In a sport where even completely undeserving fighters are always calling out the champion of their weight classes, it’s rare to see a real, respectable challenger go the opposite direction.
But that’s what happened on Saturday when Hatsu Hioki spoke with MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani following his impressive victory over Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144.
“I want to practice more before I challenge [for] the title,” Hioki said through a translator.
Hioki’s dominance in the fight was obvious from the beginning as he looked quite a bit more comfortable in the Octagon than he did in his promotional debut back in October 2011 at UFC 137. That night, Hioki narrowly escaped in a razor-thin split decision over George Roop.
The Japanese fighter looked better in just about every way at UFC 144, though, as he controlled Palaszewski from bell to bell.
“I think I did a lot better than in my debut,” he said.
The judges agreed as they scored a unanimous decision for him without any controversy, however, Hioki also admitted that he felt more pressure coming into this bout, likely due to it being his return to his home country.
“I had a lot of pressure to fight in my home country,” he said. “But I think I did very well.”
Very well is an understatement and due to the thin nature of the UFC featherweight division, Hioki is likely in line for a title shot very soon if he so chooses. From the sounds of things, though, that might not be as much of an obvious next step as one might have thought it would be.
“I would like to gain more experience before I challenge for the title,” he clarified.
Title shot or not, Hioki silenced the critics on Saturday with his victory, his second in a row for the promotion and sixth straight overall.
For more MMA news, fighter interviews and opinions, follow Nick Caron: @NicholasCaron.