UFC gold. That’s the dream of every fighter, right?
Well, maybe not Japanese featherweight Hatsu Hioki.
At least, not yet, that is.
The former Sengoku champion and consensus No. 2-ranked 145-pound fighter has reeled off two straight UFC wins and is 14-1-1 in his last 16 fights. That was enough for the UFC brass to offer the 28-year-old a crack at featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Hioki said no.
Rather than face the dangerous Brazilian for a chance to become champion, Hioki instead took a fight against Ricardo Lamas at UFC on FX 4 on June 22. Not to underestimate Lamas, but Hioki’s decision is perplexing to the say the least.
Now, it’s easy to say that without facing the daunting task of trying to dethrone Aldo. After all, the Brazilian does possess a 14-fight winning streak, a 21-1 record and has never tasted defeat while under contract with the Zuffa promotions—WEC and the UFC.
However, what makes the situation puzzling is that Hioki has quite the resume of his own. At 26-4-2, three of his defeats have come by split decision and he’s never been finished. Of the men to defeat him, two are in the UFC—Michihiro Omigawa and Antonio Carvalho—and another is the current Dream champion, Hiroyuki Takaya. Couple that with the fact the he has defeated current UFC fighters Mark Hominick (twice) and Jeff Curran outside of the promotion, Hioki’s decision doesn’t add up.
Certainly facing Aldo is no small order, but Hioki has faced a similar fighter in the past—Aldo’s teammate, Marlon Sandro. Hioki neutralized Sandro’s heavy hands by taking the fight to the ground and out-grappling the Nova Uniao black belt. Does that mean Hioki could do the same to Aldo? Of course not, but why not try?
There’s likely a multitude of reasons for Hioki to pass on the title shot—beyond having to fight Aldo. Maybe he’s not comfortable with the cage, having spent the vast majority of his career fighting in a ring. Or it could be the travel. Of his 32 career fights, only two have been outside of his native Japan—including his UFC debut against George Roop where he looked lethargic.
Again, not to take anything away from his scheduled opponent Lamas, but for Hioki to pass on headlining a pay-per-view card in a title fight is one of the most bizarre events in recent memory. Whatever the reason behind Hioki’s decision, the bottom line is that it is his choice.
On paper, his decision appears to be the wrong one, but hopefully for the Japanese fighter, it won’t be.