Will Hatsu Hioki head to the greener pastures of the UFC?
In the aftermath of UFC 129's main card showdown between Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick, I opined that the UFC's featherweight division may get the exposure it needs in the coming months to become one of the premier division among the various weight classes in the UFC. Obviously, strong performances combined with some better card placement for the division's featured fights on the four events I outlined in the piece would be beneficial to the prediction, but the addition of Japanese featherweight kingpin Hatsu Hioki to the ranks would also add intrigue to the upper-echelon of the division.
Josh Gross of ESPN stoked the flames last night via Twitter, answering a fan's inquiry regarding why Hatsu Hioki hasn't been signed to a UFC contract yet. Gross reiterated what many of us in the MMA media have known for awhile. Contracts are the major roadblock stopping Hioki from coming to North America, although he did say that Hioki may be in attendance at UFC 130 on May 28th.
Back in February, MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani spoke with UFC matchmaker, now Strikeforce matchmaker, Sean Shelby regarding the possibility of Hatsu Hioki heading to the UFC. Shelby didn't deny that there was strong interest, enough interest in fact that they would sign him despite a signing freeze due to the bloat from the WEC merger. Shelby did cite other problems however:
However, while Shelby said he would love to add Hioki to his roster, he noted several times that the organization has never talked to Hioki or his management due to his contract with SRC. Simply put, the UFC can't even entertain the idea of signing Hioki until he is either released from his SRC contract or fulfills his final fight obligation. Any negotiation with a contracted fighter would be considering tampering and could lead to severe legal problems.
Since the interview, Hioki fought at Shooto Tradition 2011 on April 29th, defeating Donald Sanchez via submission. Whether or not that fulfilled his commitment to his contract is up in the air at this point. What I do know is that Hioki could be the lone fighter outside of the UFC who could give the top three fighters in the UFC's featherweight division major problems. We'll find out on May 28th whether or not Hioki is spotlighted by the UFC during the broadcast. Call me a pessimist, but I'm not holding my breathe.