The one question everyone kept asking before Friday night’s UFC on FX: Maynard vs. Guida event was why Hatsu Hioki vs. Ricardo Lamas was on the FUEL TV undercard.
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Considering it had potential title implications, as Hioki wanted at least one fight before he took a title fight in the UFC featherweight division, it was a curious decision in light of both Spencer Fisher vs. Sam Stout and TJ Waldburger vs. Brian Ebersole being more FUEL-worthy, as opposed to main card-worthy.
And while it didn’t get the result many felt it would, as Hioki would lose to Lamas, it signals something bigger in the MMA world.
Namely, Japanese MMA is going to wait a while, if ever, before someone from the Land of the Rising Sun ever gets back into serious UFC title contention.
After Yushin Okami’s devastating loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 134 last year, the two best hopes in the UFC were widely viewed as Hioki and Shinya Aoki. Aoki’s losses to Gilbert Melendez in a Strikeforce bout and Eddie Alvarez under the Bellator banner ended any serious discussion of him as a potential titleholder in the UFC, as both losses exposed serious deficiencies in his game. He will most likely not be challenging any elite lightweight fighter in the near future. Aoki is still perhaps one of the 10 best fighters in the division, but a much better argument can be made against his inclusion based on those two fights.
Hioki was the man fans of the old Pride promotion looked to as Japan’s last hope to challenge and potentially hold a UFC title. While he didn’t lose in his UFC fights before the Lamas defeat, Hioki didn’t look like a title challenger to UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo.
After a devastating victory over Bart Palaszewski, a title shot seemed to be in order for Hioki. The memories of the fight world are short, and he had more momentum with the victory over Palaszewski than he did with his previous victory over George Roop. It made sense in a way; he came in with high expectations, and a resounding victory would give him some momentum as opposed to a decision victory many may have felt he lost.
He didn’t look like he would have enough to challenge Aldo, of course, but in a division as shallow as featherweight, that appears to be the case more often than not.
With Hioki losing to Lamas on Friday night, at this point his ability to get a title shot isn’t dead in the water, but it’ll take plenty more time to get back there. He was offered a title shot already and turned it down for this fight, wanting to get some more seasoning first, and the history of fighters getting title shots again after turning them down is short. Hioki’s momentum has ground to a halt right now, and he’s going to have to rebuild from this point forward.
Hioki is going to the back of the line in the featherweight division. It may be shallow, but the weight class is slowly filling up with talent. Fighters who were moving up to lightweight to be in the UFC are now going back down to a more natural fighting weight at 145.
Hioki had the opportunity to strike while the iron was hot and passed on it because he didn’t think his weapons were sharp enough. With a resurgent Cub Swanson kicking off the UFC on FX main card properly, and Chan-Sung Jung, aka the Korean Zombie, waiting for a title shot once Eric Koch gets his, the line of contenders is starting to make the division more than just Aldo and everyone else.
Hioki’s shot at being Japan’s UFC championship representative decreased exponentially when the judges’ scorecards were read off Friday night. And it’ll be a long time before Japanese MMA will reach the heights of the UFC mountaintop again.