George Roop, “The UFC must hate me.”
When you look at the list of fighters the UFC has asked George Roop to cage up with over the last two years, it is hard to blame him for joking around about the UFC's thoughts about him. But in actuality, what goes without saying is how highly Roop is revered by Joe Silva and the rest of the UFC brass.
With names littered across his fight record like Eddie Wineland, George Sotiropolous, Leonard Garcia, Chan Sung Jung, Mark Hominick and Josh Grispi, it is clear where the UFC sees Roop in their featherweight pecking order.
Simply put, they see him as one of their top fighters in the division. It is a reputation he has more than earned.
His ability to compete with top fighters in the division has earned him the right to remain in elite company because win, lose or draw, Roop comes to scrap. That is exactly what the UFC is looking for to help sell the lighter weight divisions to the casual fan.
The UFC couldn't express their confidence in Roop more loudly than they did when his phone rang and he was asked to fight on one of the biggest fight cards of the year, UFC 137. Not only was he asked to compete on such a prestigious event, but he has been asked to welcome into the UFC one of the top featherweights in the world.
Roop embraces the opportunity to be the first in the UFC to face Hatsu Hioki, former Shooto lightweight champion and Sengoku featherweight champion. He took some time out to speak with Todd Jackson of Hurtsbad MMA and discuss what he sees as a tremendous test, but equally motivating opportunity.
Roop gave his thoughts on Hioki in general. “Hioki is a stud. I think he is ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, depending on where you look. The guy is real tough. He holds titles in two promotions, one in Shooto and one in Sengoku.”
Hioki's wizardry on the mat is something Roop pointed to in particular as a clear threat. “The ground game is off the chain, especially his top position. I'm going to have to fight the best fight I have ever fought for this one, and I will be ready.”
Obviously, with Roop being put against recent No. 1 contenders Hominick and Grispi, the topic came up of a run at the title. Having a strong performance over Grispi was one thing. Another strong showing over the highly ranked Hioki would surely catapult Roop somewhere towards the top five in many people's perception.
Roop disagrees and has a more humble and realistic outlook on his title run opportunities. “I think every fighter takes it one fight at a time. That's all you can really focus on. I don't think a win would put me in any type of title shot contention. Let's keep it real. I need to get on a good win streak.”
Roop explained his perception. “There's a lot of good featherweights in the division. Chad Mendes, I think he deserved a title shot before Kenny Florian. But I think Chad Mendes is up there, Erik Koch is just a stud, Tyson Griffin just dropped down to 145. So there are some serial killers in the division.”
Roop does see himself on the path to the top, but he explains it is farther away than one strong performance over one of the best featherweights in the world. After all, he does still have to beat Hioki to even discuss anything beyond that.
“I do feel like I'm coming into my prime as a mixed martial artist. I'm going to be ready for a title shot in the next year to two years.”
The opportunity to fight Hioki is an honor in itself. But this fight poses multiple layers of opportunity. This is an event that features some big names in the business of MMA. B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz are marquee names.
The fight nerds of the world have always had Roop on their radar. They remember his stunning finish over “The Korean Zombie” last year or his war with Leonard Garcia. Some even remember his days in the WEC, or further back, Rage In The Cage.
But the fact of the matter is, many fans will tune into this fight simply to watch the stars. The casual fan will watch UFC 137 having never heard of George Roop or Hatsu Hioki before. Roop sees a chance to snag the unsuspecting casual fan and stamp his name on their MMA psyche so they will never forget it again.
Roop told Hurtsbad MMA, “It's a very big opportunity for the whole world to see who I am and what kind of fighter I am. I feel like I am an exciting fighter. One of my biggest assets is that I show up to fight. There are some guys who can be world champions inside the gym, but for some reason, they just don't show up to the fight.”
The UFC featherweight went on to explain, “I feel like I am very good at showing up to the fight. It's going to be a great fight. I feel that I have matured as a fighter, and I am going to go in there and get the win. That's all I am concerned about. I'm going to fight my fight and get that win.”
Facing one of the most highly touted featherweights in the world might intimidate some athletes. For Roop, it has not put him in a place where he will look up to Hioki and bow to his greatness. No, Roop is looking to bring his war to Hioki and show that he too is one of the very best in the world.
He explained his intentions for fight night. “I'm going to make it an ugly fight for Hioki. He has never fought anybody as tall as me. He has always been the taller fighter. Once he gets hit with some of my shots, he will be shooting in for the takedown, and he is going to get stuffed. He is going to be out of his element in that cage.”
As confident as can be, but yet equally humble, cool and collected, Roop sounds more than ready to face this challenge at the height of his MMA career. Once again, there will be an entire world of fight fans tuning in Saturday night to watch Penn vs Diaz.
Sunday morning, do not be surprised if what they are talking about is Roop vs Hioki.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.