Every week, The MMA Corner takes a look at three regional, developmental or international cards from the upcoming weekend, 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, developmental 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…

Extreme Fighting Championship Africa 31

Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, South Africa
Event Date: July 3
Website: efcafrica.com
Watch Event: Live via pay-per-view stream at efcafrica.tv. Live main card on television networks SuperSport World of Champions (Africa), Fight Now! TV (U.S., Canada and Caribbean), Abu Dhabi TV (Middle East and North Africa) and Fight Sports (Europe and Asia). Full event can also be viewed at Ster-Kinekor cinemas in South Africa.

Spotlight Fight:
Nkazimulo Zulu (5-1-1) vs. Demarte Pena (8-0)

Notice how this feature is running on a Wednesday this week? Well, how else would we have included EFC Africa’s 31st offering in this preview? The promotion’s penchant for running Thursday evening shows makes it an elusive event to preview in this spot, but the featured bantamweight title tilt between champion Nkazimulo Zulu and challenger Demarte Pena was a compelling enough pairing to convince us to shift the feature for this one week only.

The 23-year-old champion is a product of the Tapout Academy. “Zulu Boy” made his professional debut in 2013 and went 1-1 through his first two outings, including a loss in his EFC Africa debut. The 5-foot-5 bantamweight rebounded from the loss to pick up three wins and a split draw over his next four fights, including three EFC Africa bouts. It was enough to earn him a spot in a fight for the vacant EFC Africa 135-pound crown, which he won in February with a first-round TKO finish of Charlie Weyer. Zulu started training in Kyokushin karate at the age of six and was the 2008 tri-nation champion. Soon after, he left karate behind for the world of Muay Thai and K-1 kickboxing. He rose to a high level in K-1 before moving on to MMA in 2010. His grappling game is still a work in progress, but he has claimed two victories by way of submission. He is extremely dangerous on his feet, where he has scored three wins by some form of knockout.

Pena challenges for the bantamweight strap after vacating his EFC Africa featherweight crown. The 24-year-old fights out of Fight Fit Militia and made his pro debut in 2011. By his third bout, Pena was fighting for the EFC Africa featherweight title. He captured the gold with a unanimous decision victory over Leo Gloss and has gone on to make five successful title defenses. Undefeated through eight outings, Pena has seen the scorecards five times, while only picking up one TKO victory and two submission wins. For a fighter with only eight fights’ worth of experience, Pena can claim something many more seasoned veterans of the sport cannot: he’s seen the championship rounds in five of his fights. He is a SASCA grappling champion and an undefeated amateur Muay Thai competitor through six contests, but he also has a background in Shaolin Kung Fu, karate and judo.

This is the equivalent of a super fight for EFC Africa, pitting one of its most successful past champions against one of its brightest rising stars. Pena’s drop down from the featherweight division should give him a size edge, but he doesn’t tend to have finishing ability. His foe does. However, Pena could benefit from the change in divisions and show up with more power behind his punches. He might not be too willing to test that possibility out against a high-level striker like Zulu.

Zulu is going to want to keep this fight standing, while Pena probably views the ground game as his best route to victory. Pena’s size could be the biggest factor in allowing Pena to get his wish and drag Zulu to the mat, where he can then work his ground-and-pound attack and throw in some submission attempts. Zulu has shown flashes of talent on the mat, but he didn’t start grappling until roughly two years ago.

Pena has a proven track record in the EFC Africa cage. He doesn’t get stopped and he doesn’t lose. As impressive as Zulu has been, he won’t add the first blemish to Pena’s record. Pena will control Zulu on the mat for large stretches of this contest, which will be enough to allow him to claim a victory on the judges’ scorecards and add to his EFC Africa legacy with a second championship belt.

Other key bouts: Andrew van Zyl (8-2) vs. Elvis Moyo (1-1), Hanru Botha (3-1) vs. Wesley Hawkey (9-5), Matthew Buirski (3-0-1) vs. Cedric Doyle (3-1), Nelson Feiteira (2-0) vs. Brendon Katz (6-3)

University of Champions

Universidade da Luta in Curitiba, Parana, Brazil
Event Date: July 5
Website: udlbrasil.com.br
Twitter: @_UDL

Spotlight Fight:
Taila Santos (2-0) vs. Geisyele Nascimento (0-1)

Slow weeks like the Fourth of July weekend allow us to take a glimpse at some more obscure prospects, and that’s exactly what we have in Taila Santos, who competes at the University of Champions show this weekend. Santos has just two fights under her belt, but she remains undefeated. She’ll look to continue that streak when she clashes with fellow bantamweight Geisyele Nascimento.

Santos made her pro debut in November 2013. The Astra Fight Team product kicked things off with a unanimous decision win over Josiane Nunes, who entered the bout as a 1-0 prospect with a win over Elaine Albuquerque on her resume. Next, Santos scored a first-round TKO of Kessiny Mara, a fighter who now holds a career mark of 0-4. Santos has suffered at least one loss at the amateur level.

Nascimento’s record in fighter databases seems to be incomplete. Though she fought in mid-June in a losing effort—she suffered a first-round TKO loss to Karine Silva, an undefeated five-fight veteran—that isn’t the complete listing of her pro fights. She also suffered a loss in May, again via TKO, against Liana Pirosin.

It’s a shame that Santos wasn’t lined up with Silva instead. That pairing would have made for a compelling fight which could have produced a new hot prospect in the women’s bantamweight division. Instead, this bout against Nascimento is really a showcase fight for Santos. The undefeated up-and-comer should be able to pad her record with another first-round TKO victory.

Other key bouts: Alexandre Ramos (7-2) vs. Bruno Polaco (0-1), Carlos Diogo (7-2) vs. Rafael Silva (0-0), Antonio Paulo (2-0) vs. Felipe Gaio (0-1)

Shooto: Gig West 16

Abeno-Kumin Center Hall in Osaka, Japan
Event Date: July 6
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Ken Asuka (5-0) vs. Masayoshi Kato (8-4-1)

Shooto’s latest effort, Gig West 16, includes Infinity League 2014 tournament action. The Infinity League operates in a round-robin format, with five fighters facing one another and earning points based on the outcomes of their fights. In the flyweight division (which is Shooto’s label for the 114-pound strawweight division), Ken Asuka and Masayoshi Kato are among the five-man grouping. Kato has four points after a majority decision win over Atsushi Takeuchi and a canceled bout against Tateo Iino. That puts Kato in second behind Ryuta Sawada in the current league standings. His opponent, Asuka, has just two points following a unanimous decision victory over Iino. Now the two meet in hopes of adding to their point totals.

Kato was the 2010 Shooto Flyweight Rookie Tournament champion. “Macho the Butterfly” made his pro debut the year prior with a loss to Tomohiko Yoshida, but his Rookie Tournament title was part of a 5-0-1 run that followed. He’s faced rockier times since late 2011, when he started alternating wins with losses. The 30-year-old has seen most of his fights go the distance, and he has six wins, three losses and a draw to show for it. When his fights have finished before the final bell, the stoppage has come in the form of a submission, with the Cobra Kai MMA Dojo product earning two submission wins and losing once via submission. At 5-foot-6, Kato is a tall strawweight who towered over the 5-foot-1 Takeuchi in his last fight. Kato uses his reach well in the stand-up game, but he shoots in from too far out with weak takedown attempts.

The 21-year-old Asuka, who is also known as Ryohei Kurosawa, was the 2013 Shooto Flyweight Rookie Tournament champion. The Paraestra Matsudo product is perfect through five fights since turning pro in late 2012. Three of his victories came on the scorecards, but he has stopped one opponent via TKO and one by way of submission.

Kato’s rough patch has a very obvious trend to it. Over his last six fighter, he’s lost to every fighter with a winning record and defeated every fighter with a losing record, including Takeuchi twice. Asuka is definitely a prospect to watch, and he stands as another fighter with a winning record who could give “Macho the Butterfly” some real headaches. This will be a competitive fight that ends with Asuka capturing the unanimous verdict.

Other key bouts: Tadaaki Yamamoto (9-4-2) vs. Ryuya Fukuda (5-2)