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…

Resurrection Fighting Alliance 6

Kansas City Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Mo.
Event Date: Jan. 18
Website: rfafighting.com
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @RFAFighting

Spotlight Fight:
James Krause (18-4) vs. Toby Imada (30-17)

If there’s one promotion that has carved out a place among the top regional promotions, it’s the Nebraska-based Resurrection Fighting Alliance. One thing the promotion has done right, beyond buying Titan FC and the AXS TV network deal that came with the acquisition, is putting together intriguing fights featuring a mix of up-and-coming talent and veterans of the sport. The promotion’s sixth offering continues the trend with such fights as the battle between flyweight prospects Dustin Ortiz and Aaron Ely, the pairing of Brock Larson and Eduardo Pamplona and the match-up of Deivison Ribeiro and Dakota Cochrane. Sitting atop the billing is a rematch that gives WEC veteran James Krause a chance to avenge a prior loss to Toby Imada and make a case for his inclusion on the UFC roster.

The last time Imada and Krause locked horns, the setting was the quarterfinal round of Bellator’s season-two lightweight tournament. In that 2010 affair, Krause succumbed to a second-round armbar. Imada went on to win his semifinal match-up before losing a split decision to Pat Curran in the tourney finals.

Krause’s career has turned around since then. After a 10-0 start, Krause was in the midst of a six-fight stretch in which he won on just two occasions. The loss to Imada is not his most recent—he lost to Clay French at Titan FC 19 approximately 15 months later—but Krause is 7-1 over his last eight appearances.

Krause claims to be a different fighter now than he was when he last tangled with Imada. Krause had to cut more than 30 pounds to make weight for that contest, but he approaches the rematch without such a drastic cut to make. However, he has had a couple of catchweight bouts and a welterweight contest in his recent run, so weight could still play a huge factor.

It’s one of a handful of factors that define this fight from Krause’s perspective. In addition to Krause’s ability to make weight, his skill set could be another area where Imada will be faced with a new version of an old opponent. Krause spent time training with Roufusport for this fight, while helping Anthony Pettis prepare for Donald Cerrone. The Milwaukee-based camp is known for its striking, and that could translate into an edge for Krause on the feet.

However, despite five wins by some form of knockout, Krause typically ends fights via submission. But the mat is not a great place to end up with Imada, who is a black belt in judo and once took home “Submission of the Year” honors for a beautiful inverse triangle choke finish of Jorge Masvidal. Imada can also strike, but his submission game has earned him the majority of his wins.

Imada’s record, which features 17 losses, is not exactly the most impressive, but he is 15-5 over his last 20 fights and can serve as a gatekeeper for Krause. If Krause is really a different fighter, he should put together a much stronger performance in this second effort. But if Imada beats him again, then Krause might not have much of a chance at making it to the UFC.

Krause’s best bet is to utilize the striking knowledge he gained from Roufusport to out-strike Imada. Imada has some power, but Krause will enjoy a six-inch height advantage and should also have reach and size on his side. Unless Krause is intent on inviting trouble, he’ll avoid the ground game and look to pick apart Imada from the outside. If it does go to the ground, count on a repeat of the first fight, but if Krause can keep it standing, he’ll either score a TKO or take all three rounds on the judges’ scorecards for a decision win.

Other key bouts: Brock Larson (35-7) vs. Eduardo Pamplona (15-3), Brian Davidson (10-3) vs. Kevin Croom (6-4), Dustin Ortiz (9-2) vs. Aaron Ely (4-1), Deivison Francisco Ribeiro (23-7) vs. Dakota Cochrane (13-3), Aaron Derrow (12-4) vs. Mark Dickman (5-1)

Championship Fighting Alliance 9: Night of Champions

BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla.
Event Date: Jan. 19
Website: cfafights.com
Watch Event: live stream via Facebook

Spotlight Fight:
Alexis Vila (11-2) vs. Joshua Sampo (8-2)

If there’s one regional event that is flying under the radar this week, it’s the ninth effort from Championship Fighting Alliance. Despite a total of four title bouts, the card remains overlooked due to its placement on a night that also featured a UFC offering and on a weekend that sees additional nationally promoted efforts from Resurrection Fighting Alliance and Bellator MMA. Although all four title fights are intriguing, the one that stands out the most is the one which could result in the quickest path to the UFC for the winner. The battle is for the promotion’s flyweight title, and it pits Olympic bronze medalist wrestler Alexis Vila against rising prospect Joshua Sampo.

Vila’s medal came at the 1996 Olympic Games. That should be an early indicator that Vila is no spring chicken. At 41 years old, Vila is entering Randy Couture territory. That doesn’t mean he should be counted out, however. Vila kicked off his MMA career with 11 straight victories, before falling via unanimous decision versus Eduardo Dantas and Luis Nogueira in his two most recent fights. Those losses came at bantamweight—the same division where he knocked out Joe Warren and scored a split decision over Marcos Galvao. Vila’s natural weight class is the smaller 125-pound division. If he could combine his wrestling and power punching into a winning formula against bigger men at bantamweight, there’s a good chance that he becomes one of the deadliest knockout artists at flyweight.

Sampo put his name on the flyweight map with a decision win over UFC and WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos in Banuelos’ 125-pound debut. The St. Charles MMA product is primarily a wrestler, but has an underrated striking attack based in Muay Thai. Sampo has been finished via knockout before courtesy of UFC vet Will Campuzano and also lost by way of decision to Mike French, a fighter whose record currently sits at 8-9.

Vila has to deal with the return to 125 pounds following his time at bantamweight. He has only competed once in the past year, and he’s also giving up 13 years to his younger opponent. However, there is something to be said for combining a world-class wrestling pedigree with boxing skills and knockout power. Sampo simply doesn’t have the wrestling or the striking to compete with Vila, as long as Vila shows up with purpose.

Sampo could play the spoiler once again, as he did against Banuelos, but it’ll require Vila’s willingness to take this fight to the ground, where the 28-year-old might have the jiu-jitsu skills to submit the Cuban-born fighter. But Vila is still as aggressive as ever, and he has the wrestling skills to keep this fight wherever he wants it. The true key, however, is Vila’s power. As he stifles Sampo’s attack, he’ll wait for the opportunity to throw bombs. And when one of them lands, Sampo’s world will go black.

Other key bouts: Luis Palomino (20-7) vs. Luiz Firmino (15-6) for the lightweight title, Valdir Araujo (11-3) vs. Marcelo Alfaya (14-6) for the welterweight title, Victor Delgado (6-0) vs. Sean Soriano (6-0) for the interim featherweight title

Shooto: 1st Round 2013

Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: Jan. 20
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Yuta Sasaki (10-1-2) vs. Tetsu Suzuki (13-10-3)

What do you do when you’ve already won a Shooto rookie championship, have only lost once in 14 outings and fought to a draw with a long-reigning ex-King of Pancrase? Pursuing Shooto’s vacant Pacific Rim 132-pound featherweight title seems like a logical next step, and that’s exactly what Yuta Sasaki is doing this weekend when he meets Tetsu Suzuki at Shooto’s first major event of 2013.

The 23-year-old phenom has a tendency to fight to decisions, though he does have five submission wins to his credit, including two over the span of his last four fights. Sasaki is a grinder who has already proven to be a top prospect among Japanese fighters. His only loss was a unanimous decision that went in favor of his opponent, Guy Delumeau.

Despite fighting to a draw with former King of Pancrase Manabu Inoue, Sasaki’s typical opposition is much less impressive in stature. But that’s where most young careers start out, and Sasaki’s fights with Delumeau and Inoue, plus his upcoming fight with Suzuki, who once before challenged for the Pacific Rim title, suggest that Sasaki is out to prove that he can overcome tougher adversaries.

That’s not to say that Suzuki is an elite opponent, but he is tough, nonetheless. Despite challenging for the Pacific Rim crown in 2010, the submission specialist has not strung together more than three victories in his entire career. The 35-year-old, having gone to the judges 17 times in 26 professional fights, is even more of a decision-prone fighter than his foe. And although his record only sits three wins above the .500 mark, Suzuki has lost to the likes of Takeya Mizugaki, Masanori Kanehara, Atsushi Yamamoto, Masakatsu Ueda and Kyoji Horiguchi over his career, and went the distance with many of those men.

This is a huge test for Sasaki. Suzuki is no slouch and can stall Sasaki’s momentum by upsetting him in this fight. The one thing that is inevitable in this fight is that scorecards will be involved. A stoppage between two grinding fighters like Sasaki and Suzuki would be a bit of a shock. The key for Sasaki will be use his range—he holds a six-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-4 Suzuki—and southpaw stance to keep Suzuki at bay. On the ground, Sasaki, who has trained with Shinya Aoki, has to maintain the dominant position and stay aggressive in attempting submissions. If he can accomplish that, he should be able to eke out the decision victory.

Other key bouts: Shinji Sasaki (11-6-2) vs. Shin Kochiwa (10-4-2) for the Pacific Rim welterweight title, Ryuichi Miki (13-6-3) vs. Ung Hyeon Kim (0-0)

Photo: Yuta Sasaki (R) ( Taro Irei/Sherdog)

  • Robby C.

    Oh man, you’re so right about CFA. I didn’t like the promotion early on but they’ve really stepped it up. So good to see Palomino in a title fight, that guy could be the most underrespected fighter of all time.

  • Robby C.

    Just noticed that Palomino already has the CFA title, guess I’ve been slacking here. Hope he gets back on a bigger stage after this defense.