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…

Deep 62 Impact

Tokyo Dome in Tokyo
Event Date: April 26
Website: deep2001.com
Twitter: @deep_official

Spotlight Fight:
Yuya Shirai (23-12-1) vs. Dan Hornbuckle (23-5)

In the grand scheme of Japanese MMA, Deep tends to get overlooked in favor of Pancrase and Shooto, but the promotion’s offerings are just as strong as those of its counterparts. Take this weekend’s efforts. The promotion has two cards within three days. The first of those is the 62nd edition of its standard Impact series. The card is stacked with three title fights, plus the return of Akihiro Gono. Daisuke Nakamura will defend his lightweight belt against Satoru Kitaoka, Yoshiro Maeda puts his bantamweight strap on the line versus Daiki Hata and finally, Yuya Shirai defends his welterweight title against Dan Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle went 21-2 to start off his career before falling to Ben Askren in a bid to capture the Bellator welterweight title. The defeat was the beginning of a stretch in which Hornbuckle won just one fight out of four and was subsequently shown to the door by Bellator. He has since bounced back with a unanimous decision win over Pete Spratt under the Legacy FC banner. Hornbuckle’s reputation is based on knockouts of Gono and Nick Thompson in the Sengoku ring, but his tournament wins en route to the Askren fight came via submission and he holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Hornbuckle actually holds 11 submission wins compared to nine victories by some form of knockout. The American Top Team fighter has only been stopped twice and all three of his recent losses came on the judges’ scorecards.

Shirai is no stranger to decisions. In addition to a draw, the black belt judoka has gone the distance in 14 of his 23 wins and seven of his 12 losses. Despite being a champion, Shirai is in a similar boat as his opponent. He’s just 3-4 over his last seven. However, whereas Hornbuckle’s losses came versus Askren, Brent Weedman and Luis “Sapo” Santos, Shirai’s have included less familiar names, though just as credible foes, such as Tommy Depret and Fabricio Monteiro. The welterweights other recent defeats include a knockout loss to Paul Daley and a majority decision defeat versus Delson Heleno. Shirai may be described as a battle-tested fighter, but he’s not a consistent winner (his longest streak was five victories). His strikes don’t tend to end fights, but his judo and grappling can give opponents trouble. He should focus on that aspect of the fight game when he meets Hornbuckle, since the majority of his losses have come via some form of knockout and Japanese fans know that Hornbuckle can deliver highlight-reel finishes with his punches and kicks.

Despite his recent losses, Hornbuckle is still a very tough adversary for anyone. He has the skills to end the fight standing or on the ground. But his recent misfortunes have led to lowered expectations. Shirai is a veteran and has the ability to grind this fight out. What it really comes down to is Hornbuckle’s ability to avoid getting taken down. If Shirai can successfully maintain top control against Hornbuckle, he could work his way towards a decision. However, if Hornbuckle can keep this fight standing and bring back the intensity that he had earlier in his career, he can score the finish.

At 6-foot-2, Hornbuckle will enjoy a six-inch height advantage. That will allow him to to use range to his benefit as he keeps Shirai on the end of his punches. He’ll throw kicks too, but he won’t get carried away lest he risk getting taken down. He’ll eventually land something that rocks Shirai for a TKO finish.

Other key bouts: Daisuke Nakamura (27-13) vs. Satoru Kitaoka (30-12-9) for the lightweight title, Yoshiro Maeda (30-12-4) vs. Daiki Hata (15-9-7) for the bantamweight title, Masanori Kanehara (21-10-5) vs. Wade Choate (14-14), Makoto Kamaya (22-11-2) vs. Takafumi Otsuka (14-11-1), Akihiro Gono (32-18-7) vs. Taisuke Okuno (11-7-2), Seiji Akao (15-7-2) vs. Katsuya Toida (13-12-3)

MMA Attack 3

Spodek in Katowice, Poland
Event Date: April 27
Website: mma-attack.net
Watch Event: Polsat and Polsat Sport (Poland), international pay-per-view stream at ipla.tv
Twitter: @MMA_Attack

Spotlight Fight:
Piotr Hallmann (12-1) vs. Juha-Pekka Vainikainen (20-6-1)

When fight fans think of countries with strong MMA scenes, they think United States, Canada, Japan, England and even Russia. But there’s one they might overlook: Poland. However, the latest offering from MMA Attack demonstrates just how much talent resides there. With bouts featuring Stav Economou, Damian Grabowski, Tomasz Drwal, Kryztsztof Jotko and Bojan Velickovic, the card is certainly worth the miniscule price tag (reportedly just a couple of dollars in U.S. currency) for the international pay-per-view stream. Yet the names that stand out the most on the card belong to lightweights Piotr Hallmann and Juha-Pekka Vainikainen.

Readers of this feature are no strangers to Hallmann. The Polish navy officer has been featured on two previous occasions, prior to his fights with Vaso Bakocevic and Ivica Truscek. Hallmann delivered a severe beating to Bakocevic to force a doctor’s stoppage in the second round of their contest, and against Truscek, Hallmann secured another rear-naked choke submission victory. It’s not that Hallmann’s submission game is that great, but his ground-and-pound attack tends to convince opponents to surrender their back to the powerful striker. Hallmann’s strikes have led to seven wins by some form of knockout, but his ground-and-pound game has resulted an additional five rear-naked choke wins. He has knocked an opponent out while in their guard and he can batter opponents with knees and punches. Now competing as a lightweight, his size can be better utilized to further overwhelm opponents.

Vainikainen is another prospect that has become familiar to readers of this feature. We’ve checked in on him twice before. The first of those times, he was headed into his bout with Antun Racic. He emerged victorious with a second-round guillotine choke finish. Then he took a step up in competition to face former M-1 Global welterweight champion Shamil Zavurov. Zavurov got the better of Vainikainen to take a unanimous decision in that affair. The Finnish fighter likes to strike—he has nine (T)KO victories—but can also end fights with his submission skills, as he has done on six occasions. His one weakness is in his submission defense. He has suffered four losses via submission, including three by way of rear-naked choke.

The 6-foot Vainikainen often towers over his opponents, but he’ll only enjoy a three-inch height advantage over Hallmann. He’s defeated the like of UFC veterans Kyle Watson, Steve Lopez and Brian Geraghty, but he has also lost to a handful of lesser opponents. His ground game and his conditioning has been exposed in past fights, but his striking game has matured. That striking attack will be key in this fight. When the two engage on the feet, this will be an entertaining battle that can end with either man knocking out the other.

But MMA is about more than just the stand-up game, and that’s where Hallmann gains the edge. He will look to plant Vainikainen on the mat and work his ground-and-pound attack to set up another rear-naked choke finish. Considering that Vainikainen has been choked out by far less notable names, Hallmann should be able to accomplish the task. The Polish fighter’s goal is to make it into the UFC and another impressive win here should be enough to capture the promotion’s attention.

Other key bouts: Stav Economou (14-2-1) vs. Damian Grabowski (16-1), Tomasz Drwal (19-4-1) vs. Wes Swofford (8-3), Krzysztof Jotko (12-0) vs. Bojan Velickovic (8-1), Karol Celinski (10-4) vs. Michal Fijalka (8-3), Tymoteusz Swiatek (10-0) vs. Marcin Lasota (6-0), Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (2-0) vs. Klaudia Apenit (1-1)

Combat8 3: Big City, Big Fights

Big Top Luna Park in Sydney, Australia
Event Date: April 27
Website: Combat8.com.au
Twitter: @Combat8Dominate

Spotlight Fight:
Richie Vaculik (9-1) vs. Thomas de Almeida (10-0)

Australia has its fair share of MMA promotions, but there’s something that makes Combat8 unique. The promotion has a set of rules that differs from standard MMA and favors the striking game. Under Combat8 guidelines, standard fights are three rounds of three minute duration. Title fights, such as the one between TUF Smashes alum Richie Vaculik and Muay Thai practitioner Thomas de Almeida for the bantamweight crown, are five rounds, also of three-minute duration. But the biggest departure in the rules comes in regards to fighting on the ground. Fighters only have 30 seconds per round to get their work done on the mat.

Such a rule set has to favor Thomas de Almeida. The Macaco Gold Team product has competed in Muay Thai, where the 21-year-old accumulated a 26-3 record. His MMA career, which is just two years old, has netted him an undefeated mark through 10 contests, including six wins by some form of knockout and four via submission.

After his time spent fighting 20 pounds above his normal weight class while competing as a lightweight on The Ultimate Fighter: Smashes, Vaculik certainly has to be thankful to be back at 135 pounds for this fight. But he’s not going to have it easy. The unique rules of Combat8 don’t favor Vaculik, who has earned six of his finishes via submission and only three by some form of knockout. He does hold the edge when it comes to the level of opposition he has faced throughout his MMA career. His lone loss (not counting the exhibition bout against Norman Parke on TUF) came via decision against Gustavo Falciroli, and he holds wins over Michael Mortimer (twice), Nick Honstein and Matt Jaggers.

Those unique rules make this a difficult match for Vaculik. If the surfing enthusiast can work at lightning speed on the mat, he could secure a submission finish. But with only 30 seconds to get the job done, the reality of the situation is that this fight is most likely to end via strikes or go the distance. That’s where the young Brazilian’s Muay Thai background factors in. He’ll only have three minutes per round to score a knockout though, and Vaculik has never been finished. Vaculik will survive to the final bell, but de Almeida’s superior striking will carry him to the decision win.

Other key bouts: Jai Bradney (15-8) vs. Wes Capper (2-1) for the lightweight title, Ben Wall (7-0) vs. Bernardo Magalhaes (12-3), Rob Lisita (10-5) vs. Hugh Cameron (5-4), Jessy Rose (1-0) vs. Eilleen Forrest (0-1)

Photo: Piotr Hallman (top) (Tim Leidecker/Sherdog)