What must Hatsu Hioki do to defeat George Roop tonight?
The answer lies beneath kicks, punches and choke holds. The answer is more on the inside of the Japanese fighter—it's in his belief in himself.
He must calm the mental anguish and anxiety that comes with fighting in the big show against the world's best.
Japanese-sensation fighters are notorious for having highly touted skills and experience in Asia, but not being able to execute those skills under the bright lights in big-stake fights against the best fighters of the UFC.
Hioki is now in this exact same position.
He is a Japanese star on an incredible roll in his career, and he is making his debut a long way from his home country in the best organization in the world.
He surely has the skills and experience to beat Roop, but can Hioki maintain the confidence and belief in those skills when the cage door locks, unlike so many other Japanese fighters before him?
In terms of the technical game plan, Hioki is a submission wizard and he surely wants to take this fight to the ground.
Roop has a definite striker's chance in this one. Hioki is 24-4 in his career with an incredible 14-submission wins, but he will have to be aggressive and take a few before he is able to get this fight to the ground.
Will Hioki choke in his UFC debut like many Japanese fighters before him?
So many Japanese fighters seem to freeze up in their confidence and aggression against the best of the west, letting their opponents dictate the fight from the opening to the inevitable end.
Hioki must reverse this trend, believe in his skills and impose his fight confidently on Roop. If he is tentative and unsure of himself in there, Roop will bully him and keep the fight in his world.
I believe Hioki is more like fellow Japanese star Yushin Okami, in that he believes he deserves to be among the best fighters in the world and will go out there and prove it.
Unlike many Japanese fighters before him, he must confidently believe he is the best man in the cage tonight—and the rest should take care of itself for victory.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA and correspondent for MMACanada.net.