Every Thursday, The MMA Corner will take a look at three regional/developmental 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…

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 14

City of Cheyenne Ice and Events Center in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Event Date: April 11
Website: rfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Matt Manzanares (6-2) vs. Junior Maranhao (9-2)

The Resurrection Fighting Alliance has gained a reputation as a launching pad for fighters seeking entry into the UFC. This is perhaps most apparent in the flyweight division, where former Bellator champion Zach Makovsky claimed the RFA crown and promptly moved on to the Octagon. Makovsky left behind the RFA strap, but it won’t remain vacant for long. Matt Manzanares, who lost to Makovsky in his first bid for the championship, and Junior Maranhao, a late replacement for Leandro Higo, square off at RFA 14 to determine a new champ, and possibly punch their ticket to the big show.

Manzanares has not fought since going the distance against Makovsky in November. The 27-year-old made his pro debut in 2011 and won four fights before suffering a submission loss against Aaron Ely in his RFA debut. He earned the shot against Makovsky after two stoppage victories. The Black Dragon Martial Arts fighter had never seen the scorecards as a pro prior to his encounter with the former Bellator champ. He has scored four wins via strikes and two by way of submission. Manzanares has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a two-time Junior Olympian in boxing. His amateur career featured a stretch in 2010 where he went 2-4, including three first-round stoppage losses, but he has developed into a top flyweight and his ability to go a full five rounds with Makovsky proves that he’s a tough challenge for any opponent.

Maranhao fights out of Bronx’s Gold Team and previously competed as a bantamweight. The Brazilian made his pro debut in 2010 with a submission loss, but bounced back with three wins before suffering his only other loss. That second loss came in the only fight in which Maranhao has seen the judges’ scorecards. He is currently riding a six-fight winning streak. Maranhao has six victories by some form of knockout and three via submission. The 21-year-old is a teammate and roommate of UFC fighter Charles Oliveira and demonstrates similar tendencies inside the cage.

Manzanares can’t catch a break in match-ups for the RFA flyweight crown. First, he had to take on Makovsky, who has proven to be a top dog at the UFC level since defeating Manzanares. Then, the Wyoming native was slated to meet a top prospect in Leandro Higo, before visa issues forced Higo out of the contest. Yet, Manzanares again draws an extremely tough challenge in Maranhao. The young Brazilian doesn’t carry the same high expectations as Makovsky and Higo, but he is just as dangerous of an opponent for Manzanares.

Imagine a smaller Charles Oliveira. That’s exactly what you’ll see when Maranhao steps into the RFA cage. He throws a lot of leg kicks and follows them up with combinations. He isn’t quite as light on his feet as Oliveira, though, and he hasn’t relied as heavily on submissions either. Given his Muay Thai leanings and Manzanares’ own boxing skills, this could turn into an entertaining stand-up affair. Neither man is afraid to hunt for submissions, however.

If there’s a weakness in Manzanares’ game, it’s in dealing with wrestlers. His losses have come to wrestlers—Makovsky and Ely. Maranhao isn’t a wrestler. The Brazilian does possess excellent balance and the ability to reverse takedown attempts, but he’s not known for his takedown shot. Manzanares should be the more technical striker, but his biggest advantages come in a full fight camp (compared to Maranhao, who enters the bout on two weeks’ notice), a hometown crowd in his corner and the experience of competing against a top flyweight like Makovsky. Maranhao, meanwhile, is making his first trip outside of Brazil and has not had experience fighting high-level opponents. Manzanares scores the hard-fought decision win in a back-and-forth battle.

Other key bouts: Mark Dickman (8-1) vs. Raoni Barcelos (7-0), Tyler Voth (5-1) vs. Jeimeson Saudino (7-2), Alan Jouban (7-2) vs. Armando Montoya Jr. (8-3), Tyler Toner (15-6) vs. Daniel Aguiar (9-3), Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger (2-1) vs. Rosa Acevedo (1-0), Enrique Torres (13-2-1) vs. Sonny Yohn (3-0) in an amateur bout

Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 67

The LC in Swansea, Wales
Event Date: April 12
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)
Viasat (Scandinavia)
MMA Junkie (USA/Canada)
Sportube.tv (Italy)
JOE.ie (Ireland)
cagewarriors.tv (rest of the world, excluding the United Kingdom)
Twitter: @CageWarriors

Spotlight Fight:
Brett Johns (9-0) vs. James Brum (14-2)

Cage Warriors continues its busy schedule this weekend with the 67th edition of its primary set of events. The card is heavy on fights between potential contenders, but there is one piece of gold on the line. Brett Johns will seek to defend his bantamweight championship against James Brum.

In September, Johns needed a full eight rounds—that’s 40 minutes of action—in a single night to claim top honors in the Cage Warriors four-man bantamweight tournament. With a unanimous decision win over David Haggstrom and a split verdict over Jordan Desborough, Johns took home the 135-pound belt. His fight with Brum will mark his first defense of the crown. “The Pikey” fights out of the Chris Rees Academy in Wales and made his pro debut in 2012. His unblemished record includes two TKO victories, three submission wins and four decision victories. The 22-year-old has been training in judo since age four and holds the rank of black belt. He’s also a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Johns faces a tough task in Brum, a 26-year-old Englishman. Brum is associated with Gym01 in Britain, but he has recently traveled to the United States to train with Team Alpha Male. Brum also visited Nova Uniao earlier in his career to train. The British fighter initially aspired to be a professional wrestler, but discovered the UFC and opted for MMA instead. He made his pro debut in 2009 and has 16 fights under his belt. “Job Done” has five wins by way of some form of knockout and two by submission, with the other half of his victories coming on the scorecards. Brum has only lost twice, and the most recent loss came against Erik Perez, who is in the midst of a successful run in the UFC. Both losses were the result of a rear-naked choke submission. Now, the BAMMA veteran is on an eight-fight winning streak. Seven of those victories came under the Cage Warriors banner.

This stands as a test of whether Johns is a legitimate bantamweight prospect. Brum has nearly double the amount of fights, a ton of experience against far more established fighters and the backing of Team Alpha Male. Can a skill set that dates back to Johns’ childhood allow him to overcome Brum’s advantages?

Brum doesn’t defend his neck well when an opponent takes his back, but that has been a focus of his recent training. What he lacks, however, is a deep background in combat sports. His pro wrestling dreams led him to train in wrestling in college, but he’s going up against an opponent who has been practicing judo throws almost as long as he’s been practicing his ABC’s.

Johns can be a takedown machine and a grinder. He proved that, as well as his endurance, in the Cage Warriors 59 tournament. The question is whether he has the submission skills to put Brum away. If he doesn’t, this one is likely headed to the scorecards. Either way, Johns’ skills will indeed prove to be enough as he successfully defends his belt.

Other key bouts: Sean Carter (8-1) vs. Mario Saeed (5-1), Martin McDonough (11-4) vs. Shajidul Haque (4-1), Agnieszka Niedzwiedz (5-0) vs. Gemma Hewitt (1-0)

Talent MMA Circuit 8: Etapa Valinhos 2014

Valinhos Municipal Gymnasium in Valinhos, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Event Date: April 12
Website: Facebook/CircuitoTalentMMA
Watch Event: El, El Plus (Brazil)
Twitter: @CircuitoTalent

Spotlight Fight:
Mariana Morais (3-0) vs. Mariana Leonardo dos Santos (2-0)

Women’s MMA is continuing to expand. But with that expansion comes the need for more talent. The UFC, Invicta, Jewels, World Series of Fighting, the XFC and Legacy FC all house at least one female star on their rosters, and most are looking to add more. Lately, promotions in Brazil have showcased a number of prospects who could represent the next wave of signings by those major brands. Talent MMA Circuit is getting in on the action. In November, the promotion hosted Herica Tiburcio, who went on to sign with Invicta. Now, at its eighth event, the promotion dug deeper to unearth two female prospects, including Mariana Morais, an 18-year-old who sports an undefeated record. Morais will meet Mariana Leonardo dos Santos in the lone women’s bout on the card.

Morais may be young, but she already has three pro fights under her belt (and some sources credit her with four pro bouts). The Team Julierme product made her pro debut in May 2013, shortly after turning 18. She has finished two fights by TKO and one via submission, but the standing guillotine choke that Morais utilized against Margarete Soares was set up by a volley of strikes that left Soares rattled and vulnerable. The young Brazilian has participated in Muay Thai competitions in addition to mixed martial arts. The biggest knock on Morais, however, is that the combined record of her three opponents now stands at 0-5.

Leonardo can’t boast a much better opposition record. Her victories came against a pair of fighters who now stand at a combined 1-4. Leonardo has one TKO victory and one win by way of submission. The Sattelmayer Top Team fighter started training less than a year ago and made her pro debut in early March. She returned last weekend for her sophomore effort at Jungle Fight 68. Now, she’ll fight Morais on just a one-week turnaround.

This contest has the potential to be a very entertaining, albeit sloppy, fight. Against Soares, Morais charged forward with barrage after barrage of kicks and punches. Eventually, she rocked Soares and finished her with the standing guillotine. Leonardo has required more time to finish her opponents, but she has been successful in her two efforts and, like Morais, she employs an aggressive stand-up attack.

These two fighters are taking the first step to building a more convincing resume. Morais, at age 18, has plenty of time to develop. Her aggressive and wild striking style could overwhelm Leonardo, but it could also lead to Leonardo landing a counter that turns out the lights for Morais. After such a short turnaround, though, Leonardo might not be ready for another war. Morais will charge forward, pressure Leonardo and finish the fight via TKO.

Other key bouts: Alvaro Rodrigo Moreira Gomes (9-1) vs. Rafael Bueno (11-4-1), Ricardo Lucas Ramos (4-0) vs. Rafael Baraka (6-2), Fernando Rodrigues (5-0) vs. Luis Alexandre Cadeu (2-1), Walter Pereira Jr. (8-2) vs. Everton Silva Monteiro (2-2), Roberto Barbosa de Souza (3-0) vs. Gustavo Veiga (1-0)