Hatsu Hioki is regarded by many as the last Japanese representative that could potentially make waves in the United States mixed martial arts scene. In Japan, he found success in every organization that he fought in, from his victory over Jeff Curran in Pride to his TKO win over Rumina Sato in Shooto. He even crossed the Pacific to defeat Mark Hominick twice in TKO. His rise to fame began in World Victory Road in 2009 as entrant in the Featherweight tournament. Other names included UFC featherweights Nam Phan, Chan Sung Jung, and Michihiro Omigawa as well as Marlon Sandro and Masanori Kanehara.
Hioki is currently the number two featherweight in the world according to the USA Today / MMA Nation consensus rankings and is viewed by many as one of the few men at the weight class that could truly test Jose Aldo. He fights George Roop on Saturday and is possibly one win away from a title shot. The question however is can Hioki find success in the United States when his fellow countrymen have failed miserably?
Michihiro Omigawa's signing was met with much excitement. Omigawa had finally found himself at the featherweight division after years as the fodder at lightweight. He was no longer outsized by bigger fighters after adopting weight cutting practices and developed his boxing to compliment his judo. Unfortunately, his return to the UFC was unsuccessful and he was soundly defeated by Chad Mendes. He dropped his next fight against Darren Elkins, despite the fact that many felt he did enough to win. He's now 0-4 in the UFC.
Norifumi Yamamoto was at one time viewed as the top lighter weight fighter in the world. A dream match was often discussed between matching him up with Urijah Faber. He made his UFC debut at UFC 126 against Demetrious Johnson. Yamamoto has always been known for his wrestling, even attempting to make the Japanese Olympic team. Johnson not only beat him on the feet, but was able to take him down at will and keep him on the ground. For Yamamoto it may just be a case of too many outside distractions that have caused his decline and could be the reason that he's gone 1-3 in his last four fights. Injuries have kept him sidelined and he's expected to fight a virtually unknown Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on Fox.
Takanori Gomi was once considered the very best lightweight fighter in Japan. He ruled Pride with his knockout power and his incredibly underrated wrestling. Like Yamamoto he had a decline before making his stateside debut, but since joining the UFC ranks, he's going 1-3. He's lost all three times by submission and has shown up in incredibly bad shape. His sole win was against Tyson Griffin who has recreated himself at 145. Fans and media are wondering why the UFC is keeping Gomi around and it is quite possible that he's only being used to legitimize the rumored UFC Japan card. He doesn't add anything to the division and isn't much of a challenger for anyone else at 155.
And then there is Yoshihiro Akiyama. Before his signing, Dana White was tweeting about how he signed the man to challenge Anderson Silva. Fans bought into his hype and believed that Akiyama would return to save us from the Spider's reign of dominance. Instead he fought a totally uninspired fight against Alan Belcher, one that I still believe the Talent won. After that win, he's gone on a three fight losing streak. First he was triangle choked and forced to tap by Chris Leben, then he was jabbed for 15 minutes by Michael Bisping, and most recently he was knocked out for the second time in his career by Vitor Belfort. Akiyama, like Gomi is most likely being kept around for the Japanese card, but he hasn't given fans and media any reason to believe that he can hang with the best of the division.
Ignoring the limited success non Japanese fighters were competed overseas have had in the UFC, it is a fair question to ask with regards to Hatsu Hioki. Japanese MMA Fans are counting on him to prove that the country is still relevant in some capacity to the overall MMA scene. Fans are overlooking his first test in George Roop, possibly because he still carries the The Ultimate Fighter tagline with him. Roop has made vast improvements since his time on the reality show and is one of the few contestants from his season still under UFC contract. Roop became the very first man to knockout Chan Sung Jung as well as stopping Josh Grispi with a body punch.
It is safe to assume that Hioki is unlike his peers and isn't vastly overrated by fans and media. He possesses legitimate skills and is a real test for anyone that is matched up against him. The fear is that he'll become just another Japanese MMA fighter who washed out of the UFC. He was impressive in Sengoku but how good was his competition. Kanehara was extremely overrated and Marlon Sandro was just knocked out by Pat Curran in Bellator. Hioki has the opportunity to do what only Yushin Okami has done before him. He has the chance to be the man to prove that Japanese Mixed Martial Arts is still relevant. He just needs to adopt American practices.