When Hatsu Hioki arrived in the UFC, there were very few clear cut contenders for Jose Aldo's featherweight championship. In a division where former champions Urijah Faber and Mike Brown have been driven out of either the division or contendership due to recent losses, the proverbial cheese stood alone.
Recent contenders Mark Hominick, Chad Mendes and Kenny Florian had their opportunity to seize the belt since the featherweight division opened its doors in the UFC, and no man was successful.
Josh Grispi, Diego Nunes and George Roop have had their hopes of challenging for gold dashed when 2011 losses knocked them off of the ladder.
It looked as though the planets would align for Japanese import Hatsu Hioki to show up and take his place as the rightful No. 1 contender. After all, with a record of 24-4-2, (all losses via controversial decision), Hioki was the highest ranked featherweight outside of the UFC.
As has become commonplace with Japanese stars, when stepping into the Octagon, he did not live up to his high expectations and won a disappointing decision over George Roop in an October contest that winded up being much closer than anticipated.
Since that contest, two featherweight fighters have upped their stock tremendously. Dustin Poirier won two bouts via stoppage, including a submission of the night performance over undefeated Max Holloway. Additionally, Chan Sung Jung broke the UFC record for fastest KO of all time with a seven second stoppage over former title contender Mark Hominick.
Yes. Duane Ludwig has the fastest KO on the UFC record books. I know. But those records have been updated since the Korean Zombie bout.
With Poirier and Jung set to square off in the main event of UFC on FUEL 3 in May, the door may be opened for Hioki to sneak back into the title picture tomorrow night. If he disposes of his opponent, the always game Bart Palaszewski, it is likely that he may have earned his shot at Aldo.
Timing is definitely on Hioki's side, as Aldo came out of his January fight with Chad Mendes unscathed. It is unlikely that he will want to wait until August or September for the winner of Poirier/Zombie to be ready.
If nothing more, it puts all the more importance on tomorrow night's event.