It has been a drastic turn of fortune for UFC featherweight Hatsu Hioki.
In less than two years' time, the Japanese veteran has gone from being considered one of the top 145-pound fighters in the world, to hanging on to the fringes of employment with the UFC.
The former Shooto and Sengoku featherweight champion jumped off to a solid start under the UFC banner as he collected victories in his first two showings inside the Octagon. After defeating former WEC veteran Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144 in February of 2012, there was talk of the 30-year-old challenging featherweight king Jose Aldo for the 145-pound title.
While the opportunity was there for the taking, Hioki didn't feel he was ready to face Aldo and decided to travel a different route. That decision has proved to be a costly one as Hioki has come out on the losing end of his past three outings.
His most recent defeat came against Darren Elkins at Fight Night 27, as the Indiana native bounced back from early adversity to dominate the final two frames. When the judge's scorecards were read, Elkins earned the unanimous-decision victory, and Hioki was handed his third consecutive defeat.
In the competitive ranks of the UFC, three is typically the magic number where losses are concerned. That being said, with Hioki's losses coming in hard-fought affairs against top-level competition in Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida and Elkins respectively, the UFC will face a difficult decision in what to do with the Tokyo-based fighter.
On Wednesday night at the post-fight press conference for Fight Night 27, UFC President Dana White addressed the matter regarding Hioki's future with the UFC.
"It's never good when you lose three," White said. "He's a tough guy. Normally you'll see it with a lot of guys who come to bring it and fight, you don't fight a couple of fights and get cut. But I don't know, we'll see what happens."
Whether Hioki will keep his job in the UFC remains to be seen, but the buzz surrounding his status as one of MMA's top 145-pound fighters has certainly taken severe damage. While he has proven to be a game competitor in his five showings inside the Octagon, three consecutive losses will bump him out of the heated race for position in the upper tier of the featherweight fold.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.