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…

Championship Fighting Alliance 11

BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla.
Event Date: May 24
Website: cfafights.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @CFAFIGHTS

Spotlight Fight:
Alexis Vila (11-3) vs. Czar Sklavos (7-2)

Though the Championship Fighting Alliance certainly snagged a televised slot on AXS TV for its 11th event due to the inclusion of transgender fighter Fallon Fox, the promotion was deserving of the attention long before Fox entered the lexicon of the MMA community. The promotion has a knack for constructing cards with at least a few compelling names in the lineup. This event may have a heightened sense of importance since it hosts Fox’s national television debut, but the heart of the card comes in the form of match-ups such as the interim featherweight title fight pitting undefeated champion Sean Soriano against Elvin Leon Brito, the competitive heavyweight tilt between Mike Kyle and late replacement Travis Wiuff that headlines the show, and the intriguing flyweight encounter between former Bellator bantamweight tournament participant Alexis Vila and up-and-coming prospect Czar Sklavos.

Vila is an Olympic bronze medalist, a two-time gold medalist at the World championships and a one-time gold medalist at the Pan American Games. After a 9-0 start to his MMA career while fighting as a flyweight, Vila was signed by Bellator as a participant in its season-five bantamweight tourney. He stunned the promotion’s featherweight champion, Joe Warren, with a 64-second knockout in the quarterfinals. Vila then edged Marcus Galvao in the semifinals before losing to future champion Eduardo Dantas in the finals. In his season-six tourney bid, Vila dropped a unanimous decision to Luis Nogueira. The Cuban wrestler shifted his focus back to the 125-pound division and met Joshua Sampo for the inaugural flyweight title in his CFA debut. Vila came up short and was submitted by Sampo in the fifth round. He’ll look to bounce back from his three-fight skid when he meets Sklavos.

Fighting is in Sklavos’ blood. His father was a world champion kickboxer and serves as Czar’s coach. The most interesting aspect of Sklavos’ development as a mixed martial artist is that his father recognized that striking wasn’t everything and encouraged his son to train in jiu-jitsu at an early age. The training has paid off, with Czar notching six of his wins via submission. The 31-year-old lost his pro debut to UFC fighter T.J. Dillashaw, though that fight took place at bantamweight, and came out on the wrong side of a unanimous decision versus Sampo in 2012.

Age is certainly the biggest factor in this fight. Vila is 42, and he has not won a fight since 2011. The American Top Team fighter may have a trophy case full of medals, but the most recent of those wrestling honors came at the 1996 Olympics. Does he still have what it takes?

Sklavos is looking to capitalize on the spotlight that Fallon Fox has brought to this card. She may be the focus of everyone’s attention, but the prospects on this card are getting national exposure and have to take full advantage of the opportunity. To say Vila is a step up in competition for Sklavos is not completely true. The Idaho native has fought Dillashaw and Sampo in the past. The step up would come in the form of Sklavos defeating such an opponent where he has failed in the past.

Vila’s window for success in MMA is shrinking by the day. He needs a win here, but it’s not a given that he’ll get one. Sklavos presents a tough adversary for the Cuban no matter where the fight takes place. If Vila opts to shoot for takedowns, he takes the risk of getting submitted by the submission specialist. Yet, on the feet, Vila is tasked with an opponent that has trained with a world-class kickboxer for practically his entire life.

With a three-fight losing streak weighing on him, Vila will be conservative in this fight. Sklavos is a significant threat on the mat, so Vila will use his wrestling to keep the fight standing. Despite Sklavos’ kickboxing heritage, he hasn’t proven to be a lethal threat on his feet thus far in his career. However, Dillashaw and Sampo couldn’t stop him, so don’t expect Vila to do so either. Instead, Vila will rock Sklavos with powerful strikes on occasion en route to earning a unanimous decision victory over the prospect.

Other key bouts: Mike Kyle (19-9-1) vs. Travis Wiuff (68-17), Fallon Fox (2-0) vs. Allanna Jones (2-1) in the featherweight tournament semifinals, Luis Palomino (20-8) vs. Robert Washington (15-7), Sean Soriano (7-0) vs. Elvin Leon Brito (6-1) for the interim featherweight title

Jewels: 24th Ring

Shinjuku Face in Tokyo
Event Date: May 25
Website: kakutoh-blog.com/jewels/
Twitter: @JEWELS_info

Spotlight Fight:
Naho Sugiyama (8-2) vs. Seo Hee Ham (10-5)

Invicta FC gets all of the attention when it comes to the women’s side of the sport, but on Japanese shores, Jewels is the top of the mountain for female mixed martial artists. After venturing to Invicta (the two promotions have a talent-sharing arrangement) in 2012, Naho Sugiyama has spent 2013 back in the familiar territory of the Jewels organization, where she holds the atomweight crown. She’ll put the belt on the line this weekend against challenger Seo Hee Ham.

When Sugiyama made the journey to Invicta for a title showdown with Jessica Penne, the Japanese star was undefeated through eight professional bouts and was less than a year removed from the Jewels Featherweight Queen tournament run that brought her the promotion’s gold. “Sugirock” was dominated by Penne in the Invicta bout and ultimately succumbed to a triangle choke in the second round. In her return to Japan, Sugiyama again suffered defeat, this time at the hands of Celine Haga in a non-title 108-pound catchweight bout. The 35-year-old is now on a two-fight skid and needs to rebound with a win to get her career back on track and to retain her belt.

Standing in Sugiyama’s way is Ham, who previously competed as a strawweight. The Korean kickboxer has earned the nickname of “Hamderlei Silva” for the resemblance between her fighting style and that of Pride and UFC legend Wanderlei Silva. Ham captured the CMA KPW lightweight championship and is 6-1 with three knockouts as a kickboxer, but in her 15-fight MMA career she has never scored a knockout win. Eleven of her 15 fights have gone the distance, with Ham picking up wins on nine of those occasions. The 26-year-old’s only stoppage victory came in her most recent outing when she utilized an armbar to submit Ryu Mizunami. Ham has twice lost to Ayaka Hamasaki, including once via a corner-stoppage TKO. She has also lost by way of submission versus Miku Matsumoto and Megumi Fujii.

Ham’s list of wins includes such notable names as Saori Ishioka (twice), Mika Nagano and Mei Yamaguchi. Combine that with losses to Fujii, Hamasaki (twice) and Yuka Tsuji, and that makes for a ton of experience. Sugiyama has some significant names on her own resume, but the list isn’t as long as Ham’s list.

Where Sugiyama has failed thus far is against larger opponents. Penne was a former strawweight dropping to atomweight, and the size advantage played in the American’s favor. Despite a 3-11 mark entering the bout, Haga, who normally fights as a strawweight, bested Sugiyama as well. That doesn’t bode well for the champ as she heads into this fight with another former 115-pounder. As long as the weight cut doesn’t adversely impact Ham’s game, she should benefit from the size advantage.

Against a fighter like Yamaguchi, Ham was able to stuff or reverse takedowns. That allows the kickboxer to keep the fight in her world, where she can utilize combinations and low kicks to pick apart opponents en route to decision victories. With her combination of skills and what could be a small size advantage, Ham should be able to extend “Sugirock’s” streak of misfortunes. The Korean kickboxer will claim the Jewels crown with a win on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Mika Nagano (12-8) vs Takumi Umehara (1-0), Mei Yamaguchi (10-5-1) vs. Seo Ye Jung (0-1)

Inoki Genome Federation: Genome 26

Tokyo Dome in Tokyo
Event Date: May 26
Website: igf.jp
Twitter: @IGF_OFFICIAL

Spotlight Fight:
Pedro Rizzo (19-10) vs. Satoshi Ishii (7-2-1)

The Inoki Genome Federation may not be the most active or well-known promotion on Japanese soil, but from time to time, it does host a significant event. The promotion returns this weekend with a card that features a significant heavyweight showdown. The IGF’s 26th event will be headlined by a heavyweight clash between UFC and Pride veteran Pedro Rizzo and Olympic judoka Satoshi Ishii.

Rizzo fought for the UFC heavyweight strap on three occasions, but never captured the belt. The 39-year-old has been fighting professionally for almost 17 years and will be entering his 30th professional contest. Rizzo has been away from action for nearly a year after suffering a knockout against Fedor Emelianenko in Fedor’s retirement bout, and had been inactive for nearly two years prior to the Emelianenko fight. The knockout loss snapped a three-fight winning streak that saw Rizzo claims victories over fellow grizzled veterans Jeff Monson, Gary Goodridge and Ken Shamrock. After winning his first nine pro bouts, Rizzo has failed to string together more than three consecutive victories. The Black House fighter is a Muay Thai practitioner and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. With 11 wins and seven losses by some form of knockout, Rizzo tends to live or die on his feet.

Ishii is an Olympic gold medalist judoka who holds a fifth dan black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Ishii was a highly touted prospect when he first entered the sport of MMA, but the hype surrounding him quieted when he lost his pro debut to Hidehiko Yoshida. Ishii has also lost to Emelianenko, lasting two and a half minutes (compared to Rizzo’s 84 seconds) before getting knocked out by the Russian. Ishii has had his ups and downs, but he has righted the ship for the most part. Since the loss to Emelianenko, Ishii has rebounded with a unanimous decision victory over Tim Sylvia and submissions of Kerry Schall and Sean McCorkle. Ishii tends to get the job done via submission or go the distance.

Much like with Alexis Vila in the CFA bout, Rizzo has to struggle with age as a factor in this fight. Ishii is 26 and in the prime of his career, whereas Rizzo is a battle-tested 39-year-old. In his own prime, Rizzo would have likely demolished Ishii in the same dominant fashion that Fedor did. Now, however, the question becomes whether he can still strike with the same power and efficiency as he had even just three years ago. Ring rust—Rizzo has only fought once in the last three years—won’t help his cause either.

Ishii may not be fighting stellar competition, but he has fought on a regular basis and with a large amount of success. His recent streak features UFC veterans, including a former champ. Rizzo seems like the next logical step up in competition for the judoka. Ishii will likely struggle with Rizzo’s striking and jiu-jitsu skills, but he should do enough with takedowns and ground-and-pound to edge the UFC veteran on the scorecards.

Photo: Alexis Vila (L) connects with a left hand (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)