu, Maro Perak, Daniel Tabera, Sokoudjou, Mario Miranda and Houston Alexander in that stretch. He has notched seven victories via submission, four by some form of knockout and has had his hand raised by the judges in his remaining five wins.

Reljic never lived up to his potential inside the Octagon. After a “Fight of the Night” effort in in his debut win over Wilson Gouveia, the Croatian shifted to middleweight and lost back-to-back fights against C.B. Dollaway and Kendall Grove. Reljic then moved back to light heavyweight and earned his UFC pink slip with another loss, this time versus Krzysztof Soszynski. Outside of the UFC, however, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt is a perfect 10-0. The well-rounded fighter has won five fights by submission, four by TKO and two by decision, but he doesn’t have quite the list of significant names on his resume that Blachowicz boasts on his list of victories.

Blachowicz appears to have moved beyond his knee injury and is returning to form. He fights out of Nastula Team with Olympic gold medalist judoka Pawel Nastula, and he has prepared for this title tilt with Alliance MMA in San Diego. When healthy, there’s little doubt that Blachowicz is one of the best fighters in Europe. Reljic had plenty of hype behind him when he entered the UFC, but he has failed to prove anything. He can push his Polish counterpart and will not go down easy (all of his losses have come by way of decisions). Reljic’s toughness points to this fight going the distance. Blachowicz has been too good in recent years for Reljic to look like much of a threat. The champion will retain his belt with a unanimous verdict in this contest.

Other key bouts: Kevin Asplund (15-3) vs. Pawel Nastula (4-4), Karol Bedorf (8-2) vs. Oli Thompson (10-4), Anzor Azhiev (3-0) vs. Mariusz Pioskowik (6-4), Piotr Strus (8-1) vs. Abu Azaitar (6-2), Marcin Naruszczka (11-1) vs. Rafal Moks (6-6)

Pancrase 246

Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: March 17
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Jorge Patino (29-13-1) vs. Isao Kobayashi (13-1-3)

What is a fighter to do when he barely breaks a sweat in defending his Legacy FC lightweight championship? If that man is Jorge Patino, then the answer is to turn around two weeks later and fight a top prospect on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. After submitting Derrick Krantz in the second round of their championship affair, Patino is now slated to meet Isao Kobayashi under the Pancrase banner.

Patino has had a great run under the Legacy banner, revitalizing his career in the process. The reigning Legacy lightweight champion is riding a six-fight winning streak, with all but two of the victories coming inside Legacy’s cage. That’s a big turnaround considering that Patino spent the previous four years suffering through a 2-5 stretch with one of his victories coming via split decision. After a 12-0 start to his pro career, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo black belt’s current six-fight streak is his longest stretch of success. Of his 13 losses, Patino has tasted defeat on the scorecards eight times. Meanwhile, he has tallied 13 wins by submission and seven by some form of knockout.

Kobayashi is the lightweight King of Pancrase and is a top Japanese prospect. The southpaw has a background in judo, but he has preferred to score his wins with his fists more often than by submission. He’s on a seven-fight winning streak. Kobayashi’s lone professional defeat came via unanimous decision in 2010 against Koji Oishi.

Patino has looked impressive lately under the Legacy banner, scoring decision wins over Pete Spratt and Mike Bronzoulis, in addition to his submission win over Krantz. But one factor that might be overlooked in this fight is Patino’s inability to pick up wins when he travels across the Pacific. The 39-year-old has twice traveled to Japan and once to the Philippines, but he’s returned with a mark of 0-2-1. Patino’s career resurrection makes this an interesting fight, and one where, with a win, Kobayashi could announce his presence as a top lightweight. If this fight was set in the United States or Brazil, Patino would be an easy favorite. But with the UFC veteran just two weeks removed from his last fight and venturing to a region of the world where he has yet to have his hand raised, things don’t look quite so good. This will be a close fight, but Kobayashi will break Patino’s streak. The 24-year-old Pancrase vet will earn the win on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Takumi Nakayama (17-13-5) vs. Koji Oishi (23-9-9) for the featherweight King of Pancrase, Yoshiaki Takahashi (9-2-2) vs. Michael Costa (10-5-1), Takenori Sato (15-8-6) vs. Akihiro Murayama (13-5-7), Shintaro Ishiwatari (14-4-4) vs. Nobuhiro Yoshitake (9-12-4), Jon Shores (11-2) vs. Yojiro Uchimura (10-5-2), Atsushi Yamamoto (16-7-3) vs. Daichi Kitakata (9-3), Eiji Ishikawa (23-18-3) vs. Kenji Nagaki (6-2), Hiroki Aoki (12-6-1) vs. Kota Okazawa (11-7-5)

Photo: Jan Blachowicz (Jumana Totongi/Sherdog)