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…

Maximum Fighting Championship 40: Crowned Kings

Shaw Convention Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Event Date: May 9
Website: maximumfighting.com
Watch Event:main card on AXS TV, prelims on Facebook
Twitter: @MaximumFighting

Spotlight Fight:
Kevin Croom (14-4) vs. Jesse Brock (16-8)

Things don’t always go as planned. When Kevin Croom signed on for Maximum Fighting Championship 40, he anticipated that he would vie for the promotion’s bantamweight title, which is held by Anthony Birchak. However, Birchak has been forced out of the fight, leaving “The Hard-Hitting Hillbilly” with a non-title affair against veteran Jesse Brock.

Brock’s record is deceptively average at first glance. The Idaho native has 16 wins, but he has suffered eight losses in a career that spans nearly eight years. The list of opponents in those eight contests is the real surprise. His second loss came via submission against current UFC fighter Donald Cerrone. Brock served as reigning UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson’s last victim before “Mighty Mouse” transitioned to the WEC. Among Brock’s other defeats: decision losses to Travis Marx, Rodolfo Marques Diniz, Jimmie Rivera and Caol Uno. Johnson, Cerrone and Zach Lari are the only three fighters to have stopped Brock. The 5-foot-4 fighter is a powerful wrestler who has claimed two high school state championships and went on to a highly decorated collegiate career at Boise State. He has seven submission victories, three TKO wins and six decision victories. A few of those submissions have come by way of strikes. He has notched wins against the likes of Tyson Nam, Nick Mamalis and Adrian Cruz.

Croom also comes from a wrestling background, but his striking has earned him his moniker as “The Hard-Hitting Hillbilly.” However, he still tends to finish opponents on the mat. He has just three wins by some form of knockout, compared to eight via submission. At 5-foot-11, he’ll enjoy a significant height and reach advantage over his counterpart. The New Mexico resident turned pro in 2009 and went just 5-4 through his first nine fights. He’s been on fire in his more recent fights, however, with nine straight wins, including seven first-round stoppages.

Croom is a tough fighter who has been campaigning hard for a shot at the UFC. His only losses came against future Bellator fighter Jose Vega, future World Series of Fighting star Justin Gaethje and future UFC fighters Yaotzin Meza and Ramiro “Junior” Hernandez. There’s not nearly as significant of a name in his win column, but he has defeated some strong competition across a variety of promotions.

Brock is a powerhouse wrestler who will score some takedowns against Croom. Croom might struggle in a ring setting, where he won’t be able to utilize the cage to work his way back to his feet. He’ll need to use his reach to his benefit and attempt to land knees as Brock shoots for takedowns. Croom will also need to stuff those takedowns to gain top position or take Brock’s back. Brock’s performances against Uno and Rivera prove that his wrestling isn’t always dominant. Uno was able to take his back early and threaten with rear-naked chokes, a hold that happens to be among Croom’s favorites.

Croom might not get the choke, but he could take Brock’s back and attack with enough persistence to put him up on the scorecards. Brock is a tough out, so Croom will likely have to outwork him for the decision.

Other key bouts: Tom Gallicchio (18-8) vs. Kurt Southern (13-5) for the lightweight title, Sam Alvey (21-5) vs. Wes Swofford (9-4) for the middleweight title, Victor Valimaki (17-8) vs. Bill Widler (8-5), Jonatas Novaes (11-5) vs. Andrew McInnes (4-1), Marcus Edwards (7-2) vs. Aaron Gallant (6-5)

Talent MMA Circuit 9: Sao Jose Dos Pinhais 2014

Max Rosenmann Gymnasium in Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Parana, Brazil
Event Date: May 10
Website: Facebook/CircuitoTalentMMA
Watch Event: El, El Plus (Brazil)
Twitter: @CircuitoTalent

Spotlight Fight:
Jennifer Maia (7-3-1) vs. Mariana Morais (4-0)

There’s no better way for a young fighter to prove herself than through challenging an established veteran. In Talent MMA Circuit 9’s featured female flyweight attraction, Brazilian up-and comer Mariana Morais gets her opportunity to do exactly that. The 19-year-old prospect meets Jennifer Maia, an Invicta FC veteran who currently sits in the No. 3 spot in The MMA Corner’s Women’s MMA Rankings.

This is an especially giant step up in competition for the young Morais. Since turning pro in May 2012, the Team Julierme product has blitzed her way through four opponents who have a combined mark of 2-6. Only her recent April victory against Mariana Leonardo pitted Morais against a fighter with a winning mark—an undefeated one, no less. In fact, that 44-second armbar finish counted as the first time in her pro career that Morais faced an opponent who had even a single pro win to their name and only the second time that she wasn’t squaring off against a debuting fighter. The Brazilian, who has competed in Muay Thai, finished her first two foes via strikes. Her two most recent victories came by way of submission, but her standing guillotine choke finish of Margarete Soares was made possible after a barrage of strikes left Soares rattled and unable to defend against the attack. Morais has a tendency to charge forward in an aggressive and wild manner. She looks to overwhelm opponents with kicks and punches to set up a TKO or a submission.

Maia doesn’t represent the typical inexperienced—and overmatched—adversary Morais is accustomed to fighting. The Chute Boxe fighter made her first pro appearance in 2009 and rattled off four straight wins. She’s gone just 3-3-1 since then, but her losses came against fellow top competitors Vanessa Porto, Sheila Gaff and Leslie Smith. She also fought to a draw against Kalindra Faria. Despite Chute Boxe’s reputation for producing top-notch strikers, Maia typically does her best work on the mat, where she has utilized a rear-naked choke to finish one opponent and armbars to tap two foes. Though her record suggests that she prefers to grapple, she is more than capable on her feet, too. She proved as much when she went toe-to-toe with Smith for three rounds in the Invicta cage. Maia lost the decision to the volume puncher, but her heart and chin never failed her. There’s no knocking the wins on her resume either. She earned decision victories over current UFC bantamweight Jessica Andrade and fellow Invicta fighter and former Bellator champ Zoila Frausto Gurgel.

Maia’s battle with Smith, which took place in July 2013 and marked the last time Maia strapped on the four-ounce gloves for a fight, should serve as good preparation for this fight in one sense. Smith’s pressing, high-volume striking game can overwhelm a lesser opponent, but Maia was able to hang with it for three rounds, even if Smith was getting the better of the exchanges. Morais throws at a similarly high frequency, though her attack is based more on power than Smith’s combination of power and the pitter-patter Nick Diaz style of piling on accumulated damage. Whereas Smith has demonstrated the ability to go the distance in a war, even as she tires, Morais has never gone beyond the four-minute mark in any of her fights. Half of her fights haven’t even lasted 60 seconds. If Maia can endure the early storm, Morais will have her stamina tested. Morais might not be able to sustain a prolonged striking attack like the one Smith used to frustrate Maia.

Maia was knocked out by Gaff, but Gaff used some trickery to set up the 10-second finish. The better gauge of Maia’s abilities against strikers came in her two Invicta outings against Smith and Gurgel. In addition to showing her heart against Smith in a losing effort, she was able to neutralize Gurgel’s stand-up attack and take the win in that contest. She’s certainly capable of utilizing her clinch game and takedowns to prevent Morais from establishing any rhythm on the feet. That approach could prove effective in wearing down Morais, who tends to put everything behind each of her haymakers.

Maia’s experience will be invaluable in this fight. There’s always the chance that Morais rocks Maia early and finishes her off, either via TKO or submission. However, Maia should be able to weather that early barrage and turn this into a grinding fight that tests Morais in numerous areas, including her cardio and ability to handle competition that has an answer for what she brings to the table. Morais might threaten to put Maia away early, but it’s Maia who will rise to the challenge as the fight progresses. If Morais has nothing left after her initial flurries, then Maia will score a second- or third-round stoppage. If not, then Maia will have to settle for the judges’ nod.

Other key bouts: Juliano Wandalen (8-3) vs. Gustavo Wurlitzer (12-10), Mauri Roque (5-0) vs. Rafael Carvalho (8-1), Alexandre Ramos (7-1) vs. Juliano Luis “Kuririn” dos Santos (7-2), Tim Ruberg (9-2) vs. Allaan Moziel (5-2), Carlos Leal Miranda (5-1) vs. Andre Ricardo Chaves Santos (2-0), Joao Elias (4-1) vs. William Campos (3-2-1)

Pancrase 258

Differ Ariake in Tokyo
Event Date: May 11
Website: pancrase.co.jp
Twitter: @_PANCRASE_

Spotlight Fight:
Rin Nakai (15-0-1) vs. Sarah D’Alelio (7-5)

It’s the beginning of a new era for Pancrase. The long-running Japanese promotion is saying farewell to its ring and introducing a cage. The first ladies to grace the new Pancrase cage will be the promotion’s reigning bantamweight Queen of Pancrase, Rin Nakai, and Invicta FC veteran Sarah D’Alelio. Unfortunately, Nakai’s crown will not be on the line in this encounter.

Nakai, who has been training in judo since the age of three, remains undefeated in MMA competition. Her wins have not been without controversy, though. She fought to a draw against Danielle West, then picked up a decision win in their rematch. Pancrase came under criticism for how it handled the regulation of that bout and its own conflict of interest in the scenario, given that the promotion is involved in managing Nakai’s career. Nakai’s grappling credentials include a win by points against 2007 ADCC finalist Felicia Oh. She possesses excellent power, but she can be outclassed by a skilled striker. When she realizes that she’s outmatched on the feet, she’ll fall back on takedowns to secure the win. She has won five straight since the draw against West. The 27-year-old is one of the rare top female fighters to never compete in Invicta or the UFC, but Pancrase seems to be bringing Invicta to her. She claimed a majority decision in a close fight against Invicta vet Tara LaRosa in late 2013, and now she’s meeting a fighter who has competed on all but one of Invicta’s shows.

D’Alelio has spent all but the first year of her pro career on the biggest stages in women’s MMA. After going 4-1 in her inaugural 2010 campaign, with her only loss coming against Julie Kedzie, “The Monster” made her only appearance of 2011 under the Strikeforce banner, where she became the third victim on Ronda Rousey’s MMA resume. Then, she joined Invicta in 2012 for its first event. This will be her first excursion outside of the Invicta cage since she defeated Vanessa Mariscal at the promotion’s inaugural event. In five subsequent Invicta appearances, D’Alelio posted two wins and three losses. The grappler is on a two-fight skid that includes unanimous decision losses to Lauren Murphy and Tonya Evinger. She did look impressive against Mariscal, Vanessa Porto and Amanda Nunes, but the losses to Kedzie, Rousey, Murphy, Evinger and Shayna Baszler provide for a track record of inconsistency.

It would be interesting to see Nakai compete on a level playing field and put her title on the line against talents like LaRosa and D’Alelio. Pancrase doesn’t seem willing to do this. The promotion tends to stack the deck against her opponents and protect her title reign through non-title affairs. D’Alelio, like LaRosa, must realize that she’ll have to finish Nakai to win this fight. She’s been a finisher on the ground, but most of that success came earlier in her career. More recently, she managed to snag a submission on an overly aggressive Porto and punched Mariscal into submission, but the former was largely the result of Porto’s carelessness and the latter came against an outmatched opponent. Where D’Alelio succeeds is against foes like Nunes, who can’t defend against her takedowns or prevent her from working her top game. Nakai tends to be none of those things.

Nakai can be a grinder—she has five decision wins and a draw—but she also has knockout power, as evidenced by her four TKO victories, and grappling skills, as seen in her six submission victories, five of which came in the opening stanza. D’Alelio has struggled against fighters with similar profiles. A motivated Evinger was able to best her, as were Murphy and Kedzie. Baszler, a talented wrestler and grappler, was even able to submit her.

The stocky 5-foot-1 champ is facing a six-inch height disparity against her taller opponent, so she might not be too eager to stand with D’Alelio. However, she was able to use her strength and some leg kicks to overcome a similar reach disadvantage against LaRosa. Nakai will look to chop away at D’Alelio’s legs to soften her up for takedowns. Once she puts D’Alelio on the mat, Nakai will pour on the ground-and-pound to scores points. D’Alelio will threaten from the bottom, but Nakai will fend off any submission attempts. This fight will be close, just like the LaRosa bout, but Nakai will again emerge with the victory on the scorecards.

Other key bouts: Shintaro Ishiwatari (17-5-4) vs. Farkhad Sharipov (14-6), Takashi Sato (2-0) vs. Makoto Kawawa (4-9-3) in a Neo Blood lightweight tournament bout, Hiroshi Hayashi (4-0) vs. Andrew Robert (0-0) in a Neo Blood lightweight tournament bout, Juntaro Ushiku (6-2-1) vs. Gaku Hirayama (0-0) in a Neo Blood featherweight tournament bout, Kento Kanabe (3-0) vs. Hironobu Otsu (1-1) in a Neo Blood flyweight tournament bout, Gota Yamashita (7-2) vs. Kenta Takagi (10-7), Shunpei Ota (5-1) vs. Yutaka Kobayashi (6-16-4)

Think you can pick the outcomes of these and other upcoming MMA fights? Then prove it.