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…

Shooto: Professional Shooto 3rd Round 2013

Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: July 27
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Yuta Sasaki (12-1-2) vs. Kenji Yamamoto (6-1-1)

Yuta Sasaki, one of Japan’s brightest prospect, has maintained a consistent pace of four fights per year throughout his professional career, and with a fight scheduled for this weekend’s Shooto event, he is on track to maintain that pace in 2013. The Pacific Rim featherweight champion is set to defend his title in the confines of Korakuen Hall against challenger Kenji Yamamoto.

Sasaki has had an excellent run since his professional debut in 2010. He was a 2010 Shooto Rookie champion and is this year’s ADCC Asia winner. Sasaki’s record through 2012 was enough to earn him a shot at the Pacific Rim crown. The 23-year-old took full advantage of the situation by edging Tetsu Suzuki via unanimous decision in January 2013. In April, he returned in non-title action and eked out a majority decision over Kota Onojima. The victory gave Sasaki a new winning streak and extended his unbeaten streak to six fights. The last time the grappler lost was in 2011 when he met Guy Delumeau. Sasaki’s submission skills have been honed through his time spent training with Shinya Aoki. He’s used his ground skills to submit five opponents, but he also has a tendency to leave fights in the hands of the judges, as has been the case in seven of his victories, the two draws and his lone defeat. If there’s one thing the southpaw isn’t known for, it’s his striking. He has yet to finish a fight by strikes, but his victory over Onojima suggests that he can handle an opponent with dangerous stand-up skills.

Considering Yamamoto’s resume, he fits that bill. The 29-year-old has four wins by some form of knockout and suffered his only loss via knockout. That loss came in September 2011 against fellow prospect Akihito Ishihara. The 5-foot-6 Shooto Gym product may be the more talented striker, but he’ll be giving up four inches to his 5-foot-10 adversary. Yamamoto stands out as unique among Japanese fighters for his tendency to finish fights and finish them fast. He has three first-round finishes and ended another of his fights just over two minutes into the second stanza.

Yamamoto has a few common opponents he shares with Sasaki. Both men have fought former bantamweight King of Pancrase Manabu Inoue, with Sasaki settling for a draw and Yamamoto notching a unanimous decision victory. Conversely, Yamamoto was the one to settle for a draw versus Onojima, whereas Sasaki took the majority verdict. There’s some intriguing insight to be gained from the contrasting results of those fights. Yamamoto struggled more against a fellow kickboxer, whereas he was able to overcome a grappler with a wrestling background and a Pancrase title in his trophy case. Meanwhile, Sasaki handled the striker and was unable to get the better of Inoue. At the same time, Onojima is not quite the same aggressive style of striker as Yamamoto.

Yamamoto’s takedown defense has been his best asset. He spent two rounds sprawling to stuff takedowns in his fight with Inoue and even ended up putting the former King of Pancrase on his back in the process. On the feet, Yamamoto is a threat to end Sasaki’s night and title reign at any moment. The biggest obstacle the up-and-comer will face is in terms of Sasaki’s reach. If Sasaki keeps him on the outside with his jab and kicks, Yamamoto might prove ineffective in this match-up. However, the challenger tends to press the action and his superior striking will be too much for Sasaki.

Sasaki’s chin has yet to be tested to the extent that it will in this bout. There’s a chance that he hangs in there through the final bell, only to suffer a beating that ends in a loss on the scorecards. More likely, however, is that Yamamoto’s powerful punches will eventually find a home, leaving Sasaki crumpled on the mat.

Other key bouts: Ryuichi Miki (14-6-3) vs. Yosuke Saruta (7-3-1) for the bantamweight title, Yoshifumi Nakamura (13-4) vs. Taiki Tsuchiya (9-3), Kiyotaka Shimizu (13-7-3) vs. Kentaro Watanabe (9-4), Keita Nakamura (25-5-2) vs. Kota Shimoishi (10-2)

Victory Fighting Championship 40

Ralston Arena in Ralston, Neb.
Event Date: July 27
Website: victoryfighter.com
Twitter: @VictoryFighter

Spotlight Fight:
Jay Wood (7-1) vs. Brian Foster (18-6)

For its 40th effort, Victory Fighting Championship has gathered a number of recognizable names, including veterans of the UFC and Bellator. One of these veterans, Brian Foster, will challenge for the promotion’s welterweight title when he faces Jay Wood this weekend in Ralston, Neb.

Foster has had an uphill battle the last few years of his career. After starting off his career with a 13-3 mark, Foster was signed by the UFC and experienced mixed results, losing two of his first three fights before hitting a stride and scoring back-to-back victories. However, his biggest struggles involved his health. Despite the two-fight winning streak, Foster was released by the UFC after he suffered a brain hemorrhage that prevented him from fighting and put his career in jeopardy. He suffered an additional setback in training when an inadvertent groin strike left him with a burst testicle. He was sidelined for nearly a year after the UFC release and, after two fights in 2011, sat out for more than a year and a half before returning to action in 2013. His comeback bout ended in a disappointing first-round submission loss to fellow UFC vet Daniel Roberts. Foster mixes his wrestling and striking to account for nine wins apiece by knockout and submission. He’s weakest on the mat, where he has been submitted on four occasions. Foster has never gone the distance in a fight.

The 28-year-old Wood claimed the VFC welterweight crown with a unanimous decision win over UFC vet Kevin Burns at VFC 38 in December 2012. Since his pro debut in 2010, The Academy product has tallied five submission wins. His other three outings have gone the distance with Wood picking up the win on two occasions. His lone defeat came in 2011 against undefeated prospect Adam McDonough.

Before Foster suffered his two terrible injuries, he seemed to be picking up momentum. His final UFC win came against Matt Brown, who has experienced a recent resurgence. Foster also holds victories over Steve Carl, Nathan Coy, Brock Larson, Forrest Petz and Jack Mason and suffered many of his losses against credible opposition, including Roberts, Chris Lytle, Rick Story, Diego Brandao and T.J. Waldburger. Wood’s only comparable feat came in a five-round battle with Burns.

Wood is a grappler and that’s where Foster, even in his prime, demonstrated the most weakness. However, there’s little proof that Wood can hang at Foster’s level. Foster has trained alongside Matt Hughes and has fought a long list of talented fighters. Wood has fed on competition that hovers around the .500 mark outside of Burns.

It’s debatable whether Burns, whose UFC record is 2-3 and includes an injury TKO win over Anthony Johnson that Johnson later avenged with a vicious head kick knockout, is truly on the same level as the fighters Foster has topped in his career and therefore serves as little proof of Wood’s ability to prevail here. Only the timing of this bout lends doubt to Foster’s chances for victory. Foster has only fought once in the last 21 months and that was in a losing effort. Is he capable of returning to his old form? If he is, then Wood will likely fall via knockout at some point in this five-round affair. However, if Foster can’t shake the ring rust and flash the potential he once showed in winning three UFC bouts, then this could be the big win Wood needs for his resume.

Other key bouts: Chuck Grigsby (19-8) vs. Houston Alexander (14-9) for the light heavyweight title, Ryan Jensen (17-8) vs. Victor Moreno (32-17), Drew Dober (12-4) vs. T.J. O’Brien (18-6), Dakota Cochrane (14-4) vs. Carey Vanier (11-4)

Watch Out Combat Show 27

Hebrew Social and Sports Club in Rio de Janeiro
Event Date: July 27
Website: Facebook/WatchOutCombatShow

Spotlight Fight:
Thiago “Jambo” Goncalves (15-3) vs. Alexandre Barros (21-8)

Watch Out Combat Show’s 27th show has plenty to offer. With champion Giovanni Diniz scratched from the card, there’s an interim lightweight title fight between Paulo Goncalves Silva and Andrius “Tigrao” Hoboldo. There’s also Bellator veteran Luis Alberto Nogueira, who squares off with Team Nogueira’s Francisco de Assis de Lima Maciel. Then there’s The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 alum Thiago “Jambo” Goncalves. Jambo returns for his first official bout since 2011, though he fought twice in exhibition contests during the course of the UFC’s reality show. In his return, Goncalves meets UFC veteran Alexandre Barros.

Prior to his lengthy layoff, Goncalves had amassed an impressive 15-3 mark, including a 13-1 stretch over his last 15 fights (there was a no-contest in the middle of that run where Jambo and his opponent fell out of the ring). The Brazilian has seen the judges’ scorecards in 13 of his 18 outings (14 of 19, if you count the TUF bouts), but he usually emerges with his hand raised. On the rare occasion that the Team Nogueira fighter does stop his opponent, it happens via submission, though one of those submissions was due to strikes. He holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but his stand-up skills are solid as well. His losses have comes against UFC vets Nick Thompson and Luigi Fioravanti and prospect Cory MacDonald. Jambo lost to Viscardi Andrade by way of majority decision in the qualifying round of TUF Brazil 2, returned as a replacement for an injured fighter and subsequently lost to Andrade again, this time via TKO.

Barros is also a BJJ black belt. However, the Gracie Barra product has used his fists to finish fights much more often than he has utilized his grappling skill set. Barros has eight wins by some form of knockout and just three via submission. Like Jambo, “Baixinho” has seen the scorecards on a frequent basis, with 15 of his 29 fights landing in the hands of the judges. His lone UFC appearance ended in disappointment when Martin Kampmann scored a TKO in the second frame. In addition to Kampmann, Barros has suffered losses to such notable opponents as Carlos Alexandre Pereira, Wendell Oliveira Marques, Ivan “Batman” Jorge, Aaron Riley and Matt Hughes. He is currently on a six-fight winning streak in which he has scored four TKO victories and eked out two split decisions.

The common thread with these two warriors is that they come up short against significant opposition. Goncalves trains with an elite camp that features the Nogueira brothers and Anderson Silva, but he has yet to have a breakthrough showing. His current three-fight winning streak contains victories over grizzled veterans Eiji Ishikawa and Daniel Aspe, but he barely escaped with the victory against Claudio Cesario, whose record now sits at 3-2. Furthermore, his two losses to Andrade actually leave him on a losing streak.

It’s not like Barros is lighting the world on fire, though. The UFC veteran scored three of his four recent TKO wins against fighters with losing records and was just able to eke out split decisions against the only two fighters with significant winning records. Goncalves isn’t going to overwhelm Barros, but he should end up doing enough to earn a decision victory.

Other key bouts: Paulo Goncalves Silva (18-8) vs. Andrius “Tigrao” Hobaldo (9-7) for the interim lightweight title, Luis Alberto Nogueira (15-3) vs. Francisco de Assis de Lima Maciel (4-3), Bruno Miranda (5-0) vs. Jose Lucas Fabiano de Melo (13-10), Wendell Oliveira Marques (23-7) vs. Claudio Cesario (3-2)

Photo: Kenji Yamamoto (Dean Marchand/Sherdog)