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…

Dakota Fighting Championship: Winter Brawl

Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D.
Event Date: Jan. 11
Website: dakotafc.com
Watch Event: live pay-per-view internet stream at dakotafc.com
Twitter: @wontsubmit (Chris Nelson, Dakota FC promoter)

Spotlight Fight:
Amber Stautzenberger (4-1) vs. Lynn Alvarez (5-3)

The world’s best female strawweight fighters now reside in the UFC, but Zuffa’s move into the 115-pound scene has opened the doors for new fighters to make their way into not only the Octagon but also the void that Invicta FC now has within the division. That may leave the Dakota FC fight between Amber Stautzenberger and Lynn Alvarez as an audition of sorts.

Stautzenberger is a Texan fighter and trains out of Mohler Jiu-Jitsu. She has taken first place in several no-gi grappling competitions, including the 2009 Texas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships and a 2009 NAGA event. The 26-year-old impressed in her last outing with a unanimous decision win over Invicta vet Lacey Schuckman in a bout contested at a catchweight of 119 pounds. She has locked horns with Tecia Torres as an amateur and Paige VanZant as a pro, but dropped unanimous verdicts in both contests. “The Apex Predator’s” biggest problem may be her inability to finish fights. Through a 4-3 amateur career, she stopped just three opponents. Since turning pro in 2012, she has tallied just one submission win and has gone the distance four times.

Alvarez’s 5-3 record may not look like much, but she provides the same sort of tough, veteran test for Stautzenberger that Schuckman offered. The 28-year-old made her professional debut in 2007 with a 79-second submission victory over Michelle Waterson, who now stands as the Invicta FC atomweight champion. Her next bout ended in a submission loss to Angela Magana, but the Shogun MMA product bounced back with a submission win over Michelle Ould. Her next three wins, all first-round stoppages, came against middling competition. She then encountered Jessica Aguilar under the Bellator banner and lost by way of a first-round submission. After a two-year layoff, Alvarez returned in October 2012 to face Carla Esparza at Invicta FC 3 and lost via first-round TKO. She has four submission wins, but has also lost by way of submission on two occasions. Her background is in Kajukenbo, a Hawaiian martial art that blends karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, kenpo and Chinese boxing.

Alvarez has had mixed results, but this is a woman who has tangled with the current two best strawweights in the world and the world’s top-ranked atomweight. She’ll certainly provide an even better gauge than Schuckman of where Stautzenberger stands at this point in her career.

Though there are several striking disciplines in the blend of Kajukenbo, Alvarez tends to use grappling to get her wins. However, she has pointed out that it’s usually her opponent who takes it to the mat. The problem is that Alvarez doesn’t always enter the cage as the stronger grappler, as evidenced by her losses to Magana, Aguilar and even Esparza, a talented wrestler. That’s likely to be the case against Stautzenberger as well. If Aguilar’s willingness to engage on the ground continues in this fight, she’ll find herself outmatched by Stautzenberger. The prospect may be able to finish Alvarez, but will emerge at the very least with another judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Carey Vanier (11-5) vs. David Michaud (6-0), Cameron Ramberg (9-1) vs. Mike de la Torre (10-3), Bryan Barberena (7-2) vs. Damien Hill (9-3), Brian Heden (24-12) vs. Tim Johnson (4-1)

Dynasty Combat Sports 6: The Future

Ramada CoCo Keys Convention Center in Omaha, Neb.
Event Date: Jan. 11
Website: Facebook/DynastyCombatSports
Twitter: @DCMMA402

Spotlight Fight:
Jessica Halverson (4-2) vs. Jozette Cotton (3-0)

In the world of the men’s weight classes in MMA, 155 pounds is a highly populated division that once stood on the small end of the spectrum of popular weight classes. The world is much different for women’s MMA. There, the 155-pound weight class is on the high end of a spectrum that primarily starts at the 105-pound atomweight division and peters out with the 145-pound featherweight division, where many of the best find it hard to get fights or drop 10 more pounds to compete in the premier women’s division, the bantamweight class. That doesn’t mean there aren’t female prospects out there that tip the scales at 155 pounds. The Nebraska-based Dynasty Combat Sports promotion has found two of the best in the weight class, Jessica Halverson and Jozette Cotton, and has paired them up for a bout at its sixth event.

Halverson has trained out of Illusion MMA in Idaho and the Academy of Courage in St. Louis. The 33-year-old posted four victories and dropped a split decision as an amateur in 2008 and early 2009, before going pro in 2009. She fought three times in that first year as a pro, notching two first-round TKO wins and suffering a first-round submission loss to Vanessa Mariscal. “Raising Havoc” didn’t compete again until 2012, when she returned with another first-round TKO victory and a first-round TKO loss to Tamikka Brents. Halverson has only fought once in 2013, recording her fourth first-round TKO stoppage victory with a 2:18 finish of Kate Bloomfield. She has taken fights at 170 pounds in the past, but has also been listed as a 145-pound fighter. Her victims currently have a combined record of 2-14, whereas the two ladies who have handed her losses now have a combined mark of 4-1.

Cotton, a Nebraska native, started fighting as an amateur in 2012 and picked up a TKO win and a unanimous decision before transitioning to the pro ranks in September 2012. She made her debut against Halverson’s most recent victim, Bloomfield, with a second-round TKO victory. She shares another common opponent with Halverson in Nikita Netjes, whom both ladies defeated via first-round TKO. The “#1 Head Busta” needed just 93 seconds to knock out her most recent adversary, Elshaddai Cleffman. Her victims now possess a combined record of 5-10, with Cleffman checking in at 4-4 and qualifying as the only .500 or above fighter that either of these ladies has defeated.

Though both of these ladies love to bash in the faces of their opponents, they do so in much different ways. Halverson is perfectly happy to engage in a slugfest on the feet, getting tagged with just as many punches as she gives. Cotton, meanwhile, tends to go the ground-and-pound route. She has a decent sprawl and utilizes trip takedowns or simply uses her size to drag opponents to the mat. From there, it’s to side control, where she’ll reside until she finds an opportunity to deliver a barrage of strikes. Cotton has also demonstrated an ability to sweep her opponent and escape from the bottom, but it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever be on her back with Halverson on top of her unless Halverson manages to knock her down with punches.

Halverson could be a 165-pound female version of Leonard Garcia during Garcia’s brawling period in the UFC, but she lacks a resume with a significant win. She also lacks takedown defense or the ability to get up once she’s taken down. Cotton ranks as an opponent for Halverson more on par with Brents and Mariscal than with the ladies that the more experienced Halverson has defeated. The undefeated prospect might get baited into a brawl on the feet, but look for her to clinch and use an outside trip to get Halverson to the mat at the first possible opportunity. Cotton should control the fight from there en route to a ground-and-pound TKO victory.

Other key bouts: Eric Daigle (2-0) vs. Ted Worthington (34-42), Darrick Minner (6-2) vs. John DeVall (5-4)

Shooto: 1st Round 2014

Korakuen Hall in Tokyo
Event Date: Jan. 13
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Yuta Sasaki (14-1-2) vs. Keisuke Fujiwara (15-7-4)

If there’s a fighter who could serve as the poster boy for what this feature is all about, it’s Yuta Sasaki. The Japanese fighter stands as one of the most oft-featured warriors in the history of Out of Obscurity. Our predictions haven’t always favored him, but he has yet to lose in a bout previewed in this feature. He’ll get yet another chance to extend that streak when he competes at Shooto: 1st Round 2014 in what the promotion has dubbed as a “Shooto vs. Zst” featherweight bout. His opponent will be Zst bantamweight champion Keisuke Fujiwara.

Sasaki made his professional debut in 2010 and fought his way to a 2010 Shooto Rookie championship. He has also taken top honors in ADCC Asia competition. The 24-year-old has fought to a draw with former King of Pancrase Manabu Inoue and captured the Pacific Rim featherweight title by edging Tetsu Suzuki via unanimous decision in January 2013. He followed that achievement with a majority decision over Kota Onojima in non-title action and an 11-second knockout of Kenji Yamamoto in his first title defense, then appeared under the Vale Tudo Japan banner with a 96-second submission of Geun Do Park. The last—and only—time the grappler lost was in 2011 when he met Guy Delumeau. Sasaki’s submission skills have been honed through his time spent training with Shinya Aoki. The southpaw has seen 10 of his 17 fights go the distance, but he has also notched six submission victories and a knockout. After a career filled with decisions, “Ulka” has finished his last two fights in a combined time of less than two minutes.

Fujiwara once stood with a career mark similar to what Sasaki possesses today. He fought to a draw in his 2007 pro debut, but went on to compile a record of 11-2-4 before falling upon rougher times. In his second appearance under the Dream banner after a long run in Zst, Fujiwara dropped a decision to Masakazu Imanari. It was the first loss in a three-fight skid and a 2-5 stretch. The 31-year-old rebounded with decision wins in both fights of his 2013 campaign. The Spinning Garage product has gone the distance in 15 of his 26 outings, but he has also finished six fights via strikes and four by way of submission. Fujiwara was the Zst Genesis Tournament 2007 bantamweight winner and has a kickboxing background. He has competed as a professional kickboxer, but his record is an underwhelming 2-2-1.

The featherweight label on this fight can be misleading. Sasaki holds a featherweight championship in Shooto, but Shooto’s featherweight division has a 143-pound upper limit and Sasaki could easily reside as bantamweight. Fujiwara is yet another kickboxer for Sasaki to fight, but he’s a mediocre fighter at best. He has gone 4-5 over the last two and a half years and seems like a step down in competition for Sasaki. Unless the Pacific Rim champ doesn’t take Fujiwara seriously, this fight only has one possible outcome: Sasaki’s hand raised in victory. The grappler will get his adversary to the mat and finish this fight with a first-round submission.

Other key bouts: Shinya Murofushi (9-3-1) vs. Junji Ito (10-4) for the flyweight title, Tateo Iino (3-1) vs. Ryuto Sawada (2-0)