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…

Tachi Palace Fights 18

Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, Calif.
Event Date: Feb. 6
Website: tachipalace.com
Watch Event: online stream on Livestream and Sherdog
Twitter: @Tachipalace

Spotlight Fight:
Joe Soto (12-2) vs. Jeremiah Labiano (7-1)

Four years ago, Joe Soto was a Bellator champion. One fight later, his career was in jeopardy. Soto suffered a detached retina in the same bout where he surrendered his Bellator featherweight championship to Joe Warren. It took a few years, but Soto has gradually climbed his way back to the level of top prospect and is again on the verge of adding some gold to his trophy case. The Bellator vet will meet Jeremiah Labiano for the vacant Tachi Palace Fights bantamweight championship at TPF’s 18th offering later today.

Soto, who made his pro debut in 2006, rattled off four wins to open his career and propel him into Bellator’s featherweight tournament bracket. Soto seized the opportunity by defeating Ben Greer, Wilson Reis and Yahir Reyes en route to capturing the title. He never made a successful defense of the championship, however. He defeated Diego Saraiva in a non-title affair, then succumbed to Warren in his lone defense. After sitting on the sidelines for nearly a year, the high school state champion and two-time NJCAA All-American wrestler returned against Eddie Yagin in the Tachi cage. Had he won, Soto could have gained entry into Bellator’s season-five bantamweight tournament. But Soto lost via submission in the first round. The 26-year-old has recovered with three straight wins, though, which sets up his title tilt against Labiano.

Labiano’s eight-fight career has spawned titles under the West Coast FC and Rebel Fighter banners. “The Kid” made his pro debut in 2011 and reeled off three straight wins before suffering a decision loss against Gabriel Carrasco to close out his 2012 campaign. He responded with four more wins in 2013 to move his mark to 7-1 overall. The Crispim BJJ Barra Brothers product has never been finished, but his opponents haven’t had the same good fortune. Labiano has submitted four opponents, including his last three foes, and scored a knockout and two TKOs in his remaining three outings. The former professional paint-baller is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and lends his expertise as an instructor at the Crispim gym. Labiano emerged as the top fighter from XFC’s open tryouts hosted in Chicago in early 2013 and was awarded a contract with that promotion. However, the 27-year-old never appeared in the XFC cage and instead made the rounds on the regional circuit and went on his current four-fight winning streak.

Fans looking for a finish should be excited for this fight. Labiano has only seen the scorecards once, but he’s not the only finisher of the pair. Soto has only gone the distance once and has seven submission stoppages and four wins by TKO. Labiano’s lone loss—and only fight to see the scorecards—came in a fight that he took on four days’ notice and required him to cut 26 pounds. He almost finished Carrasco in the second stanza before his cardio failed him.

Soto and Labiano are capable of holding their own should this turn into a striking battle. When it comes to the ground game, it’s all about Soto’s wrestling against Labiano’s jiu-jitsu. Soto has to be aware of his positioning and avoid leaving his neck exposed, as he did against Yagin. The biggest factor, however, should be experience. Soto has captured gold in a major promotion, suffered his only losses to an accomplished wrestler and a future UFC fighter and has nearly double the fights of Labiano. Meanwhile, the best fighter that Labiano has topped now stands with a 7-3 career mark, and Labiano’s loss came against an undefeated prospect.

Unless Soto gets careless and makes a mistake, he should be able to use a combination of wrestling and striking to keep this fight in his favor. Soto has an impressive grappling attack and won’t be afraid to pursue a submission. Soto’s title reign could be short-lived, however. He stands as one of the best bantamweights not under contract with a major promotion, but that should change soon.

Other key bouts: Poppies Martinez (27-9) vs. Chris Culley (17-10) for the featherweight championship, Cain Carrizosa (5-0) vs. John Reedy (10-5), Jack May (6-0) vs. Manuel Quezada (2-0), Alex Perez (9-2) vs. Eloy Garza (4-1)

Bitetti Combat 19

Tropical Hotel in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil
Event Date: Feb. 6
Website: bitetticombat.com.br
Twitter: @bitettimma

Spotlight Fight:
Erick Carlos Silva (12-3) vs. Joao Luiz Nogueira (16-6)

Some events get press because of the impressive lineup of fights on the card or the self-generated publicity for a certain match-up. Then, there are those that find their way into the spotlight thanks to controversy. Bitetti Combat 19 can thank Paulo Filho for its inclusion in the latter category. Filho, despite his contract with the World Series of Fighting, is set to fight an underwhelming Andre Muniz for the Bitetti middleweight title, but it’s the other championship contest from the card that’s worth a closer look. The lightweight title will be up for grabs when Erick Carlos Silva (not to be confused with UFC fighter Erick “Indio” Silva) clashes with Joao Luiz Nogueira.

Silva made his pro debut in 2006 and sprinted out to a nine-fight undefeated start that included a stoppage win over Gilmar Dutra Lima and decisions over UFC veterans John Lineker and Marcos Vinicius Borges. The 25-year-old then lost three of his next four. He has rebounded with two first-round finishes. The CM System product has claimed half of his victories on the scorecards, but he also has three TKO wins and three submission victories. He fought twice in 2013, but those two contests marked his first fights since 2010. He would have made a third appearance last year, but he was forced to withdraw after a training accident in which he had a tooth knocked loose.

Nogueira won the Bitetti lightweight grand prix at Bitetti Combat 11 in 2012, but has since lost two fights under the Bitetti banner. “Andrezinho” is just 4-3 over his last seven fights, but his most recent victory came against UFC veteran Willamy “Chiquerim” Freire. Since his 2005 debut, the Team Nogueira fighter has met Chiquerim on three occasions and has two wins to show for it. Whereas Silva tends to go the distance in victory, Andrezinho is a finisher. He has just one decision victory against seven submission wins and seven victories by some form of knockout. If a fight involving Nogueira does happen to head to the scorecards, things don’t work out well for the 29-year-old. He has been stopped just once, but he has dropped decisions in five fights.

Both of these fighters have stumbled over the course of their career. In Silva’s case, it was an awful 2010 that he’d certainly prefer to forget. Outside of that lone year, Silva is undefeated. Nogueira, on the other hand, tends to go on a brief streak and then, just when it looks like momentum is on his side, he’ll suffer a setback. Despite those performances, they can claim an impressive set of victories as well.

Andrezinho is a tough out and has the benefit of training with UFC-caliber fighters as a member of Team Nogueira. Silva, who may be better suited to the featherweight ranks, has seen some of his biggest successes against fighters who went on to compete as flyweights in the UFC. Silva has looked impressive since his return to action last year, but those performances weren’t against fighters at the same level as Nogueira. Andrezinho will test Silva on the feet and the mat before ultimately submitting the younger fighter.

Other key bouts: Paulo Filho (23-5-2) vs. Andre Muniz (5-3) for the middleweight championship, Josenaldo Araujo Silva (12-4) vs. Sandro China (5-5-1), Alex Cowboy (5-1-1) vs. Daniel Trindade (15-4)

XFC International I

Rede TV! television studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Event Date: Feb. 8
Website: xfcmma.com
Watch Event: Rede TV! in Brazil and live stream worldwide at xfcmma.com
Twitter: @OfficialXFC

Spotlight Fight:
Thiago Meller (18-5) vs. Clay French (19-6)

It’s a new year for the Florida-based XFC, and with a new year comes a new approach. The promotion has shifted its focus from the United States to Brazil and has a number of tournaments on its agenda in 2014. It’s first international show will take place at the television studio of new Brazilian broadcast partner Rede TV! and features men’s lightweight and women’s flyweight tournaments. The promotion claims it is close to signing a new U.S. broadcast deal as well, now that its partnership with AXS TV has seemingly come to an end, but this event will only air via internet stream on American shores. Although the tournaments feature some intriguing match-ups, it’s a non-tourney lightweight affair between Thiago Meller and Clay French that takes center stage.

French is returning to action after two and a half years on the sidelines. The 33-year-old made his pro debut in 2004 and compiled a 7-1 mark before making his lone Pride appearance in a losing effort opposite Shinya Aoki. French rebounded with a victory over future Ultimate Fighter winner Mac Danzig and seven more wins. His next step up to a major stage saw him lose via submission in just 31 seconds to Satoru Kitaoka under the Sengoku banner. It was part of a 1-4 stretch where he also suffered setbacks against future UFC fighters Rory MacDonald and Michael Johnson and lost another Sengoku fight, this time against Eiji Mitsuoka. He rebounded in 2010 and 2011 with a trio of wins against journeymen Sean Wilson and Billy Stamp and future UFC fighter James Krause. The victories over Stamp and Krause came in the form of split decisions, and the Krause fight took place in the Titan FC cage. French lives and dies on the mat, where he has five submission losses and 11 submission wins. The southpaw is a former King of the Cage lightweight champion who wrestled in college.

Meller, who has been fighting professionally since 2003, has quite the resume. He has suffered five losses. The opponents in those fights? Well, it’s a pretty impressive list. “Minu’s” first loss came via majority decision against Jose Aldo. He lasted seven and a half minutes before succumbing to a submission from Rafael dos Anjos. He has also gone the distance in losing efforts against Aaron Riley, Justin Buchholz and Anton Kuivanen. In other words, beat Meller and your future might include a visit to the UFC Octagon. Meller hasn’t fared quite as well in the win column, where the most significant name among his victims are UFC veteran Chris Saunders and Australian veteran Jai Bradney. Meller is 10-2 over his last 12 outings and has 13 submission victories over the course of his career.

There’s a common trend between these two fighters of losing to most of the high-level competition they face, while picking up an occasional win against a notable name. In French’s case, those notable wins include victories over Danzig, Krause, Alonzo Martinez and Jameel Massouh. The biggest red flag for French, besides his inactivity, is the string of submission losses on his record. Meller fits the mold of the typical opponent that can frustrate French on the mat. The Brazilian will benefit from French’s ring rust and weak submission defense to take the victory.

Other key bouts: Marcelo Rojo (6-1) vs. Fernando Vieira (8-2), Jonathan Ortega (7-1-1) vs. Glaucio Eliziario (2-0) in men’s lightweight tournament quarterfinals, Daniel Salas (12-4) vs. Gilson Lomanto (8-2) in men’s lightweight tournament quarterfinals, Natan Schulte (6-2) vs. Giovanni Arroyo (0-0) in men’s lightweight tournament quarterfinals, Alan dos Santos (11-1) vs. Marcos Alderete (3-1) in men’s lightweight tournament quarterfinals, Silvana Gomez Juarez (2-0) vs. Bianca Daimoni (3-0) in women’s flyweight tournament semifinals, Mayerlin Rivas (0-0) vs. Daiana Torquato (1-1) in women’s flyweight tournament semifinals