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…

Fight Nights: Battle of Moscow 12

Crocus Expo in Moscow
Event Date: June 20
Website: fightnights.ru
Twitter: @Fnsofficial

Spotlight Fight:
Shamil Zavurov (21-2-1) vs. Yasubey Enomoto (10-4)

Trilogies can be fun, especially when each fighter holds a win apiece in their previous meetings. Thus is the case with former M-1 Global welterweight champions Shamil Zavurov and Yasubey Enomoto. The pair locked horns twice under the M-1 banner, but now they take their continuing battle to a new promotion when they headline the latest offering from Fight Nights, “Battle of Moscow 12.”

The first time these two traded blows, Enomoto was stepping in on eight days’ notice to replace Rashid Magomedov and challenge Zavurov for the title. In that instance, he lost via unanimous decision. Enomoto then picked up two wins to earn a rematch. In that second meeting, he outlasted Zavurov and submitted the fatigued Russian with less than a minute remaining in the five-round affair. Oddly enough, it was Magomedov who then relieved Enomoto of the crown in Enomoto’s first defense. The Sengoku veteran has since bounced back with one more win. Now, the Swiss fighter is out to prove that his win over Zavurov wasn’t a fluke.

Zavurov’s only losses have come to Enomoto and Magomedov. He has also fought to a draw against Alexander Yakovlev. Outside of those three disappointments, the Russian has been victorious. He scored TKO wins over Abner Lloveras and Tom Gallicchio to claim and defend, respectively, the M-1 crown. And he impressed with a decision win over Juha-Pekka Vainikainen in December 2012. His experience and resume run much deeper than those of Enomoto.

Zavurov is an International Master of Sports in sambo and a Master of Sports in freestyle wrestling. Through their first two meetings, he’s held the upper hand for the better part of the action. Meanwhile, Enomoto is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and also has a background in Muay Thai that includes an IKBO Thaiboxing World Championship. He has the skills to submit Zavurov on the ground, as he has already proven, and the striking abilities to gain the upper hand when the fight is standing.

Enomoto only had eight days to prepare for their first fight and fell short. With proper time to train for the rematch, he snatched a late submission after finding success with his strikes. So, what can we expect in this third bout?

Despite his tendency to seek a submission finish, Enomoto actually had a significant amount of success when he kept the fight standing against Zavurov. It’s in takedown defense, not the ground game, where Enomoto can work in his grappling arsenal. In fact, his guillotine choke finish came off a reckless takedown attempt from Zavurov and he had a couple more submission attempts that resulted from Zavurov’s insistence on getting the fight to the mat. If Enomoto can once again get the better of the exchanges and force the Russian to look for takedowns, then he might finish the fight.

Without championship rounds to wear him down, Zavurov won’t be easy to finish. He has only lost twice and has only been stopped once, and it took Enomoto more than 24 minutes to accomplish that task. The 28-year-old Swiss fighter should have spent most of his training camp focusing on takedown defense in order to keep this fight vertical. If he can avoid being put on his back, Enomoto can use his Muay Thai skills to outpoint his 29-year-old counterpart en route to a unanimous decision victory.

Other key bouts: Gasan Umalatov (13-2-1) vs. Gregor Herb (14-5), Julia Berezikova (7-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (3-0), Albert Tumenov (10-1) vs. Roman Mironenko (5-3), Evgeny Erokhin (5-1) vs. Konstantin Erokhin (2-1)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 8

The Rave/Eagles Club in Milwaukee
Event Date: June 21
Website: rfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAFighting

Spotlight Fight:
Lance Palmer (6-0) vs. Jared Downing (9-1)

Resurrection Fighting Alliance took a hit when Jeff Curran withdraw from a headlining flyweight title tilt match-up with Sergio Pettis, but that doesn’t mean the event is without merit. Pettis remains in the lineup and has a new opponent—Dillard Pegg—for the flyweight championship fight. What does change is the identity of the most compelling fight on the card. That honor shifts from the flyweight title affair to the featherweight championship bout. In that contest, undefeated prospect Lance Palmer vies for the crown against champion Jared Downing, who has only tasted defeat once in 10 outings.

As a four-time NCAA Division I All-American, there’s no doubt that wrestling has been Palmer’s base. He typically brings fights to the mat and then either finishes with a submission or works towards a decision. He’s now undefeated through six fights, but his level of competition has varied greatly. He met his toughest match in Fredson Paixao, a world-renowned grappler, and just eked out a split decision win, although it really should have been a unanimous verdict in his favor. The remainder of his affairs have come against opposition hovering around the .500 mark. He’s just a month removed from a first-round submission finish of 16-21 submission specialist Patrick Reeves. Compared even to Paixao, Downing may be another step up in the progression for this Team Alpha Male product.

Downing’s unanimous decision win at RFA 5 gave him the featherweight strap and put him on a three-fight winning streak. His only loss was a contentious split decision defeat against ShoXC and Bellator veteran Roberto Vargas at a 2011 Shark Fights event. Vargas has since gone on to post one win and two losses. Downing had largely competed as a bantamweight prior to claiming the RFA title, so he figures to be an undersized champ taking on a juggernaut of a featherweight in Palmer. However, Downing has found victory against proven grapplers such as Jordan Rinaldi, Alessandro Ferreira and Eric Marriott, which is enough to make him a dangerous opponent for a young up-and-comer like Palmer.

Although the 25-year-old Palmer is the hyped prospect coming into this fight, he’d be doing himself a disservice to look at Downing as an easy win. There has to be some doubt as to Palmer’s chances, given the level of competition he has faced and how he has fared. He had little trouble dominating fighters who sit around the .500 mark, but struggled to convince all three judges that he topped Paixao, whose grappling achievements have not translated to a stellar MMA career. Downing, meanwhile, has overcome three dangerous opponents in a row.

Although both men are wrestlers, Palmer is an accomplished collegiate wrestler and has the benefit of training at an elite camp known for its wrestling, whereas the younger Downing competed at the high school level before moving on to train in mixed martial arts. If this fight comes down to who can dictate from top position, then the size and abilities of Palmer give him the edge.

Downing isn’t a finisher—eight of his 10 fights have seen the scorecards—but he tends to find a way to earn the judges’ nods. But it’s his wrestling that has often been the deciding factor. He used it to dominate Rinaldi and capture the belt, but he won’t have the same opportunity against Palmer. In fact, if Downing wants to get anywhere in this affair, he may be best off resorting to using his fists. He did finish Ran Weathers via a first-round knockout and has notched some TKO wins as an amateur. Palmer’s stand-up is largely untested and could reveal itself to be his greatest weakness.

With Downing’s tendency to take fights the distance and Palmer’s difficulties in finishing not only Paixao but also two of his less accomplished adversaries, this fight seems destined to go a full 25 minutes. Palmer’s wrestling and size certainly make him into the favorite in this affair, but Downing has become skilled at overcoming tough opponents (and underdog odds) and could do it again.

Other key bouts: Sergio Pettis (7-0) vs. Dillard Pegg (5-1) for flyweight title, Mike Rhodes (4-1) vs. Benjamin Smith (4-1), Dan Moret (4-0) vs. Jose Pacheco (7-3-1), Pedro Munhoz (7-0) vs. Mitch Jackson (19-3), Matt Gauthier (4-1) vs. Zak Ottow (3-1)

Vale Tudo Japan: VTJ 2nd

Tokyo Dome in Tokyo
Event Date: June 22
Twitter: @vtj1

Spotlight Fight:
Kyoji Horiguchi (10-1) vs. Shintaro Ishiwatari (15-4-4)

When MMA fans think of Japanese MMA and its iconic promotions, Pride, Rings and Pancrase often spring to mind. Those leagues hosted some of the legends of the sport—Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Ken Shamrock, to name a few—in years now long past. But one promotion is often forgotten: Vale Tudo Japan. In the mid to late ‘90s, Randy Couture, Dan Severn, Frank Shamrock, Royler and Rickson Gracie, Caol Uno, Hayato “Mach” Sakurai, Takanori Gomi and even future coaching legends like Rafael Cordeiro and Erik Paulson could be found competing under the promotion’s banner. In 2009, after a 10-year absence,Vale Tudo Japan returned and has again found a knack for gathering some of the world’s best talent. Its latest offering, titled “VTJ 2nd,” gathers a number of significant names, including Uno and top flyweight Mamoru Yamaguchi, and some prospects as well, including Anthony Avila and Mikihito Yamagami, for another strong effort. Sitting atop the lineup is a headlining affair that pits a pair of champions—Kyoji Horiguchi and Shintaro Ishiwatari—against each other in a five-round bantamweight affair.

Horiguchi, the reigning Shooto bantamweight champion, is a protege of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. The blonde Krazy Bee product captured the Shooto crown with a second-round rear-naked choke submission of Hiromasa Ogikubo and upped his winning streak to four straight in the process. Horiguchi can place that piece of gold on his mantle next to the 2010 Shooto rookie championship he owns. The submission finish is out of character for the 22-year-old, who holds six wins by some form of knockout and three via decision but had never previously forced an opponent to tap. With a background in karate and boxing, Horiguchi is more likely to finish his opponent with fists rather than superior grappling.

Ishiwatari is the reigning bantamweight King of Pancrase, but he hasn’t put the title on the line often since capturing it in December 2011 with a majority decision win over Manabu Inoue. Despite three subsequent fights, the 28-year-old has only defended the belt on one occasion. Instead of title bouts, he’s been busy winning non-title fights in Pancrase and Shooto. His most recent venture saw him go the distance in a winning effort against Uno, which moved his winning streak to five straight. Like Horiguchi, the southpaw is a striker, having picked up five wins by some form of knockout against just one submission victory. The difference is that he’s more of a grinder than his younger counterpart in this affair. He has not finished a fight since 2010 and has seen a majority decision win, a split decision victory, a split decision defeat and a bout ending in a draw in the span of time since that submission stoppage of Kil Woo Lee under the Sengoku banner.

Despite Horiguchi’s youth, his resume already reveals an impressive list of conquests. In addition to Ogikubo, he has defeated the likes of Seiji Akao, Manabu Inoue, Tetsu Suzuki and UFC veteran Ian Loveland. In fact, the only time he was exposed was in a majority decision loss to Masakatsu Ueda. Ueda’s grappling skills were too much for Horiguchi to handle. But against Ishiwatari, he won’t face the same grappling threat.

Ishiwatari’s list of opponents includes not only Inoue and Uno, but also UFC vets Michihiro Omigawa, Motonobu Tezuka and Chan Sung Jung. He only emerged victorious against Tezuka, and that was in a split decision verdict. Ishiwatari is undoubtedly a tough opponent for anyone and he has more than twice the experience of his 22-year-old foe, which plays heavily to his favor. But his lack of finishing ability could hurt him. He has been knocked out on one occasion and suffered a TKO loss due to a cut in his pro debut. With a striker the caliber of Horiguchi, Kid Yamamoto’s sparring partner, opposite him in this contest, Ishiwatari is going to have a tough task in taking this fight the distance, especially since it is listed as a five-round fight.

With twenty-five minutes to get the job done, Horiguchi is eventually going to put fist to jaw and turn out the lights on Ishiwatari’s night. It should be a close affair, especially in the earlier rounds, but Horiguchi will eventually score the knockout blow to win the battle of Shooto vs. Pancrase and add another memorable chapter to the Vale Tudo Japan history book.

Other key bouts: Mamoru Yamaguchi (26-7-3) vs. Mikihito Yamagami (8-2), Anthony Avila (11-1) vs. Caol Uno (27-16-5), Hideo Tokoro (31-25-2) vs. Taylor McCorriston (8-4), Hiroyuki Takaya (17-10-1) vs. Daniel Romero (7-4)

Photo: Kyoji Horiguchi (Dean Marchand/Sherdog)