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…

Titan Fighting Championship 25

Hangar 727, Marshall Army Airfield, in Fort Riley, Ala.
Event Date: June 7
Website: titanfighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @TitanFighting

Spotlight Fight:
Bobby Lashley (7-2) vs. Kevin Asplund (15-4)

Not too long ago, it appeared that the Titan Fighting Championship promotion had seen its last show. Now, the promotion is back. For its return effort, and the 25th show in promotional history, the organization brings in WWE superstar Bobby Lashley to headline the event opposite Kevin Asplund.

When Lashley opted to leave sports entertainment behind for mixed martial arts, he certainly envisioned a career arc that matched that of fellow pro wrestler Brock Lesnar. However, whereas Lesnar quickly rose to UFC prominence and even captured the promotion’s belt, Lashley has spent much of his time, save for a two-fight Strikeforce stint, toiling in the obscurity of regional and international promotions. With seven wins and just two losses, the ripped heavyweight has the record of a true MMA prospect, but his performances have varied between savage domination of lesser talent and underwhelming showings against some of the division’s more prominent also-rans. Debuting in December of 2008, Lashley fought and defeated MMA veterans Jason Guida, Mike Cook, Bob Sapp and Wes Sims before suffering a TKO loss to Chad Griggs. Lashley bounced back with wins over John Ott and Karl Knothe before losing again, this time to Pride and EliteXC veteran James Thompson.

Asplund has been the polar opposite to Lashley in terms of media exposure since starting his career in 2002. The Ambition Training Academy product racked up 15 wins and just one defeat before getting his crack at the big show courtesy of Bellator MMA. The promotion pitted Asplund against disgraced former Strikeforce heavyweight Brett Rogers. Rogers forced a doctor’s stoppage in the second round for the TKO victory, sending Asplund on a three-fight skid that also includes losses to Brett Murphy and Pawel Nastula.

Lashley is a four-time NAIA All-American and three-time national champion as a college wrestler. Combining his wrestling with his strength and ferocity, Lashley poses a significant threat to any opponent. He comes out of the gate aggressive, usually seeking a takedown and following up with ground-and-pound. What gets Lashley in trouble is his cardio. He can dominate inexperienced opponents who are intimidated by him and can take out the likes of Sapp and Sims (though the Sims stoppage was a questionable one), but where he struggles is against savvy veterans who can withstand his initial barrage and have the experience to take him into deep waters. Even Thompson, typically considered to be a brawler paired with fighters that a promoter would like to build up, was able to edge Lashley via decision.

None of that bodes well for Lashley coming into this fight. Asplund is exactly the savvy veteran that holds the key to defeating Lashley. He has gone to a decision three times, including in a five round affair in his most recent win, and has more than 10 years of experience. On the other hand, Asplund’s style is also aggressive. Most of his wins have come in the first round and he’s prone to losing via strikes. If Lashley can plant Asplund on the mat and rain down a ground-and-pound flurry, this fight could be over in a hurry. However, if Asplund can follow the blueprint laid out by Griggs, he could wear Lashley down before taking a late TKO or edging Lashley in a close and controversial decision.

The key here is in how long the fight lasts. As much as Asplund’s experience and scrappiness give him a decent chance at defeating Lashley, the veteran has not won a fight in two years and has some qualities that make him an easy target for Lashley. Furthermore, Asplund checks in on the low end of the heavyweight spectrum, whereas Lashley rides the upper limit of the weight class. And then there’s the case of the loss to Rogers. Sure, it came via a cut, but Rogers performed well against Asplund in an era of his career where impressive performances have been lacking. Rogers was able to take Asplund down early, despite not having much in the way of wrestling or judo skills. If Rogers can do it, so will Lashley. The difference is that Lashley will be relentless when he does get the fight to the ground. A win for Asplund wouldn’t be a shocker by any means, but as long as Lashley presses the action and uses his wrestling, he should be able to notch a first-round TKO victory in this fight.

Other key bouts: Jake Lindsey (5-0) vs. Zach Freeman (7-0), Brian Davidson (10-4) vs. Jesus Adame (3-2), Aaron Derrow (12-6) vs. Marcio Navarro (8-8), Jeimeson Saudino (5-1) vs. Zach Hubbard (1-0)

Classic Entertainment & Sports MMA: New Blood

Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I.
Event Date: June 7
Website: cesmma.com
Twitter: @CESMMA

Spotlight Fight:
John Howard (19-7) vs. Chris Woodall (12-3)

UFC veteran John Howard wants to fight inside the Octagon when the UFC returns to Boston on Aug. 17. Aiding him on his quest is the promotion that he has called home since 2012: Classic Entertainment and Sports MMA (or CES MMA, for short). The Rhode Island-based promotion has played host to Howard’s career rebound following his UFC release, and the next step in the climb back up the ladder for Howard comes this weekend when he fights longtime MMA veteran Chris Woodall.

Woodall’s record isn’t the easiest to track. “Cappi’s” entry in the Sherdog fighter database is limited to a single fight. Over at mixedmartialarts.com, however, he is listed as having 12 wins and three losses. Adding in a listed 1-1 mark as an amateur, the 40-year-old’s resume stretches as far back as 1997. Six of his wins came in a 48-hour 16-man tournament event in March 2000. Woodall was 11-1 by the end of 2002, but his record contains a gap from July 2002 until the start of 2005, when he returned with one win and two losses. The last of those losses came in August 2006, and Woodall doesn’t have any official fights on his record in the time since then. The story out of Woodall’s camp is that he’s been fighting overseas on shows in the Ukraine and Latvia under pankration rules.

Fighting since 2004, Howard has claimed the Ring of Combat welterweight championship and is the reigning CES middleweight champion, though CES MMA is not promoting this as a title fight. The Wai Kru fighter has a lethal combination of striking and submission skills. Though he now relies heavily on his fists to win fights, the Boston native picked up six of his first seven victories by way of submission. He tallied a 10-4 record, including losses to Dan Miller and Nick Catone and a win over Charlie Brenneman, before receiving an invite from the UFC. Inside the Octagon, “Doomsday” rattled off four straight wins as a welterweight, including two knockouts, and picked up bonuses for a “Fight of the Night” versus Chris Wilson and a “Knockout of the Night” in his win over Daniel Roberts. Then Howard’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. In stepping up to face tougher competition, Howard suffered a doctor’s stoppage TKO loss to Jake Ellenberger and landed on the wrong end of decisions versus Thiago Alves and Matt Brown. He has since returned to middleweight and has bounced back with five straight victories, including four under the CES banner. All four of his CES appearances have ended in either a TKO or a knockout victory.

Woodall’s record looks good on paper, but there are a lot of question marks there. He has not fought on U.S. soil since 2006, and unlike most old-school fighters, his record is void of even the most shaky of significant names. Furthermore, he lost his last two outings, way back in 2006, to fighters that now sit at or only a few fights above the .500 mark. He’ll be bulking up by 15 pounds to meet Howard, a UFC veteran who went a full three rounds with Alves, Brown, Miller and Catone, and posted wins over Wilson, Roberts, Dennis Hallman and Tamdan McCrory. Woodall is 10 years younger than Woodall and has much more relevant experience. Woodall simply provides Howard with another chance to showcase his skills in his effort to return to the Octagon when it comes to Boston. He may get his wish too, since it’s likely that he’ll end Woodall’s night early and in impressive fashion via a knockout.

Other key bouts: Greg Rebello (15-4) vs. Lewis Rumsey (8-8), Nate Andrews (4-0) vs. Jeff Anderson (11-7), Chuck O’Neil (10-5) is also scheduled to compete

Rings/The Outsider

Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium In Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Event Date: June 9
Website: rings.co.jp

Spotlight Fight:
Naoyuki Kotani (30-10-7) vs. Vitali Krat (6-0)

Rings and its companion series, The Outsider, are not quite the landmark stop for talent that Rings was at the turn of the century, when names like Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Dan Henderson were associated with the Japanese promotion. However, the organization can still occasionally deliver an intriguing fight, as it will do this weekend when it pairs Naoyuki Kotani and Vitali Krat in the headlining attraction.

Kotani actually made his debut with Rings during those glory days. From that Sept. 5, 2000 pair of victories, Kotani rolled to an undefeated mark through 15 fights, with 13 wins and two draws, before suffering his first loss. He’s gone on to fight for Pride and the UFC since then, losing in his lone appearances in those promotions via knockout to Luiz Azeredo and Dennis Siver, respectively. Kotani has also fallen to the likes of Rich Clementi, Marcus Aurelio, Yves Edwards, Roger Huerta, Thiago Tavares, Koji Oishi, Kuniyoshi Hironaka and Jorge Masvidal. He’s also notched victories over some notable names, including Hideo Tokoro (twice), Daisuke Nakamura and Katsuya Inoue. The lightweight, who trains out of the Rodeo Style camp, is prone to knockout losses and has scored 22 of his 30 wins by way of submission.

Krat is an undefeated Russian fighter who loves to score knockouts. All six of his fights—all under the Rings banner—have ended via knockout. He’s fond of landing punches to the body that are devastating enough to end the fight. Krat’s wins have come mostly against opposition with losing record, though he does have a couple of wins against foes who sit above the .500 mark.

The primary question for Krat is whether he can contend with an opponent with the level of experience and success of Kotani. Kotani has gone up against a long list of UFC veterans. This is easily the toughest opponent Krat has ever seen. Will he wilt under the pressure, or will he continue to destroy all that stands in his way?

This is also a heavy contrast in styles. The Russian is a striker who attacks the body of his opponent and has only a single objective: the knockout. His Japanese counterpart is a ground fighter with a creative submission attack. As fast as Krat can knock out an opponent, Kotani can submit them. Kotani’s last five submission wins have all come in under the two-minute mark. The Japanese fighter’s current six-fight winning streak also includes a number of TKO finishes, suggesting that he’s capable of holding his own in the stand-up department.

The only knock on Kotani is his chin. The 46-fight veteran has suffered five knockout losses, including two TKOs and two clean knockouts. It’s been six years since his chin failed him, however, so Krat will have to be accurate in landing his strikes.

Kotani will be persistent in looking for takedowns and submissions against Krat. Krat has admitted in the past that his takedown defense needs work, and he’s almost certainly not ready for the level of grappling expertise that Kotani brings to the ring. Krat is always a threat to end any fight with one punch and is a lightweight prospect that shouldn’t be ignored, but his 31-year-old Japanese opponent has too many factors leaning in his favor. Kotani will have to avoid Krat’s striking, but as long as he is smart, the Zst veteran should find a way to submit Krat in the early moments of this fight.

Photo: Bobby Lashley (Keith Mills/Sherdog)