UFC 144 breakdown: Hioki vs. Palaszewski

Hatsu Hioki (25-4-2) vs. Bart Palaszewski (36-14)

In a compelling featherweight tilt that could also determine the next fighter to challenge Brazilian wrecking machine Jose Aldo, one of Japan’s elite competitors returns to the "Land of the Rising Sun" after a somewhat disappointing UFC debut this past October.

Hioki, 28, has been a staple on the Japanese and Canadian circuits since his debut in 2002, as he holds notable wins over Marlon Sandro, Takeshi Inoue, Masanori Kanehara, Rumina Sato, Mark Hominick and Jeff Curran. Whenever assessing Hioki’s record, it’s always worth noting that his defeats were largely controversial, particularly his split-decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa in November 2009, and he has never been finished in his career.

A member of the Alive team in Japan, Hioki recently teamed up with Firas Zahabi’s Tristar Gym in Montreal, home to welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will benefit from working on his kickboxing and wrestling. His submission game, the best weapon in his arsenal, can be compared to Japanese lightweight Shinya Aoki in that he manages to tangle opponents into his web of submissions as soon as he finds the slightest opening.

Hioki’s stand-up game has also impressed in the past as it was a big part of his victories over several acclaimed strikers. Hioki outpointed Aldo’s teammate Marlon Sandro to claim the Sengoku featherweight title in December 2010, while winning a hotly contested battle against recent title challenger Mark Hominick in their February 2007 rematch.

Hioki’s UFC debut against George Roop was one of his worst performances in recent memory. He managed to win by split decision, but his timing on his feet and inability to finish Roop on the mat were surprising elements of the fight for most longtime observers of the former Sengoku, Shooto and TKO champion.

Palaszewski, 28, is a highly experienced Team Curran product, armed with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and knockout power in his hands.

After losing a contentious decision to Kamal Shalorus in his final WEC appearance, Palaszewski dropped to 145 pounds for his UFC debut this past October. The Polish-American stunned longtime contender Tyson Griffin with a first-round knockout, immediately positioning himself as a legitimate threat in the division.

During his tenure as a lightweight, Palaszewski has amassed quality wins over Zach Micklewright, Anthony Pettis, Alex Karalexis, John Gunderson, Ryan Schultz and Ivan Menjivar.

Palaszewski could give Hioki problems with his power, and he could prove tough to put away by submission. Hioki will need to defend intelligently while picking his shots wisely.

If Hioki can turn back the clock and perform up to the standard he set in previous fights, he should have his way with the dangerous IFL veteran, winning the positional game and finding a home for his strikes during the course of 15 minutes.

Verdict: Hioki via decision