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…

Inka Fighting Championship 22

Atlantic City Casino in Lima, Peru
Event Date: June 29
Website: inkafc.com
Twitter: @INKAFC

Spotlight Fight:
Marcos Rogerio de Lima (11-2) vs. Ben Reiter (10-0)

Peru is not a country that comes to mind as a hotbed of mixed martial arts. Although the South American nation is miles behind its neighbor, Brazil, it does have something to offer the MMA community via its leading promotion, Inka Fighting Championship. The event series is on its 22nd show and has secured some talented fighters for the night’s lineup. Chief among these fighters is Ben Reiter, who stands undefeated through 10 outings. He’ll have his hands full with Strikeforce veteran Marcos Rogerio “Pezao” de Lima.

Despite a 7-0 start to his career, de Lima did not emerge on the radar until his unanimous decision victory against former top middleweight Paulo Filho in 2010. The win earned him an invite to Strikeforce, where he came out on the wrong end of the scorecards versus Mike Kyle. Continuing to fight tough competition in his next bout, Pezao suffered a second-round knockout at the hands of Carlos Eduardo. The 28-year-old striker has rebounded from the back-to-back losses, which also account for his only career defeats, by stopping his last three opponents, two via strikes and one by way of submission. The light heavyweight has trained under Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo black belt Marco Barbosa, but his real weapon is his Muay Thai game. He has eight wins by some form of knockout and prefers to press the action and use a combination of kicks and punches to destroy his opponents.

His 25-year-old opponent, Reiter, is an American and attended the University of Pennsylvania, but his MMA career has been firmly anchored within Inka FC, where he has competed in all but one of his pro bouts (his only other fight came under the Matrix Fights banner in Philadelphia). Reiter is a wrestler who has used a combination of grappling and striking to form an almost even resume of wins via knockout, submission and decision, although one of his three submission victories was a result of punches, which suggests that his power and ground-and-pound attack is his more preferred path to the finish.

Fighting in Peru, Reiter has experienced a bit of the old school approach to MMA. In his pro debut, Reiter’s opponent, then-Inka champion Fernando Roca, challenged Reiter to take off the gloves and fight him bare knuckled, and Reiter accepted. The result was a second-round TKO victory for the wrestler, and he proved it wasn’t a fluke with a first-round TKO in a rematch just two months later. He’s also claimed victory in a one-night four-man tournament. The 6-foot-3 light heavyweight is Inka FC’s light heavyweight champion and has fought a number of opponents with impressive records, though he has peppered in a handful of victories over inexperienced and sub-.500 foes.

This battle matches fighters with aggressive but differing approaches to winning fights. Pezao is an experienced Muay Thai practitioner who has brought those skills to the cages and rings of MMA. Reiter, meanwhile, is a wrestler who seeks to use his power in combination with his wrestling to score the TKO. There’s little doubt that Reiter would like to bring this fight to the mat, whereas Pezao would prefer to remain on his feet.

Reiter’s toughness (the bare-knuckle fight was against an opponent who had a steel plate in his head) and his trend of success against legitimate opponents makes this an interesting fight. He has largely gone overlooked due to his decision to fight in Peru, but he could be auditioning for a shot at the big show in this fight, especially since his opponent has already seen action inside the Strikeforce cage. But Pezao can present some significant problems for Reiter. This is a guy who uses devastating kicks to the legs, body and head of his adversaries. He has a dangerous front kick and does a good job of masking his intentions.

Sometimes aggression can be a negative for a fighter, and that could be the case for Pezao here. If he charges forward, he certainly could land one of his lethal strikes for a knockout, but he could also charge straight into a double-leg takedown that plants him on the mat. Although he has shown that he can stay out of bad spots once the fight hits the canvas, he hasn’t proven that he can overcome a talented wrestler in such a scenario.

Reiter has the advantage of fighting in a locale where he is comfortable. His wrestling can certainly lead him to victory, but it won’t be easy. Pezao could score a quick knockout, but if he doesn’t, it could turn into a long night for him. With Pezao’s fights against Filho and Kyle going the distance, don’t expect Reiter to have an easy time finishing him. This one will see the judges, and Reiter will emerge with his spotless record intact.

Other key bouts: Diego Huerto (10-2-1) vs. Flavio Alvaro (42-10)

Sparta Combat League: MMA Live

Greeley Stampede in Greeley, Colo.
Event Date: June 29
Website: spartacombatmma.com
Twitter: @theBeatdownMMA

Spotlight Fight:
Marcus Edwards (4-1) vs. Efrain Escudero (18-7)

When fighters on the regional circuit string together a series of impressive wins, they’re hoping that the major promotions are paying attention. Such is the case with Marcus Edwards. Riding a four-fight winning streak that includes as first-round submission of Dakota Cochrane, Edwards will certainly hope that the eyes of UFC and Bellator brass are focused on Greeley, Colo., and the Sparta Combat League this weekend. His hopes are only boosted by the identity of his opponent, The Ultimate Fighter 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero. The two will be vying for Sparta Combat League’s lightweight crown.

After a lengthy resume at the amateur level that featured more than a few first-round finishes, with many coming under the two-minute mark of the opening frame, Edwards stumbled in his pro debut against Justin Gaethje. The Colorado native rebounded with four straight stoppage victories. His last three, having all clocked at 1:46 or less, have continued the trend of quick endings. Whereas his rear-naked choke finish of Cochrane nearly broke the two-minute barrier, his other two fights in that stretch barely exceed 70 seconds combined. The 24-year-old has developed into a lethal striking threat, but has also demonstrated his proficiency at ending fights with submissions. Regardless of where Escudero might want to conduct this fight, he’s going to have a dangerous opponent on his hands.

At one point in time, Escudero looked like a star in the making for the UFC. He marched into the finals of TUF 8 and earned a unanimous decision over Phillipe Nover and followed that up with a TKO of Cole Miller. Then he ran into a rough stretch where he won just 1-2 before being bounced from the promotion. A 5-1 run in the regional circuit and Bellator cored him a return invite from the UFC, but he failed to capitalize. He lost to Mac Danzig and Jacob Volkmann to earn another pink slip, then extended his losing streak by dropping fights to ex-UFCers Jorge Patino and Tyson Griffin. Escudero feels that the split decision loss to Patino should have gone his way instead, but a loss is a loss, and the wrestler is now on a four-fight skid.

The win in this fight is extremely important for both men. For Edwards, back-to-back wins over Cochrane and Escudero could certainly lead to bigger things, including a call from the big show. Meanwhile, Escudero needs a win to right the ship. He had been 18-3 prior to his most recent stint with the UFC, but now finds seven losses on his record. Edwards is not the same recognizable name as a Patino, Griffin, Volkmann or even Danzig, so a loss in this fight signals major trouble for Escudero’s career.

At age 27, Escudero shouldn’t already be on the decline. He also has UFC champion Benson Henderson and the MMA Lab camp to rely on for training, which should benefit him. However, it’s hard to overlook his recent trend. Even if the loss to Patino was really a win for Escudero, that leaves him with a 1-3 mark, including a loss to Tyson Griffin, a fighter who has also experienced a steep dropoff from the top levels of the sport. If Escudero couldn’t top Griffin or Danzig, can he really be trusted to overcome Edwards?

The answer depends on how Escudero fares in the opening two minutes of the fight. The Arizona native has only been stopped twice in his career. Those two losses came against Dunham and Oliveira, and Escudero failed to make weight for the Oliveira fight.

Edwards’ only pro loss came in his pro debut against Gaethje via decision. His tendency to finish fights early means that his gas tank is relatively untested. If he clips Escudero or catches him making a mistake on the mat, this fight could see a quick conclusion. However, if he cannot stop Escudero in those opening moments, the wrestler might be able to grind away at him for the duration of the bout. Escudero has a high rate of submissions among his wins, but he’s gone the distance in seven of his last eight outings.

Escudero may be a grinder, but his submission defense has been exposed in the past. He’ll have to be careful not to leave his neck or an arm exposed. Edwards isn’t a one-dimensional grappler, and he does have the submission skills to take advantage of such a situation. What Escudero must rely on here is patience and the experience edge he holds over Edwards, whose pro career is barely a year old.

That experience advantage could be the big difference. We haven’t seen Edwards pushed to his limits outside of his pro debut. Furthermore, finishing Escudero is no easy task. Dunham and Oliveira, two slick grapplers, took two-plus rounds to sink in submissions, and Oliveira even needed that long despite Escudero missing weight for their fight. Furthermore, the MMA Lab product has never been knocked out.

Although Edwards could easily turn in another eye-opening finish, it’s more likely that his initial barrage won’t be enough to get the job done. And if pushed into deeper waters, Edwards might start displaying cracks in his armor. However, Edwards is one of the more dynamic opponents Escudero has seen in his career and he may not be able to handle the various weapons Edwards possesses. With Escudero on the decline, this could turn into a chance for Edwards to put on an explosive audition for the UFC and other interested parties. Unless he fades and allows Escudero to turn this into a wrestling match that ends on the judges’ scorecards, Edwards should be able to use his combination of striking and grappling to eventually nab the win.

Other key bouts: Adam Stroup (4-1) vs. Jeremy Hart (6-2)

Pancrase 248

Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: June 30
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Hiroyuki Abe (9-5) vs. Noboru Tahara (11-6-1)

If you thought flyweights were small, get ready, because here come the strawweights. And we’re not talking women either. Nope, the men have their own 115-pound division. It centers in Japan, and in this case, Pancrase. There, Mitsuhisa Sunabe is the flyweight (120-pound) King of Pancrase, and Hiroyuki Abe and Noboru Tahara are set for a title eliminator to decide who gets the next crack at the champion. The two square off this weekend at Pancrase 248.

There are two men named Hiroyuki Abe in mixed martial arts. One, “Abe Ani,” is a featherweight who has trained Megumi Fujii out of his gym, Abe Ani Combat Club. The other is the 9-5 strawweight taking part in this bout. The 35-year-old Dragontail Fighting Academy product has a background in jiu-jitsu and judo and relies primarily on his grappling skills. He has a questionable chin that has led to the majority of his losses. Abe has seen action against some of the world’s best strawweights, including Sunabe and Rambaa Somdet. He suffered a TKO loss to Sunabe in the inaugural flyweight King of Pancrase bout and lost by way of a doctor’s stoppage TKO versus Somdet. His other recent loss came via unanimous decision against Yuki Shojo. Abe is just 4-4 over his last eight outings.

Tahara’s resume features many of the same names as Abe’s. “Shinpei” has fought Somdet twice (unanimous decision losses in both cases), locked horns with Sunabe (a knockout loss via slam) and fought Yuki Shojo (also a unanimous decision loss for Tahara). In fact, the two competitors even fought each other under the Shooto banner in 2007, with Abe scoring the decision victory. Whereas Abe is a grappler, the 29-year-old Tahara is a striker. However, Tahara still looks for takedowns often and looks to rain down shots from top position. Tahara, having seen the judges’ scorecards in 12 of his 18 fights, does have a habit of going the distance. He is 6-3 over his last nine outings and is riding a two-fight winning streak.

These two fighters sit just below the upper echelon of the 115- to 120-pound fighters and their careers are eerily similar. They have a lot of common opponents, and although the outcomes of the fights vary somewhat, they tend to beat the same guys and lose to the same guys. Abe’s grappling was the deciding factor in their first encounter, but they are almost six years removed from that fight and have had plenty of time to evolve. Yet, Tahara’s lack of finishing ability remains, as does Abe’s grappling acumen. There’s no reason to think this contest won’t be similar to their first meeting, with Abe getting the best of Tahara to take the nod on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Yojiro Uchimura (11-5-2) vs. Guy Delumeau (16-8-3), Yuki Kondo (55-27-8) vs. Akihiro Murayama (13-5-8), Tomonari Kanomata (19-7-6) vs. Alessandro Ferreira (10-2), Yuki Kosaka (12-5-2) vs. Ryan Hayes (5-2), Eiji Ishikawa (24-18-3) vs. Akihiro Yamazaki (13-7-1)

Photo: Hiroyuki Abe (top) (Taro Irei/Sherdog)