Can Hioki break the UFC’s Japanese curse?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

There was a time when many fans thought the Japanese stars of Pride were superior to the best Americans in the UFC. And maybe they were. With the demise of Pride, and the lack of a major promotion on Japanese soil, for years now the best Japanese fighters have joined the UFC amid great fanfare. They have invariably returned home with a diminished reputation.

Yoshihiro Akiyama
The middleweight was 12-1 when he joined the UFC in 2009. After scoring a highly controversial decision over Alan Belcher at UFC 100, Akiyama has lost three in a row.

Michihiro Omigawa
0-4 in the UFC.

Caol Uno
Dominant in Japan, but 3-5-2 in two stints in the UFC.

Kid Yamamoto, Takanori Gomi, Takeya Mizugaki
Combined record outside of the UFC is 60-10-2. Including Mizugaki’s five fights in the WEC, those three are 5-8 in UFC/WEC competition.

Shinya Aoki
Lightweight ran roughshod over Japanese competition, but  was manhandled by Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce.

Now another acclaimed Japanese fighter is coming to the Octagon. Hatsu Hioki is 24-4, ranked No. 3 in the world by MMA Weekly, and fights George Roop on Saturday at UFC 137.

Hioki, who hopes to make a run and land a title shot against UFC champion Jose Aldo Jr., has a simple explanation for his countrymen’s lack of success in the UFC.

“It’s a different game, a different kind of MMA,” he said.

The primary differences between Japanese MMA and the Unified Rules are teh cage and elbows to the face and head.

Hioki fought three times in the Montreal-based TKO, beating Thierry Quenneville and current UFC featherweight contender Mark Hominick, twice.

“I feel like I’m as ready as I have ever been for this,” Hioki said. “Beating Sandro was a great confidence boost for me. He’s a very, very tough guy and to get a win over a guy like that, it let me know I was ready to make this move.

“I don’t know what it is going to be like for sure because I haven’t fought [in the UFC] yet, but I think I’ve done all I can do to be ready and to be the best I can be for it.”

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