After much speculation following Hatsu Hioki vacating his Sengoku Featherweight Title and Shooto Lightweight (143lbs) title and being in attendance at UFC 131 and Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum, the UFC confirmed via Twitter this past Saturday, that in fact, they had signed Hioki.
A lot of stateside fans are likely lost on the name Hatsu Hioki. So, here is a very brief down and dirty on the new signee and what it means to the burgeoning UFC featherweight division.
Hatsu Hioki is the consensus #2 ranked featherweight in the world according the USA Today/SB Nation MMA Rankings, and is universally regarded as at least top three in world by every major media outlet. Hioki has been a staple of the top 10 for a few years now, but recently made the jump to his current status following his unanimous decision win over Marlon Sandro this past December to take the Sengoku featherweight crown. Hioki is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and holds a record of 24 wins, four losses, and two draws. Exactly half of his wins have come by submission, with another four coming by way of KO or TKO.
Hioki will join a few former foes in the UFC including former UFC featherweight title contender Mark Hominick (whom Hioki defeated twice under the now defunct Canadian TKO promotion), Michihiro Omigawa (the last man to defeat Hioki, albeit by very contentious split decision), and another man who defeated Hioki by split decision, the also recently acquired Antonio Carvalho.
It is not yet known whom Zuffa will match the Japanese star with first, but I think it’s safe to say Hioki is already considered a very serious contender in the division. However, considering the fact that casual fans likely won’t know Hioki from Adam, he is probably at least two fights from a title shot. A debut against a mid-level featherweight in his debut makes sense, in hopes of a flashy victory for Hioki, followed by a true contender matchup that could put him in position to battle for the featherweight crown.
While there are many hardcore fans salivating over this major signing, there are just as many that are still skeptical. If recent history has proved anything, it’s that fighting in the UFC is a different animal than fighting in Japan. Without trying to start the old Japanese MMA vs. American MMA debate, it must be said the UFC has a steady stream of quality opponents for every fighter, while in Japan, that is not always the case.
A submission specialist first and foremost, Hioki is well-rounded and has solid striking and good takedowns. He is adept enough all-round to make a fight interesting, wherever it goes. Hioki should fare just as well against wrestlers, strikers, and grapplers all the same. The 145-pound division is growing at a rapid pace, but don’t expect this warrior from the Land of the Rising Sun to be just another name in the hat.
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