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…

Combat Zone 44: Steel Cage Fighters

Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H.
Event Date:  June 14
Website: combatzonemma.com

Spotlight Fight:
Calvin Kattar (13-2) vs. Gabriel Baino (5-0)

As the brothers of several UFC contenders gear up to fight at RFA 8 next week, Kirk Florian, younger brother of long-time UFC standout Kenny Florian, is set to make his amateur debut in the small town of Salem, N.H. The promotion, Combat Zone MMA, will hold its 44th event Friday night at the Rockingham Park race track. On the professional side of the card, attendees will be treated to a main event that’s both relevant and intriguing, namely Gabriel Baino vs. Calvin Kattar.

Gabriel Baino trains out of the Team Link gym alongside the UFC’s Gabriel Gonzaga. An undefeated Brazilian, Baino has finished four of his five opponents and is coming off of a big submission win over The Fight Academy’s Jeff Martin. A well-rounded skill set and a good dose of heart provide the foundation for Baino’s game.

Calvin “The Boston Finisher” Kattar has had trouble living up to his nickname in recent days, but has still recorded impressive decision victories over the likes of Cody Stevens and Bellator veteran Saul Almeida. Training out of Wai Kru MMA, the 5-foot-11 EliteXC veteran has lost only once in the past five years, that by split decision to Don Carlo-Clauss. Kattar possesses a strong boxing pedigree and has even been compared to light-welterweight legend, Micky Ward, whom Kattar has trained under during his career. Blistering leg kicks and evolving ground skills help keep Kattar’s game operating on multiple levels.

This is one of those fights that looks like a squash match on the surface. There’s no question it will be a healthy step up in competition for Baino, as Kattar has clearly fought—and defeated—bigger names. Walking around at nearly 175 pounds, Kattar’s also longer and stronger than Baino, and has logged significantly more cage time. Statistics, though, can only reveal so much.

Baino’s fight with Jeff Martin, who was also significantly bigger than him, proved that he can weather storm after storm and find a way to close the distance. Baino not only turned the tide in that fight, he dazzled the crowd with his diverse arsenal of weapons and brilliant defense. Gumption and adaptability make Baino one Brazilian you can never count out of a fight.

Both Baino and Kattar are coming off of lengthy layoffs, both are on five-fight winning streaks and both will be hungry and well-prepared. Things are starting to look a little more balanced. However, as tempting as it may be to take the underdog here, the size difference may simply be too much for Baino to overcome. If six inches of height isn’t enough, Baino will be giving up a good 15-20 pounds as well. You just can’t do that and win in this sport anymore. The best he can hope for is that Kattar has a rough weight cut and gets fatigued early. More likely, Kattar will be able to power through most of what Baino throws at him and inflict damage with precision counter-attacks. The fight certainly won’t lack for excitement and Baino will turn some heads with another scrappy, gutsy performance, but this time around Goliath will edge out David on all three scorecards.

Other key bouts: Kirk Florian (0-0) vs. Dominic Cafone (3-0) (amateur)

Deep: Cage Impact 2013

Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan
Event Date: June 15
Website: deep2001.com
Twitter: @deep_official

Spotlight Fight:
Doo Ho Choi (10-1) vs. Shoji Maruyama (12-8-1)

With the possible reboot of DREAM, the restructuring of Pancrase and the rise of One FC, Japanese promotion Deep has struggled to maintain its position in the east—or to even be noticed. This weekend, they emerge from the shadows with a powerhouse match-up steeped in intrigue as rising prospect Doo Ho Choi takes on Japanese tempest Shoji Maruyama.

Whether it’s due to last year’s disappearing act or whether fans have simply lost faith in Asian talent, South Korea’s Doo Ho Choi remains one of MMA’s best kept secrets. The 5-foot-9 baby-faced Choi has crept onto the scene largely under the radar since his debut in 2009, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous.

Training out of both Gumi MMA and CMA KOREA, Choi is noted for being a dynamic finisher with precision striking skills. He holds significant victories over Pride veteran Nobuhiro Obiya as well as Strikeforce and Pride veteran Mitsuhiro Ishida, whom he finished in the first round. This latter feat is something Joachim Hansen couldn’t accomplish and something Gilbert Melendez needed almost a full three rounds to do. It took Choi barely a minute and a half. Although this type of MMA math won’t help the Korean in his approaching fight, it certainly speaks to his legitimacy as a featherweight prospect.

Training out of KIBA Martial Arts Club, Shoji Maruyama attained MMA notoriety when he became the first lightweight King of Pancrase in 2008. He’s also on a short list with the likes of Mark Hominick, Kenny Florian and Urijah Faber—that list being the fighters who’ve made it to a judges decision with Jose Aldo. Maruyama’s a consummate old school brawler and one of the scrappiest fighters in the sport today. A lack of polished technique is offset by relentless pressure at every turn of a fight. When you’ve got a chin as good as Maruyama’s, you need not expend much energy on defense. Although he’s never been able to secure the big victory, Maruyama has become a fan favorite in Japan for his high-octane, “great guns” fighting style.

If contrasting styles create intrigue, this fight should be off the charts. While Doo Ho Choi attempts to execute a highly tactical game plan comprised of surgical striking and controlled bursts of violence, Maruyama will hunt down Choi raging bull style in his usual fan-pleasing way. If Choi believes he can land a few punches and effect the gun-shyness he has in previous opponents, he’s in for a big surprise. Pressing forward is a religion for Maruyama and if anyone can disrupt Doo Ho Choi’s poised, methodical style and draw him into a street brawl, it’s the man they simply call “Shoji”.

However, Choi’s patience has been unshakable up until now and that’s not likely to change. He will maintain the distance with mixed, rangy striking, ready to capitalize on even the smallest mistake by Maruyama. In the latter stages of the fight, Maruyama will be looking to take things to the canvas, only to be thwarted by Choi’s excellent takedown defense. Choi’s unwavering resolve and laser-precise striking will pick his opponent apart throughout the fight. A perfectly placed knee as the clock winds down could even drop Maruyama and lead to a TKO victory for Choi. If not, it’ll likely be the judges that see Choi’s arm raised.

Other key bouts: Katsunori Kikuno (19-5-2) vs. Jutaro Nakao (24-17-4), Yoshiki Harada (6-3-1) vs. Koichi Ishizuka (7-1)

World Freefight Challenge 18: Knockout

Krizanke in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Event Date: June 16
Website: wfc.si
Watch Event: wfctv.com
Twitter: @WFC_si

Spotlight Fight:
Yoshiyuki Nakanishi (12-2) vs. Aleksandar Radosavljevic (11-4)

Despite a wealth of successful events over the past seven years, World Freefight Challenge finds itself stuck in the background of the European MMA scene. The Slovenia-based promotion even attempted a spinoff last year called Abu Dhabi Warriors, to little acclaim. WFC’s mission statement is “to create a local hero in every country in which we operate.” Sunday night, WFC will have a chance to advance that mission when Serbia’s Aleksandar Radosavljevic takes on Yoshiyuki Nakanishi of Japan at WFC 18.

MMA Academy standout Aleksandar Radosavljevic has dropped two of his last three fights but still boasts a solid 11-4 record, including eight stoppages to his favor. Heavy hands and suspect wrestling skills make the 6-foot-3 Serbian a trademark stand-up fighter with a consistent M.O. Radosavljevic tends to get a bit showy in the ring, using taunting hand gestures to try and lure his opponent in for the kill. That said, very few fighters have stood in front of “Rodja” and remained conscious.

Training out of Tribe Tokyo MMA, Yoshiyuki Nakanishi is one of the few fighters in the world who can claim he’s an all-time champion. In April 2010, Nakanishi scored back-to-back grand prix victories over Christian M’Pumbu and Ryuta Noji to secure the inaugural Deep light heavyweight title. He has since defended the strap successfully on all occasions. Add to Nakanishi’s resume All-Japan Sambo Champion at 100kg four consecutive years. Since 2008, Nakanishi has only one blemish on his record, a submission loss to Ryuta Sakurai. He enters enemy territory on Sunday for his first fight with WFC.

On paper, Radosavljevic has all the advantages in this one: size, reach, power, etc. However, Nakanishi is a highly versatile fighter with the ability to make adjustments on the fly and keep his opponent guessing. As the smaller fighter, Nakanishi will have the speed to get inside on Radosavljevic and still avoid counter attacks. If he does get hurt, Nakanishi will quickly resort to his judo and attempt to get the fight to the canvas. Given Radosavljevic’s poor takedown defense, this shouldn’t prove too challenging. However, the Serbian’s strength and long limbs could pose problems for Nakanishi in maintaining top control and passing guard.

Despite knowing his opponent’s single-dimension game plan, this a tough match-up for Nakanishi and he’ll need his full arsenal to keep Radosavljevic on the back foot. Neither fighter will impose his will in this one, but expect the fight to go just about everywhere on Nakanishi’s account. As the fight wears on, he’ll look to exploit the holes in the Serbian’s game and win the hearts and minds of the judges with his resilience, versatility and good old-fashioned grit. It’s a scrap that could end up looking very similar to the Combat Zone fight featured above, only this time the smaller guy wins—by a hair.

Other key bouts: Bojan Velickovic (8-2) vs. Mattia Schiavolin (5-0-2),  Vaso Bakocevic (11-3-1) vs. Bojan Kosednar (9-7),  Jevgeniy Mahteenko (9-5) vs. Simone Tessari (7-2) (for welterweight title)

Photo: Doo Ho Choi (Dean Marchand/Sherdog)

About The Author

Robby Collins

Robby Collins considers himself a johnny-come-lately to the sport of MMA. He was introduced to it less than three years ago but has since delved into the sport at all levels. As an aspiring fiction writer, Robby adapted his skills to promote his latest passion and landed with The MMA Corner by way of personal initiative and auspicious timing. Robby has dabbled in karate and wrestling, and is currently learning to kickbox.