Hatsu Hioki is the SBN consensus No#2 Featherweight in the world. With 26 wins and just 4 losses, he's riding a 6 fight win streak including 2 wins in the UFC. His loss 7 fights ago was a split decision. In fact 3 of his 4 losses have come via split decision during his time in Shooto and Sengoku in Japan.
Admittedly Hioki looked a bit rough in his UFC début as he struggled against George Roop, squeaking out a split decision win of his own. But when he fought on home soil in Saitama, Japan in February against Bart Palaszewski, the grappling excellence he was known for was on full display. A mix of Japanese Catch Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu -- as many submission stand-outs form the Land of the Rising Sun are -- Hioki isn't just good, but is exciting to watch when he's on form.
So why is the second best fighter in the world at his weight class stuck on the Fuel TV preliminary card for Friday's UFC on FX 4 card? A win over Ricardo Lamas all but guarantees Hioki is next in line to take a crack at champion Jose Aldo, after he fights no#8 ranked Erik Koch once Aldo's injury is healed. If Hioki wins and relatively few people see it, due to Fuel TV only being in approximately 36 million American homes (compared to FX's 90+ million homes), how is that a good way to promote a future title challenger?
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It's possible Hioki may have caused problems for himself by initially refusing a title fight opportunity against Aldo, as he felt he wasn't ready to fight for the championship just yet, but burying him on the prelims seems petty even for UFC's standards. I think UFC appreciates the time needed for fighters from Japan to adjust and adapt to the American way of doing things, such as the science behind a successful weight cut, getting used to fighting in different time zones (though Hioki had fought in Canada in the past), as well as just getting used to fighting in a cage compared to a ring. Hioki training at Tristar in Montreal is certainly a sign he's taking it seriously, and I think the UFC respects that.
I also find it hard to believe the UFC would make such a promotional misstep in giving such a high calibre contender less opportunity for eyeballs than the relatively meaningless -- though a great fight in and of itself -- Spencer Fisher vs Sam Stout bout. UFC and match maker Joe Silva are certainly capable of making errors with placement of fighters and fights on cards as we've seen them handle former champion Frankie Edgar in his last few fights -- some of the best the UFC has ever seen that too few people did see. Putting Hioki, because of his position in the Featherweight division, on a main card on FX seems like such a no-brainer though, I wonder if something else is going on.
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My suspicion, which is based on nothing more than cynical observation, is that Fox and FX didn't want Hioki on the main card. It may be coincidence, but all of the fights on the UFC on FX 4 main card feature white, English speaking men, mostly American but with one Canadian and one Briton as well, where as the preliminary card is a mix of nationalities and languages.
I don't want to appear to be playing any race card, as at least two of the four fights deserve their place on the main card, if not three of the four, just by the merit of the fighters themselves.
It does come back to that Fisher vs Stout fight having a place on the main card, over that of Hioki vs Lamas though. Some might try to justify it and point out that at least Hioki vs Lamas is the 'main event' of the preliminary card, and that if the main card features fights that end early and Hioki vs Lamas delivers, it could get replayed on FX. But that isn't really a defence of how the card has been booked or that it clearly should have been booked better.
Either the UFC really dropped the ball with a fighter expected to contend for a UFC title in the near future, or the fight was vetoed off the main card by a television network with interfering executives. Knowing just a little of the notorious history behind both the UFC and the American TV industry, which sounds more likely to you?