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…

Prize Fighting Championship 4: Thrillers

Magness Arena in Denver
Event Date: Oct. 18
Website: mmapfc.com
Twitter: @mmapfc

Spotlight Fight:
Tony Sims (8-1) vs. Drew Dober (13-4)

Denver’s Prize Fighting Championship promotion is back with its fourth effort. The card features a welterweight title tilt between Chino Montoya and Strikeforce veteran Tyler Stinson, but the headlining spot goes to lightweight champion Tony Sims and challenger Drew Dober, a pair of up-and-coming 155-pounders.

The 24-year-old Dober took part in his first MMA bout, an amateur contest, when he was just 17. After an undefeated amateur run that included a 16-second knockout victory over Lumumba Sayers, the Nebraska native went pro in 2009. He only managed one win in his first three appearances, with losses to Chase Hackett and Brandon Girtz, but he has only lost twice since the start of 2010—a knockout at the hands of Ramiro Hernandez and a decision loss to Will Brooks. Dober is on a four-fight winning streak and most recently submitted T.J. O’Brien. Despite expressing a preference for Muay Thai and striking, Dober, who wrestled in high school, has notched just two wins by some form of knockout against eight via submission. He was a member of the 32-man field on the live season of The Ultimate Fighter, but he lost to Daron Cruickshank by way of a decision in the qualifying round.

Sims claimed his PFC gold with a first-round knockout of Chase Hackett and has defended it twice, scoring first-round TKO wins over veterans Thomas Denny and Mitchell Hale. Sims’ lone loss came via submission in the second round of his 2008 pro debut, but he has not gone beyond the four-minute mark of the first round in any of his eight wins. Those victories include one knockout, five TKOs and two submissions. Sims was introduced to boxing when he was just seven years old and went on to a highly decorated amateur career. He wrestled in high school and took several honors in that sport as well.

This is the type of test that could find the victor UFC-bound. Dober got a small taste of the big show in his time on The Ultimate Fighter: Live, but he never earned an official fight after the loss to Cruickshank. However, he has won his last four fights and is 12-2 through his last 14 outings. Claiming a win over a stellar prospect like Sims would certainly put him on the UFC’s radar. Sims, meanwhile, has had some tough tests and has come out on top in eight straight fights.

Both men are well-rounded fighters with a background in wrestling and striking. Sims is more a traditional boxer, whereas Dober is a Muay Thai fighter in terms of his striking arsenal. The extra edge goes to Sims, who trains with the better camp, specifically Elevation Fight Team. The 5-foot-11 fighter has a three-inch height advantage over Dober and the boxing skills to make it work in his favor. Dober has lost to many of the best fighters he has faced thus far in his career, and Sims could add another mark in Dober’s loss column. Sims will use his wrestling to keep the fight standing and his striking to end it in quick fashion.

Other key bouts: Armando “Chino” Montoya (8-2) vs. Tyler Stinson (25-9) for the welterweight title

Xtreme Fighting Championships 26: Night of Champions III

Nashville Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.
Event Date: Oct. 18
Website: xfcmma.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @OfficialXFC

Spotlight Fight:
Luke Sanders (5-0) vs. Zach Underwood (11-4)

The job of small promotions is to build up stars on their way to the big show, whether it be the UFC, Bellator, Invicta FC (in the case of the ladies) or even the World Series of Fighting. XFC has served this purpose in the past with its showcasing of Nick Newell, and the promotion could play that pivotal minor league role yet again when it hosts an intriguing bout between featherweight prospects Luke Sanders and Zach Underwood at its 26th offering in Nashville, Tenn., this weekend. Look for the winner of this fight to move on to bigger and better things.

Sanders has a background in wrestling that includes a high school state championship in his native Tennessee. Throughout 2011 and 2012, the wrestler primarily used his fists to end four fights in the first round. After more than a year away from action, Sanders returned in July to edge Javon Wright by way of a split decision. His official record includes two wins by TKO and two via submission. The 27-year-old trains out of Nashville MMA and made his pro debut with Strikeforce.

Underwood’s record is triple the length as that of Sanders, but it also features four losses. He has been knocked out once and lost three fights on the judges’ scorecards. His losses have come against middling competition, for the most part, and he did avenge the decision loss to Chris Coggins with a recent decision win under the Bellator banner. The Memphis-based 29-year-old entered MMA with no prior combat sports background, but he trains with Roufusport and has made significant progress since his 2009 pro debut and hasn’t lost in more than two years. He scored an impressive win over veteran Deivison Ribeiro in his last outing, which came in the XFC cage, and has appeared under not only the XFC and significantly bigger Bellator banner, but also had one fight with Strikeforce.

In the experience department, Underwood has the clear edge, but the wrestling of Sanders evens the playing field. Underwood has been a grinder throughout his career, with just three TKO victories against eight decisions. Sanders works in the opposite manner, looking to end fights early and decisively. The one red flag with Sanders is in how his fight with the 4-3 Wright ended in a split verdict. His first-round stoppages, meanwhile, came against a set of fighters who now stand at 1-4, 1-4, 2-20 and 4-2. Underwood has suffered losses against middling opposition, whereas Sanders, at first glance, looks like a legitimate prospect. However, Sanders has yet to post a win against an opponent with a significant winning percentage. Underwood can at least tout his victory over Ribeiro.

This match-up comes down to Underwood’s ability to defend against takedowns. He’s dealing with a tough wrestler with a penchant for seeking the takedown and pounding away on his opponent until he earns the stoppage. Sanders will be aggressive from the opening bell and leave his opponent with little room to mount an offense. However, if Underwood can survive an initial onslaught, he may have the gas tank to outlast Sanders and turn the tide midway through the fight.

With no combat sports background, Underwood’s chances of faring well against the blitzing attack of Sanders seem slim. Sanders will seek the takedown immediately. Once he finds it, he’ll work to quickly transition to a dominant position and rain down punches, leading to a TKO win.

Other key bouts: Roger Carroll (11-9) vs. Scott Holtzman (5-0) for the lightweight title, Cortney Casey (1-0) vs. Pearl Gonzalez (1-1) for the women’s flyweight title, Deivison Ribeiro (23-9) vs. Jason Hicks (5-1), Luis “Sapo” Santos (57-9-1) vs. Mauricio Alonso (9-4), Brian Hall (5-1) vs. Kenny Degenhardt (3-0)

Jorge Velho Team Championship 5

Ginásio Poliesportivo da USC in Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Event Date: Oct. 19
Website: jorgevelhoteam.com.br

Spotlight Fight:
Luis Rafael (20-0) vs. Claudir Dutkevis (10-2)

There’s busy, and then there’s busy. At the fifth event from JVT Championship, bantamweight Luis Rafael brings new meaning to the latter term. When he locks horns with fellow prospect Claudir Dutkevis, “Japa” will be competing for the 18th time since the start of 2013. The two meet in the evening’s co-main event.

Rafael’s schedule is so busy that he’ll be returning to action on just six days’ rest after a first-round triangle choke submission finish of Anderson Cruz on Oct. 12. Of his 17, soon to be 18, fights this year, he’s only once fought twice in a single night. He has ended 15 of those fights in the first round, with the remaining two going the distance. In his three fights in 2012, he ended two in the first round and one in the second stanza, all by submission. In all, the Renovacao Fight Team product has 12 submission wins and six victories by some form of knockout.

Dutkevis is a Muay Thai black belt, but he is still developing his jiu-jitsu game. He made his pro debut with a win in 2006, but didn’t resurface until 2009. He accumulated a nine-fight undefeated mark before hitting his first snag in September 2012, when he lost via submission to Marcus Vinicius Sa Freire. He followed that disappointing showing with another loss, this time via TKO to Wagner Noronha. He has since rebounded with a win at the last JVT show. The 30-year-old trains alongside Diego Nunes and has four wins by some form of knockout and the remainder by way of decision.

Neither man has a resume full of notable names or credible opponents, which makes this the first test on the path to proving themselves. Dutkevis’ strength is his striking, whereas Japa wants the fight on the mat. That makes this a classic striker vs. grappler affair. Dutkevis has fought as a flyweight in the past, which might suggest that he’ll be the smaller fighter in this affair.

Rafael might be the busiest fighter in the business in terms of the sheer volume of fight dates he makes and keeps. He appears to be riding a wave of momentum, but the strength of competition on his resume leaves a lot to be desired. That’s not to say he’ll lose to Dutkevis, however. Japa has a clear edge in the submission game and Dutkevis has lost via submission in the past. Many a Brazilian has ran up an insane tally of wins against inferior competition, but many of them have gone on to find success against world-class foes. Rafael could be the next to join that group, and he’ll move at least one step closer to getting the opportunity to do so with a submission victory over Dutkevis.

Other key bouts: Franklin Jensen (16-3) vs. Diego Demetrio (5-1)

Photo: Tony Sims (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

  • Carlos

    The XFC has never promoted themselves as a feeder organization to anyone and the fact that you call them a smaller promotion when they are larger than the WSOF and Invicta shows how little you know about MMA.

    WSOF buys their time on NBC which is why you never see NBC promote them. They have to pay for every commercial slot, every time slot, all of it. And their buying up has been talent from UFC and Bellator and then pulled Newell from XFC when he was too scared to fight Holtzman.

    Invicta is simply a hub for female fighters to get to UFC. The XFC has been building it’s own divisions with their own females and has been at it longer than Invicta. XFC is in no way trying to build their women to get to Invicta and the ladies in the XFC do not want to go to Invicta, or they would have when they were shopped by the promotion. The two are battling back and forth signing the ladies before the other does, it’s a direct competition, not a feeder situation.

    Do some research. For being such a credible site, you are not a very knowledged reporter. XFC is the longest running promotion on television behind the UFC and they are #2 in U.S. web traffic ahead of all other promotion besides UFC. The fact that they are on AXS is the only thing holding them back and according to inside sources (if you knew anything at all), that’s about to change as they expand to Latin America. They do more shows per year than Invicta and WSOF and much more exciting shows than Bellator. They are the only promotion on tv traveling besides UFC & Bellator, that says a lot right there. XFC is not a minor league, your knowledge of them is just such. You should get on the media list and get to know the things you are reporting on.

    • Bryan Henderson, Editor-in-Chief

      Carlos,

      Thanks for your comments, but I tend to disagree. From how defensive you are, it’s obvious that you’re on XFC’s payroll or in some other way related to them. I’ve never seen any other fan comment on Out of Obscurity in such a manner…the whole point of this feature is to look at the smaller promotions, plus international promotions that don’t receive a ton of U.S. exposure, and preview bouts from their shows. I’ve often pointed out the regional aspect in this column.

      It doesn’t matter that the WSOF buys its time on NBC or populates its roster with known talent. Even the UFC’s castoffs are often still household names to MMA fans and demand more money and a larger promotional home. Would they flock to a small regional like XFC? Doubtful, when the WSOF gives them a much better chance for added exposure in the mainstream.

      Invicta was around before the UFC committed to a women’s division. It has drawn tremendous interest from day one and has the best female athletes at every weight class other than 135 pounds, the only division that the UFC offers for female fighters. Invicta is certainly the primary home of women’s MMA outside of the 135ers. There are always outlying fighters who are good – Stephanie Eggink, for example – but don’t fight for the biggest promotions. I hardly see a back and forth competition between the two when such a larger amount of the top 10 at each weight class resides in Invicta. Perhaps the XFC can compete for fighters that have yet to establish themselves on a national basis, but Invicta certainly has a virtual monopoly on women’s MMA outside of bantamweight.

      There’s something called perception. Even if XFC somehow draws more web traffic than Bellator and Invicta (which I highly doubt), it’s the overall image that the company reflects that really counts. This is a company that saw its top talent (Nick Newell) leave for greener pastures (WSOF, no less) and who can’t draw in the big names that a typical No. 2 promotion pursues, such as many of the fighters under the Bellator, Invicta, WSOF and Legacy banners. It’s a promotion that doesn’t create the same buzz that UFC, Bellator, Invicta or WSOF does, and the only time it came close was when Newell fought for the XFC. The XFC is the equivalent of a Triple A farm club in baseball, it preps good prospects like Sanders and Holtzman before they go on to the national level. Does it generate some fan interest? Of course. But it’s still playing the same role that other regional promotions like RFA, PFC, etc. play.