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…

Inoki Genome Federation: Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2013

Ryugoku Kokugikan in Tokyo
Event Date: Dec. 31
Website: igf.jp
Watch Event: Fuji Television Network (Japan)
Twitter: @IGF_OFFICIAL

Spotlight Fight:
Kazuyuki Fujita (15-9) vs. Satoshi Ishii (10-2-1)

The holiday season is an odd time for mixed martial arts. It’s the only time of year when a weekend can be almost entirely void of events at the regional level. Such is the case this weekend, which leaves us to look forward to a trio of cards that take place on New Year’s Eve, a longtime tradition for the sport, especially in Japan. With Pride, Dream and Sengoku all distant memories, the Inoki Genome Federation has stepped up to handle New Year’s Eve duties in Japan. The event, which features a mix of MMA, pro wrestling and kickboxing, features several notable names, including Ikuhisa Minowa, Satoru Kitaoka, Shinya Aoki, Brett Rogers and Philip De Fries, but it’s the battle between heavyweight Pride mainstay Kazuyuki Fujita and Olympic gold medalist judoka Satoshi Ishii that takes center stage.

Ishii holds a sixth dan black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He was a highly touted prospect before he made his pro MMA debut in 2009, but the hype surrounding him quieted when he lost that debut to Hidehiko Yoshida. Ishii has also lost to Fedor Emelianenko, lasting two and a half minutes before getting knocked out by the Russian. Although his early career resulted in a 4-2-1 mark, he has since reeled off six wins, beginning with a unanimous decision over former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at last year’s Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye show. The win over Sylvia was the first in a streak that also includes victories of UFC veterans Sean McCorkle, Kerry Schall, Pedro Rizzo and Jeff Monson. Ishii typically either fights to a decision or uses his judo to take opponents down and submit them.

Fujita’s face is among the most recognizable to any diehard Pride fan. The 43-year-old has been in the ring with Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, Ken Shamrock, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Wanderlei Silva and the aforementioned Emelianenko. The last time we saw Fujita, who made his pro debut in the year 2000, was the first time he was knocked unconscious. That was in 2009 when he fought Alistair Overeem. He’s a tough competitor, but he is on a three-fight losing streak and is just 2-5 over his last seven fights. It’s also been four years since he competed in a MMA bout.

New Year’s Eve is a time when Japan tends to parade out its legends and freakshow fights. Ishii has been on a hot streak through 2013, and his victims have included notable names well past their prime. Take the Fujita of the early 2000s and throw him in there against Ishii and the 27-year-old judoka would have a serious problem on his hands. Now, however, Fujita is just another name to stand alongside Sylvia, Rizzo and Monson on Ishii’s resume. That’s not to say Fujita won’t put up a fight, but he certainly won’t be the man with his hand raised at the end of this affair. Ishii should be able to edge Fujita on the scorecards, assuming he doesn’t finish him via submission first.

Other key bouts: Satoru Kitaoka (32-12-9) vs. Ramazan Esenbaev (5-1), Ikuhisa Minowa (57-35-8) vs. Atsushi Sawada (0-0), Shinya Aoki (34-6) vs. Toshikatsu Harada (11-9-2), Brett Rogers (13-5) vs. Philip De Fries (9-3)

Pancrase: Bayside Fight 2

Bayside Yokohama in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Event Date: Dec. 31
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Nobuki Fujii (9-4-3) vs. Naohiro Takaoka (8-3)

The Inoki Genome Federation might be front and center on New Year’s Eve in Japan, but it’s not the only Japanese promotion that will host an event on that night. Pancrase is also set to go, though it’s rolling out a “Bayside Fight” card rather than a regular numbered event. The show is slim on notable talent, but it does include an interesting two-round fight between bantamweights Nobuki Fujii and Naohiro Takaoka.

Fujii may be coming off a decision loss to Shoko Sato, but he reigns as the 2013 Neo-Blood Tournament bantamweight champion. The 24-year-old advanced through the tourney with second-round, rear-naked choke victories over Yukio Kishi, Gaku Suwazono and Sho Nonaka. That streak of wins came on the heels of a pair of draws and an inconsistent record dating back to 2010. Fujii has never won more than three fights in a row, but he has only lost back-to-back fights once in his career. The Alliance-Square product has a balanced set of wins, with two via some form of knockout, four by way of submission and three via decision. He’s never been stopped in a fight, but he has dropped four decisions and fought to a split draw and a majority draw.

The 27-year-old Takaoka debuted in 2011 and got off to a rocky start that saw him win just one of his first three outings. He righted the ship after that and has won seven of his last eight, with the lone loss coming via a split decision. Beyond the split decision defeat, Takaoka has lost exclusively via submission. Like Fujii, he has a balanced set of wins that include two by way of some form of knockout, three via submission and three on the scorecards. The Wajutsu Keishukai Hearts product is on a three-fight winning streak.

Fujii may be a Neo-Blood champion, but his inconsistency is worrisome. Whereas he wins a few and then loses one or two, Takaoka suffered his rough patch early and has developed into a reliable winner. He hasn’t been stopped since a 2011 submission loss. This will be a fight where both fighters struggle to earn a finish. It’ll end on the scorecards, where Takaoka will take the nod.

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 63

The Helix in Dublin, Ireland
Event Date: Dec. 31
Website: cagewarriors.com
Watch Event:
Fight Now TV (USA)
Premier Sports (United Kingdom)
Setanta Sports 1 (Ireland)
Fight Network (Canada, Portugal, Turkey, Angola)
Fight Klub (Poland)
Setanta Action (Africa)
ESPN International (Brazil, Latin America, Pacific Rim)
MMA Junkie (USA/Canada)
Sportube.tv (Italy)
JOE.ie (Ireland)
cagewarriors.tv (rest of the world, excluding the United Kingdom)
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Steven Ray (14-4) vs. Ivan Buchinger (24-4)

Japan may be the center of MMA’s New Year’s Eve festivities, but halfway around the world, Cage Warriors will host its 63rd numbered event. The lineup features a number of prospects, including Jim Alers defending his featherweight crown against Graham Turner and a women’s clash between Aisling Daly and Karla Benitez. However, it’s the lightweight title showdown between Steven Ray and Ivan Buchinger that grabs the top spot.

Ray is the reigning Cage Warriors lightweight champion, a title that previously belonged to Conor McGregor before the Irishman vacated the title and signed with the UFC. The 23-year-old won the belt at Cage Warriors 60 in a four-man, single-night tournament where he took a decision over Jason Ball in a two-round semifinal bout and submitted Sean Carter in the first round of the championship contest. The two wins provided a nice rebound from a decision loss Ray suffered in his only other fight of 2013 against Curt Warburton at BAMMA 12. Ray fights out of the same Dinky Ninjas camp that houses female strawweight star Joanne Calderwood, though he also trains out of Higher Level MMA. The Scottish fighter is a judo black belt. He has stopped seven opponents via submission and four by way of some form of knockout. He has suffered three submission losses, but has never been knocked out.

Ray’s opponent in the tourney final should have been Buchinger, not Carter. The 27-year-old, who hails from Slovakia, utilized scarf hold armlock to top Mick Sinclair in the semfinals of the the tournament, but he was injured and could not continue to the finals, prompting Carter’s insertion as a replacement. The Octagon Fighting Academy product has submitted 14 opponents and finished six via some form of knockout. Buchinger has amassed an impressive 28-fight resume since his debut in 2008, and his losses have come against Sengoku veteran Sergey Golyaev and UFC-level talent in the aforementioned McGregor, Akira Corassani and Anton Kuivanen. He has never been submitted, but he has lost twice via knockout.

Ray is a young and rising prospect, but he’s stepping into the cage with a fighter who tends not to lose unless he’s fighting someone who is UFC-bound. Ray has a few similar setbacks on his resume, with losses to Warburton and Nicholas Musoke, but it’s his tendency to lose via submission that makes him a shaky bet in this title defense against a submission specialist the caliber of Buchinger. Ray is going to have to use his judo to defend against takedowns and cause reversals. If he can’t, Buchinger is going to feast on him when the fight hits the mat. Ray is pretty talented if he can get on top of an opponent, which could make this into an entertaining grappling clinic of a fight. However, Ray’s best route to victory is through his fists. If he can keep the fight standing, there’s a chance he could score the knockout.

Given the talents these two men possess, it seems inevitable that this fight will go to the ground at some point. Although Ray could score an easy finish if he finds himself in top position, his past trend of submission losses is too much to ignore. The title will be changing hands on New Year’s Eve after Buchinger forces Ray to tap.

Other key bouts: Jim Alers (11-1) vs. Graham Turner (23-7) for the featherweight title, John Maguire (18-6) vs. Philip Mulpeter (6-3), Paul Redmond (8-3) vs. Mateusz Teodorczuk (10-2), Karla Benitez (11-5) vs. Aisling Daly (13-5), Sean Carter (7-1) vs. Myles Price (8-4)