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…

Cage Fury Fighting Championships 27

Valley Forge Resort Casino in King of Prussia, Pa.
Event Date: Sept. 21
Website: cffc.tv
Watch Event: live pay-per-view stream at GoFightLive
Twitter: @RobHaydak (CFFC President) and @CFFCariasgarcia (General Manager)

Spotlight Fight:
Scott Heckman (15-4) vs. Brian Kelleher (9-4)

With the original headliner for Cage Fury Fighting Championships’ 27th offering now a scratch, a featherweight tournament semifinal bout between Scott Heckman and Brian Kelleher steps into the spotlight.

The 29-year-old Heckman is coming off a submission loss to Bellator veteran Terrell Hobbs that ended a seven-fight winning streak for “The Animal.” Heckman has suffered just four losses in 19 fights since turning pro in 2010. In addition to Hobbs, Heckman has been submitted on two occasions, including against UFC vet Dustin Pague, and suffered a TKO loss to longtime Bellator vet Alexandre “Popo” Bezerra. Heckman’s loss to Bezerra came under the Bellator banner, where the 5-foot-6 featherweight also notched wins against Brylan Van Artsdalen and Lester Caslow. The New Jersey native has a high school and college wrestling background and even defeated former UFC champion Frankie Edgar when the two met on the wrestling mat in collegiate competition. Heckman trains out of AMA Fight Club and has 11 submission wins, mostly via choke, and one victory by way of TKO.

Kelleher entered his mixed martial arts career without a real combat sports background. The Long Island native trained at a nearby gym before eventually joining Team Bombsquad. He went pro in 2011, lost his debut, won four straight, dropped two in a row, bounced back with four more wins, and then, in his most recent outing, suffered another setback. “Boom” is a Bellator vet, just like Heckman, but his run with the promotion was much less successful. He dropped both of his fights in the Bellator cage, first to Claudio Ledesma via unanimous decision in October 2011, then to Jimmie Rivera this past April. The 5-foot-5 Ithaca resident has finished five opponents via strikes and three by way of submission. Meanwhile, he’s been submitted twice.

Kelleher’s lack of a formal combat sports background is concerning, especially when he’s preparing to meet a standout wrestler like Heckman. If Kelleher were a high-level grappler, Heckman would have reason to worry, but there’s no one area, other than perhaps striking, where Kelleher could get the upper hand. If Kelleher does get the better of the striking exchanges, Heckman should have little trouble taking the fight to the mat and looking for the submission finish.

Heckman’s wrestling will be too much for Kelleher. The AMA Fight Club product will take Kelleher down and work some ground-and-pound until an opening comes for him to sink in a fight-ending choke.

Strength & Honor 8

Theatre Du Leman in Geneva, Switzerland
Event Date: Sept. 21
Website: strengthhonor.com
Twitter: @SHCMMA1

Spotlight Fight:
Marcelo Costa (7-2-1) vs. Damacio Page (16-8)

The road to the UFC can be a long one, but the road back can be even longer. Sometimes, that road can even be a literal one. Albuquerque native Damacio Page has trekked halfway around the world to continue his journey back to the Octagon. He lands in Switzerland, where he’ll take on Marcelo Costa under the Strength & Honor Championship banner.

Page, who has been competing professionally since 2005, went 3-2 in the WEC and winless in three fights after transitioning to the UFC. His last WEC loss and his three UFC defeats combined to put him on the four-fight skid that led to his Zuffa pink slip. The Jackson’s MMA fighter then ventured to Legacy FC, where he needed less than two minutes to knock out his opponent and pick up his first win in more than three years. Now, Page has two fights scheduled: Costa on Sept. 21 in Europe and Ryan Benoit just three weeks later in Legacy FC. The 5-foot-6 bantamweight has nine wins by some form of knockout and six via submission, but his aggressive style has led to seven submission defeats. He tends to put himself in bad positions that leave him exposed to choke attempts.

Costa trains out of Europe Top Team and Nova Uniao. He has four submission wins, one TKO victory and two decision wins. Since launching his pro career in 2006, Costa has lost just twice—a TKO in his pro debut and a decision loss to UFC vet Paul McVeigh in 2009. The 34-year-old has fought just twice since 2010, with a submission win and a two-round majority draw.

There’s always the possibility that Page stumbles right into another submission, but he seems determined to buck that trend. Costa’s inactivity over the last few years benefits Page, who should be the more fight-ready competitor. The biggest obstacle for the UFC vet to overcome is the desire to rush his offensive attack, especially with another fight just three weeks off. If Page takes much damage here, he’ll lose out on a higher-profile opportunity stateside.

Page has made some boneheaded decisions in the cage, but the level of competition he faced in those bouts has to be considered. His losses came to Brian Bowles (twice), Demetrious Johnson, Brad Pickett and Alex Caceres. He also holds wins over Marcus Galvao, Scott Jorgensen and Will Campuzano. When Page loses, he still loses to some of the best guys out there. Costa is not among that group. Page will rush out of the gates to start this fight, but he’ll avoid danger. Eventually, Page will end the fight in violent fashion.

Other key bouts: Norman Paraisy (12-3-2) vs. Boubacar Balde (9-6), Henrique Shigemoto (5-1-1) vs. Matti Makela (11-11), Thomas Berset (8-2) vs. Shamil Ismailov (5-1), Islam Sizbulatov (4-0) vs. Gaetano Pirello (7-2-1), Anthony Dizy (3-0) vs. Michael Bobner (4-2)

Cage 23: Vantaa 2

Energia Areena in Vantaa, Finland
Event Date: Sept. 21
Website: mmafinland.fi

Spotlight Fight:
Marcus Vanttinen (22-5) vs. Joachim Christensen (8-2)

When one thinks of hotbeds for MMA in Europe, it’s usually the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia and even Germany that come to mind. However, Finland is quickly carving its own place in that group of European MMA heavyweights. That’s in large part due to the efforts of Cage MMA Finland. Its latest offering, Cage 23, continues the trend of stacked shows for the promotion. With four title fights and a handful of UFC and Bellator veterans, this event is certainly the must-see show of the weekend on the regional/international circuit. Although fights featuring Tom Niinimaki defending his featherweight strap against UFC vet Walel Watson and lightweight kingpin and former UFC fighter Anton Kuivanen putting his belt on the line against Bellator veteran Eric Reynolds are both worthy of the spotlight, it’s the light heavyweight title showdown between Bellator vet Marcus Vanttinen (the current titleholder) and prospect Joachim Christensen that takes center stage here.

Vanttinen’s lone Bellator appearance ended in disappointment when he dropped a split decision on the scorecards to John Hawk. The 26-year-old has fought twice since then, notching one win and one loss. After a 20-2 start to his career, Vanttinen is just 2-3 since a 2011 loss to current Bellator champ Attila Vegh. The 6-foot-4 Fight Factory Porvoo product excels on the mat, where he has secured 12 victories via submission. Since launching his pro career in 2004, Vanttinen has also tallied six wins by some form of knockout and four via decision. Meanwhile, he’s suffered one TKO loss and one submission defeat, while losing three times on the scorecards. Besides Hawk, Vanttinen has lost to former Bellator champ Christian M’Pumbu, current Bellator champion Vegh, ex-UFCer Rodney Wallace and, most recently, 5-1 prospect Angelier Benjamin. He has only fought three times since 2011.

Christensen is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. The 35-year-old made his pro debut in 2007, but only fought once a year until 2010. His last fight came in August 2012 when he bounced back from his loss to Maxim Grishin with a decision win over Matti Makela. The Dane has four submission wins, three victories via some form of knockout and one by way of a decision. Both of his losses came on the judges’ scorecards.

Cage’s matchmaker, Olli Hartikainen, has been quoted as saying that the promotion is giving its champ, Vanttinen, moderate match-ups right now. It seems intent to allow him to recover from knee surgery and the rough patch in his career over the last two years. Still, Christensen is no walkover. He’s a high-level grappler who has demonstrated a similar amount of ability as Vanttinen on the feet.

Vanttinen seemed destined for a UFC run before Vegh, Hawk and Benjamin derailed his hype train. Considering his skill set, it was bound to happen eventually. Vanttinen isn’t going to overwhelm opponents in the stand-up game, where he fails to take advantage of his range. His grappling prowess and guard passes make him a dangerous adversary for any European fighter, but fighters accustomed to fending off American wrestlers will have little difficulty in stuffing his takedowns and neutralizing his ground game. Even Hawk was able to sweep Vanttinen and gain top position.

Vanttinen’s best asset at this point is his experience. He has faced a number of skilled veterans and mid-tier fighters and has often emerged with his hand raised. Christensen falls into this category. He’s in his mid-30s and has a sturdy record, but he’s also suffered two losses and has a sporadic resume that has seen him fight as infrequently as once a year. In a pure grappling contest, he would likely hold the upper hand, but in a mixed martial arts bout, he has to worry about Vanttinen’s submissions and ground-and-pound attack, plus the striking game as well.

Vanttinen’s recent failures have put a damper on his career. He’s gone from being a top 205-pounder to being a guy with a 2-3 mark over his last five, a Bellator washout and a fighter that a matchmaker is bringing along slowly. This contest could turn out to be a close one, and a win for Christensen would put the final nail in the coffin of Vanttinen’s aspirations for a UFC bid. However, the Finnish fighter has experience and age on his side. He won’t be able to stop Christensen, but he’ll edge him on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Tom Niinimaki (19-5-1) vs. Walel Watson (11-5) for the featherweight title, Anton Kuivanen (18-6) vs. Eric Reynolds (17-6) for the lightweight title, Kai Puolakka (10-3) vs. Domingos Mestre (11-5) for the welterweight title, Timo-Juhani Hirvikangas (6-2) vs. Artemij Sitenkov (14-10), Rasul Hataev (2-0) vs. Mikael Nyyssonen (2-0)

Photo: Damacio Page (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog)