Every Thursday, The MMA Corner will take a look at three regional, developmental 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, developmental 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…

Heat 31

Nagoya Congress Center in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Event Date: April 19
Website: heatofficial.com

Spotlight Fight:
Hisaki Kato (3-0) vs. Yuki Niimura (6-2)

Put two strikers in the ring and hope for a slugfest. That certainly must have been Heat’s theory when the Japanese promotion pitted undefeated Hisaki Kato against eight-fight veteran Yuki Niimura. The two middleweights collide in a featured bout on Heat’s 31st offering.

Kato is only three fights into his pro career, which started in March 2013. The 31-year-old finished his first two opponents via TKO in the first round, but he went into the second stanza in his most recent affair against Yusuke Sakashita. That didn’t affect the outcome, however, as Kato still emerged with a TKO finish. The ALIVE product is accomplished in the art of kudo, a discipline that resembles MMA but with competitors wearing masks and protective gear. Kato claimed kudo titles in his weight category at the 2010 and 2011 All-Japan Championships and in the open-weight category at the 2010 and 2012 All-Japan Championships. He overpowers opponents and throw a variety of unorthodox strikes.

Niimura is a Deep and Legend FC veteran who will be making his third appearance under the Heat banner. The 31-year-old launched his pro campaign in 2011 with three straight victories against veteran competition in the form of Shunsuke Inoue, Shuji Morikawa and Bernard Ackah. He suffered consecutive losses to prospects Sam Brown and Yoshiyuki Nakanishi before righting the ship with three more wins. All six of his victories came in the first round, and only two of those wins required more than two minutes of work. His current streak of three victories features the least impressive talent he has faced in his career. He holds the rank of black belt in judo and has a background in karate.

Niimura is the perfect next step for Kato, who notched his first two wins against competitors who possess losing records. Kato’s third victory, and only fight against an opponent with a winning mark, proved to be his toughest test, and Niimura is a step up from Sakashita.

However, this still seems to be a showcase bout for Kato. Niimura has lost to the two best fighters he has encountered, and Kato projects to fall more in line with those fighters than with the ones Niimura has defeated. Kato may only have three wins under his belt, but his resume in the All-Japan Championships as a kudo fighter cannot be discounted. Niimura is a striker who has only lost on the scorecards and holds five wins by way of some form of knockout. His only two losses came on the scorecards, so he’s not an easy out either. Nakanishi couldn’t stop him, nor could any of the other striking-heavy opponents he has faced. Kato’s unorthodox style might throw Niimura off balance, but it likely won’t be enough to seal the deal.

Kato will get pushed further than he ever has in the past, but he’ll still emerge with the win. It will just have to come on the scorecards this time around.

Other key bouts: Fumitoshi Ishikawa (8-2) vs. Jun Kito (11-10-5), Tetsuya Yamada (11-3-2) vs. Koshi Matsumoto (10-5-1), Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniwa (8-3-3) vs. Kazuma Sone (13-9), Satoru Nakanishi (2-0) vs. Kento Yamamoto (1-0)

Cage Fury Fighting Championships 34

Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, N.J.
Event Date: April 19
Website: cffc.tv
Watch Event: GoFightLive
Twitter: @RobHaydak (CFFC President) and @CFFCariasgarcia (General Manager)

Spotlight Fight:
Sean Santella (13-3-1) vs. Nick Honstein (14-7)

With the UFC’s still rather shallow flyweight roster, every regional and developmental league bout featuring 125-pounders takes on an added important. Any of those flyweight prospects could soon find themselves with the biggest opportunity of all. There’s no doubt that UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby is keeping tabs on the flyweights of the regional circuit, and one name that is sure to be on his list is that of Cage Fury FC flyweight champ Sean Santella. Santella is set to defend his title this weekend against veteran Nick Honstein.

Santella has a background in wrestling. The 29-year-old made his pro MMA debut in 2008 and went 0-1-1 through his first two bouts before notching wins in eight of his next nine outings. He came up short in his bid to capture the Cage Fury bantamweight crown, but returned as a flyweight in his next fight to capture Cage Fury’s 125-pound strap. He is on a five-fight winning streak that includes victories over Strikeforce veteran Anthony Figueroa and Bellator vet Tuan Pham. Santella utilizes his wrestling to take opponents down and control them on the mat. He has become more aggressive in his submission attack, which has accounted for three of the five wins in his current streak. Santella trains out of the AMA Fight Club alongside the Miller brothers and Charlie Brenneman. His losses have come to UFC veteran Nick Pace, UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling and ShoXC vet Josh Rave.

Honstein poses a dangerous threat to a wrestler like Santella. The Factory X Muay Thai product has stopped his opponent in all 14 of his victories. Of those wins, he has scored 13 by way of submission. The 26-year-old made his pro debut in 2008 and went 10-2 through his first 12 outings. His only losses in that span came against Tyson Nam and Danny Martinez. His momentum slowed in his last nine fights. He has had his hand raised on just four occasions and suffered five losses in that span. Among his defeats, he has come up short against Ben Wall, Jai Bradney, Gustavo Falciroli, Richie Vaculik and Nick Mamalis. He has a background in wrestling and was a four-time All-Conference wrestler in high school.

Honstein’s resume shows a disconcerting trend. He has been able to top mediocre competition, but consistently falls short against the best fighters he has fought. The method of his losses is fairly balanced, with two TKO defeats, two submissions and three decision losses.

Both men are wrestlers, but the red flag for Honstein is the level of competition he’s facing here. Santella has been on a roll since dropping to flyweight. He’s a grinding wrestler whose name warrants similar attention to those other fighters who have defeated Honstein.

Honstein has become a gatekeeper of sorts, and his current two-fight winning streak and 2-3 record through his last five isn’t enough to make the convincing argument that he can overcome Santella. The champ will wear down the challenger for a couple of rounds before slapping on a fight-ending submission.

Other key bouts: Andy Main (7-1-1) vs. Brian Kelleher (10-6)

Shooto: Gig Tokyo 16

Shinjuku Face in Tokyo
Event Date: April 20
Website: x-shooto.jp
Twitter: @xshooto

Spotlight Fight:
Yuki Kawana (6-0-4) vs. Koji Nishioka (8-3-4)

Given the abundance of tournaments held under the Shooto banner, from its well-known yearly Rookie Tournament to the Infinity Tournament, the Japanese promotion houses an abundance of tourney vets and champs. For its latest event, Shooto: Gig Tokyo 16, the promotion is pairing its 2013 Rookie Tournament champ, Yuki Kawana, with the Infinity Tournament 2013 lightweight runner-up, Koji Nishioka.

Nishioka fell short in his Infinity Tournament campaign when Nobumitsu “Tyson” Osawa lived up to his moniker with a right hook that rendered Nishioka unconscious. The loss snapped a four-fight winning streak dating back to May 2012. The 26-year-old made his pro debut in 2009 and stumbled out of the gates to an 0-1-2 start. The Master Japan product has gone 8-2-2 over his last 12 fights. His other two losses came on the scorecards. Nishioka has never stopped an opponent. He advanced to the Infinity Tournament final with two decision wins earlier in the year, and two of his eight career decision victories have been razor-close majority verdicts. Nishioka has gone the distance in 14 of his 15 pro fights.

On the same night that “Tyson” turned out the lights on Nishioka’s tourney run, Kawana claimed the 155-pound title in the Rookie Tournament with a second-round rear-naked choke finish of Akira Toritani. The Shinwa Total Combat fighter is undefeated, but he has fought to four draws in his 10-fight career. He turned pro in 2009 and went 4-0-4 through 2011. He didn’t return to action until 2013, when he added two more wins and the Rookie Tournament championship to his resume. The 24-year-old has gone the distance on five occasions, but five of his six wins have come by submission.

Nishioka prefers to use takedowns and top control to grind out wins, whereas Kawana tends to pursue the submission once he puts his opponent on the mat. Nishioka is a tough out, so this one could be headed for the scorecards. Kawana’s aggressiveness should allow him to duplicate Akira Okada’s efforts in getting the better of Nishioka. The two will exchange takedown attempts and get their chances from top position, but Kawana will do more with his opportunities. The Rookie Tournament champ will claim the hard-fought decision victory.

Other key bouts: Kenta Sakuma (9-2-1) vs. Keita Ishibashi (4-4), Yoshifumi Nakamura (15-5) vs. Koji Watanabe (5-1)