UFC 144: Hatsu Hioki Vs. Bart Palaszewski Dissection

Fighter images via UFC.com

Amidst the throng of Japanese talent on the UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson roster, only two are ranked in the top-ten and viewed as legitimately threatening contenders. Yushin Okami is encumbered by the rubble that the sport's most dominant champion, Anderson Silva, left in his wake after waylaying the middleweight division.

That leaves number-two ranked featherweight Hatsu Hioki, who meets grizzled veteran Bart Palaszewski atop the FX channel preliminary card, as the most promising candidate. "The Child of Shooto" (25-4) heads up the latest wave of overseas entries that have migrated to the Octagon as heralded and proven prospects. The UFC's purchase of Pride and fresh endeavors in the lighter weight classes have fused the global talent more thoroughly than ever before, and the trending report does not bode well for a fighter like Hioki.

His highly anticipated debut seemed to portend this. Drawing an admittedly venomous match up in George Roop, the submission-centric Hioki struggled to navigate his way through the force-field of elongated strikes surrounding the kickboxer, which kept his glaring edge in grappling out of the equation for the gist. Hioki was able to eke out a split-decision that many chalked up for Roop.

The win was Hioki's fifth straight and the thirteenth in his last fifteen turns; a sequence that includes pivotal majority votes over Masanori Kanehara and Nova Uniao's Marlon Sandro (to snare the Sengoku featherweight championship) and a triangle-choke victory over Bellator's Ronnie Mann, with one draw and one controversial decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa. Regardless, the performance against Roop didn't jive with the praise.


More UFC 144 Dissections

Gomi vs. Mitsuoka | Yamamoto vs. Lee | Fukuda vs. Cantwell | Mizugaki vs. Cariaso | Zhang vs. Tamura


With a decade of experience and a whopping fifty fights under his belt, Bart Palaszewski (36-14) recharged his battery with the biggest win of his career in his last outing. In his Octagon debut at UFC 137, the BJJ black belt notched a monster-upset over the stalwart Tyson Griffin via first-round knockout, which put Palaszewski's on the top-ten bubble at 145-pounds.

Looking back on his lengthy career, you'll find a pair of ultra-impressive wins (split-decisions over Anthony Pettis at WEC 45 and Ivan Menjivar in the IFL), some extremely respectable defeats (decisions against top lightweight contenders Jim Miller and Clay Guida, Strikeforce lightweight Gesias Cavalcante) and also a few lukewarm showings (TKO loss to Anthony Njokuani, submission loss to Deividas Taurosevicius, a decision loss to Ricardo Lamas, a split-decision loss to Kamal Shalorus and two to Chris Horodecki).

He's the type of fighter who can hang with any A-level opponent on any night. "Bartimus" has good wrestling, great kickboxing and grappling and a strong fight I.Q. Even though he can't match Roop's height, Palaszewski's still a sharp, rangy striker and his submission game is top-notch. Additionally, Hioki's auxiliary assets are his stretched frame and vast experience and Palaszewski contests him there better than most, giving him all the ingredients of another adverse match up for Hioki.

Gifs and analysis in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson

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The chain of events to the right is a befitting example of Hioki's machine-like grappling technique. He is without question a top of the food chain submissionist and he shows it here.

The action starts with Hioki on the verge of dropping back for an armbar. Just before his back hits the mat, he flows into a triangle, stops his backward momentum, posts his right arm on the canvas and beautifully rolls into a mounted triangle while showering leather. His opponent starts to turn away from the punches and Hioki wrenches the trapped arm for a brilliant triangle-armbar catch.

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Despite lacking a strong wrestling pedigree, Hioki is highly competent with throws and trips from the clinch. To the left he keeps chipping away at an outside trip from the over-under clinch and shows his veteran savvy by landing in side-mount and basing down to hold the position.

Hioki's ground game gets so much attention that he's painted as a poor striker, but that's not the case by any means. He's a long, B- to C+ grade striker with a rock-solid chin who has never been finished.

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Behold Palaszewski's masterful application of calculated violence and observe the following:

  • Accuracy - note how effectively Bart tracks Griffin's head with his punches.
  • Volume - I count a mind-numbing twenty-five strikes uncorked in quite a short span of time.
  • Movement - check out how Bart pivots from six o'clock to nine o'clock to drill Griffin from an unexpected angle.
  • Killer instinct - this is head-hunting at its finest.

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Palaszewski has the skill and awareness on the ground to survive short sequences but would be well advised to stay upright and exploit his striking advantage.

His sprawl tactics are sturdy and offensive. Bart's unafraid to splice in low to mid-level strikes rather than go into full defense-mode by retreating or clinching up to pause momentum. To the left, he stays crouched for a low center of gravity and wings a series of heavy hooks that are placed deliberately low, then leads with a knifing knee.

To make Kamal Shalorus think twice about shooting in the sequence above, Palaszewski is intentionally targeting the hip and sternum area where a wrestler has to place his head when dropping levels for a takedown. Since Hioki is not a traditional wrestler and prefers to creep into the clinch to badger with trips and throws, there will be more emphasis on Bart's footwork and cage circling to avoid being cornered and tied up versus sprawling on double-legs. His movement will be a key factor as well as an outlet to escape trouble.

Palaszewski's had mixed results against elite competition. It's hard not to go with the favorite here, but the betting lines reflect how close this fight is with Palaszewski emerging as only a slight underdog at +140 to +150. Hioki's mat-work is about as smooth as it gets for the 145-pound class, but Bart's BJJ black belt, proven diversity and vast experience make him one of the best upset picks on the card. Hioki's unbreakable chin might play a key role as I expect him to absorb a substantial dosage of leather when closing the distance to clinch up.

My Prediction: Hatsu Hioki by decision.

Hioki triangle-armbar gif via MMA-Core.com

All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com

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