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…

ONE Fighting Championship 8: Kings and Champions

Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore
Event Date: April 5
Website: onefc.com
Watch Event: prelims stream live on Sherdog, main card pay-per-view stream live on Livesport.tv
Twitter: @ONEFCMMA

Spotlight Fight:
Shinya Aoki (32-6) vs. Kotetsu Boku (20-7-2)

ONE Fighting Championship may be mounting a charge at establishing itself as the top promotion in Asia, but its events have yet to build a level of consistency worthy of that label. The promotion’s last effort centered primarily around intriguing match-ups in the main and co-main events, but lacked true star power beyond those two fights. That’s not the case with the promotion’s eighth show. The lineup features a set of bantamweight grand prix semifinal round bouts pitting UFC veteran Jens Pulver against longtime top Japanese 135-pounder Masakatsu Ueda and top Filipino prospect Kevin Belingon against Australian upstart Thanh Vu. But the crown jewel of the event is its headliner, a lightweight title tilt between champion Kotetsu Boku and challenger Shinya Aoki.

Aoki is no stranger to championship outings. He’s known for his colorful personality (and, at times, colorful tights) and his grappling dominance. Aoki has won championships on the grappling mat, including at the famed ADCC tournament, and in a number of MMA promotions. He’s the reigning Dream lightweight champion, but now he’s getting a crack at Boku’s ONE FC belt. The Strikeforce veteran is 12-2 over his last 14 outings with notable wins against Tatsuya Kawajiri, Satoru Kitaoka and Antonio McKee. His only losses in that stretch came versus Gilbert Melendez and Eddie Alvarez. Aoki can be extremely aggressive in seeking the submission, sometimes even resorting to pulling guard just to take the fight to his world. He holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but what is often overlooked is that he also holds the rank of black belt in judo. On the feet, Aoki has an awkward striking style, minimum power and can be overcome by better strikers that are able to avoid getting tangled in Aoki’s guard.

Boku is somewhat of an unheralded champion. He captured the ONE FC crown in October 2012 with a third-round TKO finish of Zorobabel Moreira and has also held gold under the Shooto banner. The Japanese-born South Korean is a kickboxer whose MMA resume stretches back to 2001. He has struggled in spurts throughout his career, seeing stretches where he went 1-3 and 1-3-1. The latter of those stumbles started in 2007 and lasted into 2009. He emerged from that period to go 6-1 over his last seven appearances. True to his kickboxing background, Boku has ended fights via some form of knockout on seven occasions. But he has also seen the scorecards a total of 18 times—12 wins, four losses and two draws.

As with any Aoki fight, this is all about where the fight plays out. If Aoki can’t impose his game on his opponent, then he either fizzles out and settles for the decision, or he falls victim to a knockout. But when he can get his opponent to the mat, Aoki is deadly. He has snapped arms and cranked necks en route to 21 career wins via submission.

Boku’s kickboxing could bring Aoki’s night to an early end, but Boku’s losing stints raise red flags. The Krazy Bee product has improved at avoiding submissions as he has matured as a fighter, but he’s also never met someone of Aoki’s pedigree. Boku’s last submission defeat came in 2009 against Yusuke Endo, but that could change by the end of this affair.

Aoki doesn’t lose often, and when he does, it tends to be against the world’s top lightweights (Alvarez and Melendez) or against larger, hard-hitting welterweights (Hayato “Mach” Sakurai). Although Boku does have the ability to knock out Aoki, he won’t be able to avoid Aoki’s submission game long enough to do so. Aoki should find a way to tie Boku in knots before the midway point of this fight.

Other key bouts: Melvin Manhoef (27-9-1) vs. Brock Larson (36-7), Jens Pulver (27-17-1) vs. Masakatsu Ueda (16-2-2) in bantamweight grand prix semifinals, Kevin Belingon (10-2) vs. Thanh Vu (3-1) in bantamweight grand prix semifinals, Eddie Ng (5-1) vs. Arnaud Lepont (9-2), Leandro Issa (10-3) vs. Yusup Saadulaev (9-2-1)

Coliseu Extreme Fight 6

Maceio, Alagoas, Brazil
Event Date: April 5
Website: facebook.com/coliseuef
Twitter: @ColiseuEF

Spotlight Fight:
Dileno Lopes (12-0) vs. Giovanni Soldado (12-1)

If the UFC was serious about bolstering its flyweight division with additional talent, Brazil would be a great place to look. A couple of weeks ago, we saw Lincoln de Sa score a late submission victory over Joriedson Fein. And this week, Coliseu Extreme Fight delivers a showdown between two more of the nation’s best 125-pounders, Dileno Lopes and Giovanni Soldado. The pair will meet in the finals of a tournament to crown a flyweight champion.

Lopes is the more highly touted fighter of the two. Undefeated through 12 professional bouts, Lopes was a cast member for the UFC’s inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. In the elimination round before entering the house, Lopes did suffer a defeat (TUF fights don’t count towards a fighter’s record) at the hands of Rony Jason by way of TKO. The caveat to that loss is that Lopes, as so many mixed martial artists do when they are on the reality series, was competing outside of his natural weight class. In fact, Lopes was two divisions up in the featherweight class for the show. The 23-year-old’s best asset is his grappling game. The Nova Uniao product has 11 submission wins, with his only other fight ending in a close split decision victory over Wellington Davila. After fighting sparsely from 2007 through 2009, Lopes has become more active in recent years. He advanced to this tournament final with a November win over Stenio Barbosa via a first-round guillotine choke.

Soldado may not be the popular prospect that Lopes is, but the Hikari product has put together an impressive resume of his own. After succumbing to a triangle choke in his professional debut in 2006, Soldado has emerged victorious in all of his subsequent fights. His preferred finishing method is strikes, though he has notched a couple of submissions more recently. Like his counterpart in this contest, the longtime Octagon Fight veteran took part in the inaugural season of TUF Brazil. And like Lopes, Soldado lost in the elimination round (by way of an armbar versus John “Macapa” Teixeira). Soldado was a bantamweight champion in Demo Fight and fought exclusively at 135 pounds (outside of his attempt to make TUF Brazil as a featherweight) before entering Coliseu as a flyweight. He needed just over two minutes to secure a rear-naked choke submission victory over Rafael Santos in the semifinals of Coliseu’s flyweight tourney. Soldado is unusual for a Brazilian mixed martial artist in that his specialty is wrestling.

Both of these men have experienced a small taste of the UFC, and there’s no doubt that they would like to return, this time at a more advantageous weight. Lopes sets up his submissions through the use of his strikes, but he can get too aggressive in some circumstances. If he gets drawn into such an affair, he doesn’t have the knockout power to end his opponent’s night, but could very well suffer the ill effects of eating Soldado’s punches. Soldado’s wrestling base would be a great complement for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace’s offensive arsenal, but against someone like Lopes, he’s more likely to use those skills for defensive purposes.

Lopes’ goals in this encounter should be to look for the takedown and avoid getting drawn into a striking battle. Soldado will have to put maximum effort into stuffing those takedowns. This is such a close contest that the difference will be in who manages to stick to their game plan. If Soldado can evade Lopes’ submissions, he has an excellent chance to deliver some punishment and score a TKO, but if he fails, he could find himself tapping out. Soldado’s submission loss in the elimination round of TUF is troubling, so the slight edge has to go to Lopes to earn the finish.

Other key bouts: Iliarde Santos (27-6-1) vs. Leandro Higo (12-2) for the bantamweight title, Ciro Rodrigues (13-5) vs. Michel Silva (5-1-1), Robert Fonseca (7-2) vs. Erick Barbosa (12-5)

M-1 Challenge 38: Spring Battle

Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
Event Date: April 9
Website: m-1global.com
Twitter: @OfficialM1

Spotlight Fight:
Nikita Krylov (13-0) vs. Gabriel Tampu (5-0)

Perhaps Dennis Rodman works in mysterious ways. The former NBA player visited North Korea, and now so is M-1 Global. Okay, not really. But the promotion showed that it has a sense of humor by posting an announcement on its Facebook page on April 1 announcing the event slated for Sept. 14 in Pyongyang. The event, were it real, would have been the culmination of a tournament that starts on Tuesday, April 9, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The eight-man heavyweight grand prix is being touted as the biggest of its kind since the Pride era. Although such a claim may lead one to believe that M-1 has sustained a case of amnesia in regards to former promoting partner Strikeforce and that promotion’s grand prix featuring such notables as eventual winner Daniel Cormier, Pride veteran Josh Barnett and M-1’s own Fedor Emelianenko, this latest grand prix does sport some names that could emerge as tested prospects by the time M-1 reaches the actual destination of its tournament finale event, wherever that may be.

Among the most significant of those names is that of Nikita Krylov, who stepped into a spot in the bracket when UFC veteran Jeff Monson bowed out following surgery on a torn pectoralis major muscle. The 20-year-old is a submission specialist, but he also has dangerous hands that led to first-minute knockouts of two opponents in one night at a Gladiators Fighting Championship heavyweight tournament. Those two victories make up half of his four total wins by some form of knockout, which accompany nine submission wins. He’s a quick finisher too, with his longest fight lasting just two minutes and 47 seconds. Krylov has not seen the scorecards in his professional career, and he has only fought one opponent who sported a winning record. The Ukrainian fighter, whose nickname is “Al Capone,” is a Master of Sports in hand-to-hand combat and also has a background in kyokushin karate.

Krylov isn’t the only man who stepped into this fight on short notice. Just days after Krylov replaced Monson, Gabriel Tampu stepped up to replace Krylov’s original opponent, Magomed Malikov. Malikov, who holds a win over Aleksander Emelianenko, is a knockout artist with a 6-2 record, so Tampu, an undefeated five-fight veteran, isn’t a significant shift in competition for Krylov in terms of record. “Panda” has stopped all of his opponents as well, with all but one finish coming early in the first round. The Hammers Team coach has finished three adversaries by some form of knockout and two via submission. The 33-year-old holds a black belt in karate and has served as a primary training partner for K-1 champion Semmy Schilt.

This is an excellent test for both men, and the winner continues on in the gauntlet to face the winner of the bout between Alexei Kudin and Chaban Ka. The glaring difference between the two fighters is how active each has been. Tampu’s 5-0 record looks impressive, but his experience all came in a single night…and that was in 2008. Whereas his record and that of Malikov seem close in comparison, Tampu may actually be an easier opponent for Krylov, whose 13 fights have all taken place since July 2012.

This figures to be a quick fight, one where fans should not even dare to blink. Outside a third-round finish in the last fight of Tampu’s 2008 run, neither man has been out of the opening minutes of the first round. That means this could also turn into an ugly bout if the two meet with a stalemate in the early going. Krylov’s skill set is more well-rounded and his youth and active record suggests that he’ll be more well prepared for this encounter. In what could be a case of both men swinging for the fences in the opening seconds, Krylov will either drop Tampu early or shoot for the takedown, then wrap things up with a quick submission finish.

Other key bouts: Konstantin Gluhov (24-12) vs. Kenny Garner (12-3) in opening round bout of heavyweight grand prix, Mario Miranda (14-5) vs Ramazan Emeev (9-2), Alexei Kudin (14-5) vs. Chaban Ka (5-1-1) in opening round bout of heavyweight grand prix, Ibragim Ibragimov (4-1) vs. Denis Smoldarev (4-0) in opening round bout of heavyweight grand prix, Murad Abdulaev (11-0) vs. Alexander Yakovlev (18-4-1), Pavel Vitruk (9-0) vs. Olivier Pastor (17-12), Deyan Topalski (8-1) vs. Muslim Salikhov (0-0), Mansour Barnaoui (8-1) vs. Islam Makhachev (7-0), Alexey Prokofiev (12-4) vs. Gregory Babene (15-10)

Photo: Shinya Aoki (Taro Irei/Sherdog)