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…

Legacy Fighting Championship 27

Arena Theatre in Houston
Event Date: Jan. 31
Website: legacyfights.net
Watch Event: AXS TV
Twitter: @legacyfighting

Spotlight Fight:
Henry Cejudo (5-0) vs. Elias Garcia (4-0)

Over the course of 26 prior events, Legacy Fighting Championship has established a reputation for delivering a combination of UFC veterans and top prospects in its lineups. For its 27th offering, the Texas-based promotion has an UFC veteran and two undefeated flyweights, including an Olympic gold medalist, on tap. The flyweight battle is certainly the most intriguing of the contests. It features 2008 Olympic freestyle wrestling champion Henry Cejudo against four-fight veteran Elias Garcia.

Cejudo’s list of wrestling accomplishments seemingly goes on forever. He excelled at the high school level and then decided to forego college and join USA wrestling instead. He took home gold at the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2008 Olympics, where he became the youngest American wrestler to take top honors in the history of the Olympics. He didn’t make the move to MMA until after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team. He flirted with the idea of pursuing a spot on the Olympic boxing team, but then turned his sites to mixed martial arts. Cejudo debuted in the sport in 2013 as a bantamweight and stormed out of the gates with four first-round stoppage wins, all by strikes and all coming in the three-month period from March to May 2013. The 26-year-old then signed on with Legacy and fought Ryan Hollis in October. Unlike Cejudo’s other bouts, the fight went the distance. Cejudo took the nod to remain undefeated. In addition to his wrestling background, Cejudo also boxed for four years as an amateur and competed in boxing tournaments.

It was Garcia, not Hollis, who was originally supposed to fight Cejudo in October. However, “Smash” was forced to withdraw from the contest with an injury. Now, he gets another opportunity to enter the Legacy cage opposite the Olympian. Garcia got involved in MMA while serving with the Coast Guard. He fights out of Weapons at Hand MMA in Corpus Christi, Texas, but also traveled to Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., for two weeks in January to prepare for this fight. He only recently began fighting full-time. Garcia made his amateur debut in 2010 with a loss to William Medrano that he avenged later in his amateur career. He won his next six fights, picking up bantamweight and featherweight gold along the way, before losing his final amateur outing. The 27-year-old turned pro in 2012 and has tallied one submission victory, one TKO win and two nods on the judges’ scorecards. The most recent of those decision wins came at Legacy FC 20 against Matt Schnell, a fighter prominently featured on MTV reality show Caged.

Neither of these fighters has had the privilege of beating up on an opponent with a truly impressive win. Cejudo has had several opponents that are well below the .500 mark, and Garcia has fought a series of foes with three or less fights and only mild success at best in their careers. That changes when they fight each other.

Cejudo’s world-class wrestling should set him apart from Garcia. Garcia has been a grinder at the pro level and suffered two defeats as an amateur, so his resume doesn’t suggest that he’s a significant threat. Yet, what’s worrisome for Cejudo is the fact that he went the distance with a middling fighter like Hollis. The highly touted prospect is finally finding a level of competition that’s testing his abilities. However, it was the length of the taller Hollis that gave Cejudo problems. That won’t be the case with Garcia, who stands at the same height—5-foot-4—as Cejudo. The Olympian should enjoy an advantage not only in the wrestling department, but also in the area of boxing.

Garcia’s last amateur contest ended in a quick knockout and Cejudo certainly has the power to test the Texan’s chin. Whether it comes in the stand-up exchanges or once Cejudo plants Garcia on the mat, that barrage of strikes will be enough to end Garcia’s night.

Other key bouts: Tim Means (19-5-1) vs. Artenas Young (10-6), Domingo Pilarte (3-0) vs. Caio Machado (3-0)

Pancrase 256

Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: Feb. 2
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Shintaro Ishiwatari (16-5-4) vs. Yo Saito (13-8-3)

In December 2011, Shintaro Ishiwatari battled his way to a majority decision verdict over Manabu Inoue to become the new bantamweight King of Pancrase. Now, more than two years later, Ishiwatari is finally set to make his second defense of the title. At Pancrase’s 256th numbered event, the champ will put his crown on the line against veteran competitor Yo Saito.

With this being only his second title defense in two-plus years, Ishiwatari may seem to be a rather inactive fighter. That’s hardly the case, however. The 28-year-old has only defended the belt on one occasion, but he has tallied an overall record of 5-1 since defeating Inoue. Instead of title bouts, Ishiwatari has been busy winning non-title fights in Pancrase and Shooto. He also ventured to the Vale Tudo Japan promotion for a fight against Shooto kingpin Kyoji Horiguchi, who scored a fifth-round TKO win over Ishiwatari to punch his ticket to the UFC. Ishiwatari has picked up six wins by some form of knockout against just one submission victory. However, the southpaw is more of a grinder. He has only finished one fight since 2010 and has seen four fights end in a majority decision, two end in split verdicts and four end in a draw in the span of his 25-fight career. His most recent victory came in a featherweight affair against Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniwa.

Saito is on a five-fight winning streak and earned his title bid with three consecutive wins under the Pancrase banner. The Wajutsu Keishukai Toikatsu product is known for the submission hold that also serves as his nickname—the guillotine. He has finished nearly half of his opponents with the choke, and added two more by way of rear-naked chokes. Whereas Ishiwatari tends to finish fights with his fists, Saito has never scored a knockout or TKO victory and has suffered two losses via some form of knockout. Saito is a very technical grappler and will need to get Ishiwatari to the ground in order to succeed in relieving Ishiwatari of his title.

Ishiwatari was on the verge of a contract with the UFC before his loss to Horiguchi, and he also holds that win over Inoue and another recent victory over Caol Uno. Furthermore, his weakest point is his chin. He’s been knocked out and suffered two TKO losses, though one came via a cut stoppage. He has only been submitted once, back in 2009. Ishiwatari doesn’t have to face a fearsome striker here like he did when he fought Horiguchi, and that will help the Cave product.

Saito is a difficult test for any fighter under the Pancrase banner, but the 29-year-old is more of a gatekeeper than a champion. He’ll either fall to the left hand of Ishiwatari or end up on the wrong side of a fight that goes the distance.

Other key bouts: Andy Main (7-1) vs. Akira Okada (7-3-2), Yuki Kondo (55-28-9) vs. Toshikazu Suzuki (7-0-1), Yusuke Kawanago (13-3-1) vs. Hiroyuki Oshiro (3-1-1), Yasutaka Koga (8-1-1) vs. Tatsuya So (13-8-4), Hiroshi Tomita (12-4-5) vs. Daiki Gojima (4-2-1)

Jungle Fight 65

Madre de Deus in Bahia, Brazil
Event Date: Feb. 2
Website: junglefight.net.br
Watch Event: Combat and SporTV (Brazil), ESPN Deportes and ESPN 3 (United States and Mexico). First two fights air via live stream on combate.com
Twitter: @junglefc

Spotlight Fight:
Leonardo Laiola (9-2) vs. Luciano Benicio (4-0)

Jungle Fight has a long history in Brazil. The promotion, headed by Wallid Ismail, has been putting on fights since 2003. Yet, all these years later, Jungle Fight is making its very first trip to Bahia. For its 65th offering, Jungle Fight is serving up a lineup that includes numerous prospects and a lightweight title showdown. Leonardo Laiola and Luciano Benicio, a pair of featherweights, stand among the most intriguing of the prospects.

Laiola is a Champion Team fighter. The 33-year-old turned pro in 2007 and scored four straight wins before a suffering a decision loss to Jadyr Guida in 2010. “Caveira” bounced back with another four victories, including a unanimous nod over Chinzo Machida. In June 2013, he dropped a decision to undefeated prospect Sergio Rios. He rebounded just nine days later with a decision win of his own against Victor Delgado. Three of Laiola’s wins came via strikes and only one came by way of a submission.

Benicio is yet another member of the highly successful Nova Uniao camp. The 21-year-old made his professional debut in 2011 and has just four fights under his belt. Benicio’s career started with wins over two debuting fighters, but his more recent opponents sport winning records. He has stopped two opponents via strikes and two by way of submission. Unlike Laiola, who is apt to stand and trade, Benicio tends to use his striking to set up opportunities for takedowns. He can be relentless from the top position in terms of ground-and-pound and advancing position.

This is a battle of two vastly different styles. Laiola keeps his hands a little too low, but he has been able to get away with it thus far in his career. He will look for one-punch knockouts, but he also likes to attack the body of his opponent with punches. This could leave him open to counters, but Benicio may not have the technical striking to capitalize on the flaws in Caveira’s game. If Laiola can keep the fight standing, he could play the point game and earn the nod from the judges.

If Benicio can get the fight to the ground, though, the fight will swing in his favor. He pounded on Caique Costa to the point where the referee was on the verge of ending the contest, then used a choke to coax the tapout. If his ground-and-pound flurries don’t get the job done, he can rely on grappling to finish his victim.

Laiola played spoiler to Machida, who broke his hand early in their fight. He could have it in him to do the same to Benicio’s spotless record. However, with an elite camp behind him and an aggressive grappling attack, Benicio should emerge with the win.

Other key bouts: Tiago “Trator” dos Santos e Silva (17-4-2) vs. Ary Santos (6-3) for the lightweight title, Junior Orgulho (7-2) vs. Michel Pereira (7-3), Renato Velame (18-6) vs. Nildo Nascimento (2-2), Alexandre Cidade (9-1) vs. Danilo Noronha (7-11), Kleber Raimundo Silva (11-5) vs. Wendres Carlos da Silva (10-5), Rodrigo Souza (10-3) vs. Elizeu “Capoeira” Zaleski dos Santos (11-4), Fabricio Jonas da Silva Martins (3-0) vs. Alexandro Santos (2-0)