TUF China: Hatsu Hioki vs. Ivan Menjivar preview and the prognostication

Can Hioki replicate Reis' success against Menjivar? - Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

Featherweights open up the main card for TUF: China; can Hatsu Hioki, the once heralded prospect, avoid getting the Zuffa pink slip against Ivan Menjivar?

Hatsu Hioki vs. Ivan Menjivar Featherweight

When we last left our heroes...It's hard to imagine that there was a point in time where Hioki was considered one of the very best FW's in the world. But there was. While it was always easy to criticize Hioki for being the proverbial big fish in the small Shooto pond, it was never as easy to dismiss his obvious talents.

He is currently on a three fight losing streak: Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida, and Darren Elkins have all bested him by decision.

It's weird to think Hioki may end up being an also-ran, but this is yet another tough matchup for the 30 year old from Nagoya, Japan.

To be fair, Hioki has not only had some tough matchups, but also some tough judging. Then again, these are the types of fighters that real contenders put away. In addition, I would have said these matchups were tailor made for him five years ago. While I don't expect him to lose to Menjivar, it seems like Hioki's journey has come to an end. He was never supposed to just have a UFC contract. He was supposed to be within striking distance of UFC gold.

If I didn't use wikipedia to confirm it, I would have never known that Ivan Menjivar is only a year older than Hioki. It feels like it's only been a few days since Hioki was the young prospect still struggling for success, while Menjivar was the aging veteran looking to keep his job. Instead Ivan has two more wins than Hioki in his UFC career, and just as many losses. Even crazier...Menjivar only has one more professional fight than Hioki.

It's sink or swim time for both.

What both men can do: I always considered myself the stereotypical self proclaimed "hardcore" fan for a time. So naturally the oral tradition of Hioki's greatness intrigued me. Hioki was a well rounded fighter, but his talents existed on the ground. I didn't really see that for myself until watching his bout with Baret Yoshida.

Yoshida has a very unspectacular MMA record at 6-6-1. But in the grappling world he's an ADCC Medalist (silver in 2003, bronze in 2007) in addition to owning many other grappling accolades. Yet as you can see from 3:53 onward, Hioki had no problem cutting up Yoshida's guard, threatening his own submission, and eventually earning the finish.

This is Hioki's game in a nutshell. He's a master at guard passing, and top control. His striking is still raw but he establishes distance well, and goes to the body and head when possible.

As for Menjivar, he's one of those veterans who isn't afraid to throw an unorthodox strike or two. He's become a mainstay in the game by being defensively responsible while being offensively dynamic. He'll counter kicks with spinning back fists, and leave you breathless with his short range hellbows. Like Hioki, Ivan seems to be most comfortable on the ground.

What both men can't do: Hioki's problem is that he doesn't do much on the feet, and yet it's a place he ends up in because he lacks urgency.

His fight with Antonio Carvalho is a good example of his mental hiccups. After brutally dominating the fight on the ground, he eventually settles into a prolongued striking exchange that would earn him only his second pro loss ever. He needs to fight like Clay Guida basically. Because he doesn't have the instincts of a duvet (oh I kid), however, he never seems comfortable following a specific gameplan and sticking with it.

This is where I think the fight becomes interesting. Menjivar is a fighter with decent enough power to make things interesting on the feet. Ivan's trouble has come against top heavy wrestlers. While that doesn't describe Hioki, Hatsu does have access to an arsenal of trips, and body lock takedowns.

As tough as this fight is for Hioki, I think it's just that much tougher for Ivan who will trouble dealing with Hioki's 5'11 frame. I also see Hioki getting this fight to the ground. Ivan just doesn't have the raw strength of a Guida or Lamas to avoid getting put on his back.

X-Factor: Hioki will always be a potential victim of the judges because he's prone to subtlety on the ground. Don't expect this to be a factor unless Ivan can turn this into a tactical bout on the feet, which it may well become.

In-Fight Soundtrack: Eulogy...because, sadly, one of these guys is getting one from the UFC.

Prediction: Hatsu Hioki by Decision.

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