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…

Xtreme Fighting Championships 23: Louisville Slugfest

Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisvilly, Ky.
Event Date: April 19
Website: officialxfc.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @OfficialXFC

Spotlight Fight:
Shamar Bailey (15-8) vs. Luis “Sapo” Santos (54-9-1)

Sometimes, veterans have to claw their way back to the big show. Such is the case for former The Ultimate Fighter contestant and UFC veteran Shamar Bailey and his rival, Bellator veteran Luis “Sapo” Santos, at the 23rd offering from Xtreme Fighting Championships.

Bailey entered TUF 13 after an 11-3 start to his career that included two fights under the Strikeforce banner, where he went 1-1. The former NCAA Division III All-Conference wrestler lost to Chris Cope in the quarterfinals of the show, but won his finale fight against Ryan McGillivray. His fortunes in the Octagon took a turn for the worse after that, as he dropped bouts to Evan Dunham and Danny Castillo. He was subsequently released. Bailey has since gone on to record three wins and three losses, including a unanimous decision defeat under the Bellator banner. The Integrated Fighting Academy product has bounced back and forth between lightweight and welterweight, with stops at catchweights falling in between those two weight classes. He tends to use wrestling to control his opponents on the mat, but he doesn’t have a strong record of finishes through his career. Whereas Bailey has suffered four losses by some form of knockout, he has never been submitted.

With 64 fights on his resume dating back to March 2000, Sapo is a veteran of the sport. He possesses a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Team Nogueira, but tends to utilize his Muay Thai to end fights with his fists. The contrast between his use of skills is reflected in a record that boasts 30 wins by some form of knockout to just 10 by submission. On the losing end, Santos has fallen three times by (T)KO, three by submission and three by decision. After a lengthy career in Brazil, outside of a loss at WEC 34, Sapo has now fought four times under the Bellator banner. He took a quarterfinal round victory over Dan Hornbuckle in the season-five welterweight tourney, but fell in the semifinals to UFC vet Ben Saunders. Sapo was unable to bounce back in his next outing, where he lost via TKO to Ryan Ford. He is now on a two-fight skid.

Despite an overall record that is nothing short of impressive, Sapo has had his share of troubles when he leaves his native Brazil. He lost in both of his trips to Japan and is just 3-3 in North America. On the positive side, those defeats came at 170 pounds against relatively successful opposition. Now, he’s fighting a guy who probably belongs at lightweight and is 4-7 over his last 11 official fights. Bailey’s wrestling could lead to a grinding decision win for the Indiana native, but Sapo’s striking could end things quickly. Bailey’s lack of recent success and the disadvantage he’ll face in terms of size doesn’t bode well for him in this fight. Santos should score the TKO by the midway point of the fight.

Other key bouts: Zach Underwood (10-4) vs. Deivison Ribeiro (23-9)

Dakota Fighting Championships 15: Spring Brawl

Scheels’ Arena in Fargo, N.D.
Event Date: April 20
Website: dakotafc.com

Spotlight Fight:
Tony Martin (5-0) vs. Tyler Hellenbrand (6-0)

No, this is not the Tony Martin who once fought under the UFC banner. But this Tony Martin could one day find himself in that same eight-sided cage. He can further his case for consideration by the UFC when he squares off with Tyler Hellenbrand at Dakota Fighting Championships 15.

The last time we checked in on Martin, he was putting his unblemished four-fight record on the line against TUF alum and UFC veteran Phillipe Nover. That fight is in the history books now, and Martin is still undefeated. The talented grappler eked out a majority decision over Nover to notch his most significant victory. He’s no stranger to fighting veterans, having submitted the very experienced combo of Bruce Johnson and Jay Ellis. Martin has flashed knockout power as an amateur, but has relied heavily on his submission skills as a pro.

Martin’s opponent is also undefeated, but with one more fight’s worth of experience. Hellenbrand’s striking has been his weapon of choice in finishing fights, in the amateur ranks and as a pro. His career trajectory is similar to Martin’s, though Hellenbrand has not fought quite as many veterans and definitely nobody the caliber of Nover.

This could be a stand-up war or a case of Martin taking over on the mat. Hellenbrand’s striking is dangerous, but he doesn’t seem to have the same finishing ability that Martin has routinely displayed outside of his fight with Nover. Martin’s wrestling is superior to Hellenbrand’s, and the makes Martin the more dangerous all-around fighter.

This will be an entertaining fight, and it could also be a bout where one of these men punches his ticket to a bigger promotion, though neither is headed to the UFC just yet. Martin’s aggressive style makes him the more likely fighter to earn the finish. He’ll hand Hellenbrand a submission defeat in a hard-fought battle that could see some entertaining exchanges in the striking department.

Other key bouts: Cameron Ramberg (7-0) vs. Matt Veal (10-8) for the featherweight title

Shooto: Gig Tokyo 14

Shinjuku Face in Tokyo
Event Date: April 21
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Yuta Sasaki (11-1-2) vs. Kota Onojima (6-1-1)

After recently claiming the Shooto Pacific Rim featherweight championship, Yuta Sasaki is returning to action. This time it’s a non-title affair. His opponent at Shooto’s latest offering will be Kota Onojima.

Sasaki, a 2010 Shooto Rookie champion and this year’s ADCC Asia trial winner, captured his Pacific Rim crown in January with a unanimous decision victory over Tetsu Suzuki. He is undefeated through his last five encounters, with four wins and a draw. He has only lost once—a unanimous decision loss to Guy Delumeau in 2011. As is typical for a number of Japanese fighters, “Uruka” tends to fight to a decision, although he has also earned five wins by submission. As a training partner of Shinya Aoki, the 23-year-old’s grappling cannot be underestimated.

His 29-year-old opponent, Onojima, will give up five inches in height to the champ. Also undefeated through his last five outings, and also with four wins and a draw in that time, Onojima can be dangerous both standing and on the ground. He has one win by submission and two via some form of knockout. Onojima is a kickboxer and won last year’s Infinity tournament for Shoot’s class B fighters.

Onojima may be a kickboxer, but he can win fights with his grappling too. However, he’ll be outclassed in those areas by the champ. Sasaki’s range should be enough to keep Onojima at bay, but the southpaw will be more intent on getting the kickboxer to the mat. It’s inevitable that he will succeed at some point. And once there, Sasaki has the skills to end Onojima’s night by forcing a tapout.

Other key bouts: Yoshifumi Nakamura (12-4) vs. Akitoshi Tamura (16-13-2)

Photo: Luis Santos (L) throws a head kick (Keith Mills/Sherdog)