Featherweight has widely been considered one of the thinner divisions inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship but last June when news broke that Japanese sensation Hatsu Hioki was joining the 145-pound ranks fight enthusiasts thought he could be a real test for Brazilian featherweight king Jose Aldo.
Hioki had become a fan favorite in his home land, with his calm demeanor and highlight-reel grappling abilities he would hold championships in Shooto, TKO & Sengoku while defeating top-ranked stars in Rumina Sato, Marlon Sandro, Masanori Kanehara, Lion Takeshi, Jeff Curran and Mark Hominick.
When he entered the confines of the UFC’s eight-sided cage he boasted a 24-4-2 record with his only defeat since 2007 being a controversial split decision to Michihiro Omigawa but he has failed to replicate his high-level skills in North America.
When he narrowly defeated The Ultimate Fighter alum George Roop most chalked it down to jet lag since it was his first time fighting outside of Japan since 2008 and his follow-up performance gave them reason to support that claim when he dominated long-time vet Bart Paleszewski in the land of the rising sun.
Tonight, his run of under-performing outside of Japan continued with his loss to Ricardo Lamas in the main event of the Fuel TV preliminary card – Hioki was clearly troubled by the striking game of Lamas before the Japanese star got the fight to the floor almost locking up an arm on two separate occasions.
When the second frame began Lamas surprised the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt by pulling guard, seeking a deep guillotine choke, while Hioki managed to break free from the attempts he had little offence before Lamas locked up two more guillotine-choke attempts that left the grappler on the defensive.
A clearly deflated Hioki entered the final stanza unable to get rocking and rolling, the Top Notch MMA product pestered the number-two ranked featherweight with his strikes and thudding knees to the torso until Hioki desperately shot for a takedown but would up defending yet another guillotine-choke to seal the deal as Hioki’s title aspirations go up in smokes.
Hioki turned down his opportunity to face Aldo for the top crown in the division claiming he wasn’t quite ready for the title fight – It turns out he was right.
The real issue at hand according to Hioki and his camp is the travelling to an event which is something that he needs to correct if he’s going to tussle with the top of the division, especially since UFC’s visits to Japan won’t be too frequent.
Hioki, like most Japanese fighters would be best suited to move to another camp outside of Japan, he does part of his camp in Toronto at Tristar where there are a series of great coaches and training partners to better him if he were to make a permanent jump to the great white north.
While it would be unfair to assume that Hioki wasn’t a high-level fighter afterall due to his string of great achievements against great competition he just hasn’t been able to put it together on the big stage.