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…

Cage Fury Fighting Championships 24

Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
Event Date: May 11
Website: cffc.tv
Watch Event: live PPV stream at GoFightLive
Twitter: @RobHaydak (CFFC President) and @CFFCariasgarcia (General Manager)

Spotlight Fight:
George Sullivan (12-3) vs. Brandon Becker (5-0)

Atlantic City is typically known in MMA circles for the Ring of Combat, but another of the area’s promotions is worth keeping an eye on. Cage Fury Fighting Championships has managed to compile another intriguing lineup for its 24th offering. The promotion will welcome former Bellator bantamweight champ Zach Makovsky to its cage and hosts two title fights on the card, including a flyweight showdown between champion Sean Santella and challenger Dave Morgan. It’s the other title fight, featuring welterweight champion George Sullivan defending his title against challenger Brandon Becker, that takes center stage.

Cage Fury has been a good home to Sullivan. After entering Cage Fury on the heels of a decision loss to Elijah Harshbarger, the champ reeled off four straight wins under the promotion’s banner to get to where he is today. Sullivan’s most recently title defense came against TUF 16 alum Julian Lane, whom Sullivan finished in the second round via TKO. The Pellegrino MMA Academy product holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but his fists tend to be his best asset. He has won eight of his fights by some form of knockout. Meanwhile, he has never won by submission and has been submitted in two of his three losses (though one of those submissions was brought on by strikes). The 6-foot-tall welterweight has also defeated UFC veteran Greg Soto and one of his other losses came against Strikeforce and Bellator vet Marc Stevens.

Becker, with just five fights under his belt, is still in the early stages of his career, but is getting a grand opportunity in this title fight. Becker has been wrestling almost as long as he’s been able to walk. The results include being a four-time state placewinner in high school, capturing one high school state championship and earning All-American honors three times at the collegiate level with Indiana University. He has coached at Rutgers and Indiana, but gave up his position at the latter to train with Marc Fiore and concentrate on MMA on a full-time basis. With more than 23 years spent on wrestling mats, Becker’s training has focused on other aspects of the game, namely his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his striking. The Hoosier MMA fighter, who has also spent time working with UFC veteran Dave Herman, has picked up two wins by way of TKO, two via submission and is coming off a split decision verdict in his last outing.

The split decision performance by Becker is concerning. It came against Brian Nielson, a 3-3 fighter whose only other fight in the past year had been a TKO loss to Ozzy Dugulubgov. That type of outing makes it difficult to see Becker succeeding against a more talented and more experienced fighter like Sullivan. The key for Sullivan is to avoid getting submitted or put on his back for the entire fight. That could be easier said than done, given Becker’s wrestling pedigree. Sullivan does his best work when he can utilize his striking, but he has proven to be prone to submissions. At the same time, Becker is a wrestler first and foremost, and he doesn’t have a refined submission attack yet.

Unless he’s void of strategy, Becker will have a goal that involves shooting for the takedown from the opening bell. He’ll look to stifle Sullivan’s offense through positional control. Sullivan possesses an impressive record, but he isn’t invincible. In fact, he’s lost to some underwhelming opponents. Becker’s wrestling may be enough to lead to another such surprise. But Sullivan’s experience is hard to overlook. He has squared off with a lot of prospects and usually tends to emerge with his hand raised.

This should be a close fight. Becker could pull off a razor-thin decision through the use of his wrestling, but Sullivan will use his reach advantage over his 5-foot-9 opponent to stay on the outside and score points. This one goes the distance with Sullivan taking the verdict, unless Becker gets careless on a takedown attempt and ends up getting knocked out before the final bell.

Other key bouts: Zach Makovsky (14-4) vs. Claudio Ledesma (8-3), Sean Santella (12-3-1) vs. Dave Morgan (5-2) for the flyweight title

Max Sport 13.2

Sirio Sport Club in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Event Date: May 11
Website: maxsportmma.com.br
Twitter: @MaxSportmma

Spotlight Fight:
Claudia Gadelha (9-0) vs. Herica Tiburcio (5-1)

Despite a card filled with names such as Jorge Patino, Efrain Escudero, Eduardo Pamplona and Flavio Alvaro, there’s another fighter whose name may draw the most interest when Max Sport heads to Sao Paulo for its latest event, Max Sport 13.2. That fighter is the undefeated Claudia Gadelha, who meets Herica Tiburcio at the May 11 show.

Fans of Invicta Fighting Championships will recognize Gadelha’s name. She was at one time slated to fight Carla Esparza for the strawweight championship at Invicta FC 4. However, an injury forced her out of the fight. Now, as she awaits a scheduled July bout with Joanne Calderwood under the Invicta banner, she gets what she certainly hopes will be a tuneup fight on a stacked card in her native Brazil. Gadelha is a submission ace. She holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has claimed three world championships and seven national titles. The 24-year-old Nova Uniao product has scored finishes in seven of her nine bouts, but she has fought at flyweight thus far. Her title fight with Esparza would have been her strawweight debut, but now she’ll make the transition to the 115-pound division against Tiburcio instead.

At 4-foot-11, Tiburcio will be at a four-inch height disadvantage against Gadelha. The 21-year-old Munil Adriano fighter strung together five straight wins, including four submission stoppages, before dropping a very controversial split decision to Camila Lima in a rematch of their 2011 bout, which Tiburcio had won via a first-round guillotine choke submission.

With both women preferring to grapple, this could become a very technical jiu-jitsu bout. On the other hand, the fact that both ladies possess such high-level skills on the ground could result in the fight becoming a striking contest. Given that Gadelha trains out of Nova Uniao, her striking skills should be sufficient to get the job done if the fight does transform into a kickboxing match. And if it does hit the mat, Gadelha becomes an even clearer favorite thanks to her highly decorated background in jiu-jitsu. In the end, she should be able to secure a submission finish and maintain her perfect record.

Other key bouts: Jorge Patino (29-13-2) vs. Efrain Escudero (18-6), Eduardo Pamplona (15-4) vs. Leonardo Mafra Texeira (8-1), Flavio Alvaro (41-10) vs. Mauricio Pare (13-7)

Cage 22

Energy Arena in Vantaa, Finland
Event Date: May 11
Website: mmafinland.fi

Spotlight Fight:
Tom Niinimäki (18-5-1) vs. Chase Beebe (24-9-1)

What better way is there to test a prospect’s worthiness than to put them against a former UFC or WEC competitor? The Finnish-based Cage promotion is doing that in two of the most significant bouts at its upcoming 22nd event. Jason Pierce will get his chance against recent UFC castoff Anton Kuivanen and longtime top-ranked European featherweight prospect Tom Niinimäki gets his opportunity versus former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.

Beebe’s reign in the WEC came to an end when Miguel Torres submitted him to capture the crown. That loss was the first in a five-fight skid that sent Beebe from the top of the mountain in the WEC down to being a journeyman fighter on the regional circuit. He’s mostly fought in the Midwest since then, but did venture to Bellator, where he lost a bantamweight tournament quarterfinal bout to Marcus Galvao. Beebe, who trains out of Gilbert Grappling and also spends time at Jackson’s MMA, is 13-3-1 since breaking out of that losing streak. He’s now 2-2 in Bellator after dropping his most recent fight versus Travis Marx via unanimous decision. The Chicagoan is a four-time state champion in wrestling and uses those skills to set up his submission game. Of his 24 wins, he has recorded submission finishes on 17 occasions.

Niinimäki has ruled over the European featherweight scene for years now. He’s the Cage promotion’s champion and has not lost a fight in more than six years. Since that loss, the Finnfighters Gym product has won nine straight fights. The former lightweight walked away from active competition in 2007 following the first of those victories and didn’t return until February 2010. Among the 30-year-old’s losses, Niinimäki was submitted by Hatsu Hioki and Tristan Yunker. He has won seven fights by some form of knockout and another seven via submission. He has a well-rounded arsenal at his disposal. He has been ranked among the top 10 in the Finnish amateur boxing circuit, claimed a FILA Combat Grappling European championship and has taken part in ADCC European events.

The biggest factor in this contest could be the size disparity. Beebe is a bantamweight and could even entertain the move to flyweight. His most recent fight was a catchweight bout at 137 pounds. Niinimäki, meanwhile, is a former lightweight whose physical strength is one of his biggest assets. He doesn’t possess the best takedown defense, but he could compensate for that with his strength. If Beebe’s takedown attempts are simply overpowered by Niinimäki, then the Finnish fighter may be able to reverse and gain top position himself. Or, he could keep the fight standing and use his boxing to pick apart Beebe.

Although Beebe has a ton more experience at the highest levels of the game, he has stumbled against every high-level adversary he’s met since dropping his title to Torres. If Niinimäki were less of a grappler, there’d be reason for concern. But when his grappling acumen is combined with what should be a significant size advantage, the Finnish fighter’s chances to prevail in this encounter seem pretty good. He should be able to stuff Beebe’s takedowns, gain top position and proceed to dominate Beebe with ground-and-pound. Beebe is a tough out, so this fight will likely see the scorecards, where Niinimäki will taking a convincing decision win.

Other key bouts: Anton Kuivanen (17-6) vs. Jason Pierce (10-1), Marcus Vanttinen (21-5) vs. Boubacar Balde (9-5)

Photo: Claudia Gadelha (Marcelo Alonso/Sherdog)