This Saturday (June 28, 2014), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweights Hatsu Hioki and Charles Oliveira will face off on the main card of UFC Fight Night 43, airing live on Fight Pass from Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.
Hioki was last seen defeating veteran Ivan Menjivar at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "China" Finale in early March. Prior to that, he lost his previous three mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts after turning down a shot at Jose Aldo's title in 2012. The Japanese veteran saved his job for the time being, but the pressure will be on him to defeat Oliveira in New Zealand.
Oliveira recently picked up a "Performance of the Night" bonus for his third round triangle submission of Andy Ogle at UFC Fight Night 36 in February. Similar to Hioki, "Do Bronx" dropped his prior two bouts, but they were to top contenders Frankie Edgar and Cub Swanson.
At only 24 years old, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has a ton of time to develop into one of the world's best featherweights, and that quest continues this Saturday. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Hioki vs. Oliveira:
Record: 27-7-2 overall, 3-3 UFC
Key Wins: Ivan Menjivar (TUF: "China" Finale), George Roop (UFC 137), Bart Palaszewski (UFC 144)
Key Losses: Ricardo Lamas (UFC on FX 4), Clay Guida (UFC on FOX 6), Darren Elkins (UFC Fight Night 27)
Keys to Victory: Former Sengoku and Shooto featherweight champion Hioki is an impressive grappler with 12 submission wins to his name. He's also incredibly tough to finish, with each of his seven losses coming on the judges' scorecards.
However, he's failed to come out on top against top-level featherweights in UFC, and each one of his Octagon bouts has gone the distance. That's usually not a recipe for success, so Hioki has to show up ready to put on a show.
With Oliveira owning submission skills that rival his own, it's on Hioki to dictate the pace. He may look for some takedowns to maintain top control, but obviously he has to be weary of "Do Bronx's" dangerous guard.
He always has to stifle Oliveira's stand-up game. Hioki has only won four bouts by way of knockout, so standing and trading for too long will be ill advised. He should look to use his strikes to score points while transitioning to grappling.
Overall, Hioki needs to show up and put forth one of his best performances. Because of his youth and propensity for exciting bouts, Oliveira's job is safe whether he wins or loses.
The same cannot be said for himself.
Record: 17-4(1) overall, 5-4(1) UFC
Key Wins: Darren Elkins (UFC on Versus 2), Jonathon Brookins (TUF 15 Finale), Andy Ogle (UFC Fight Night 36), Efrain Escudero (UFC Fight Night 22)
Key Losses: Frankie Edgar (UFC 162), Cub Swanson (UFC 152), Jim Miller (UFC 124), Donald Cerrone (UFC on Versus 5)
Keys to Victory: With 16 finishes in 17 pro fights, Oliveira is a dangerous finisher who puts on a show each and every time out. His opponent is exactly the opposite, usually winning or losing grinding affairs.
To keep his momentum rolling, Oliveira is probably best served keeping this fight on the feet. He has a powerful Muay Thai game to go along with his world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, and Hioki isn't exactly known for his striking prowess.
"Do Bronx" will be looking to become the first man to put out Hioki's lights with a bevy of punches, kicks, and knees. It won't be easy, but if he can accomplish the feat, he'll add a very impressive feather to his cap.
If and when the fight hits the mat, it's anyone's game. Oliveira has to stay one step ahead of Hioki by utilizing transitions and sweeps to avoid getting caught up in any disadvantageous positions. His rangy build and unorthodox holds will help him get there.
Oliveira has more ways to win this fight, at least on paper. He just can't let Hioki neutralize him by slowing down the pace too much. While a finish loss seems unlikely, he has been stopped in three out of his four losses, so maintaining a razor sharp focus will keep Oliveira on an upward trend.
Bottom Line from Auckland: The bottom line for this fight is that it could be a coming out party for the talented Oliveira. His career is just beginning to blossom, and he's already faced off some of the best featherweights in the world.
A big win over Hioki, especially a finish, will see Oliveira begin his perceived ascent up the rankings list.
On the other hand, Hioki is in the unenviable position of possibly fighting for his job. His window of opportunity is closing, and he's facing off with a hungry young challenger who has squared off against much higher-ranked fighters than he has.
That makes this bout do-or-die time for Hioki.
He won't go down without a fight, but he had better make it an exciting one. If not, he may be looking for a new promotion to fight in. The sky was the limit when he stormed into UFC with two straight wins; now he's become just another fighter in a crowded featherweight division.
That makes this the most important bout of his life. As for Oliveira, he has the time to be part of several fights that could be deemed as such. We'll just have to see how that dynamic translates to the cage come fight time.
With just two wins in their last seven combined bouts, Hatsu Hioki and Charles Oliveira have a lot to prove at UFC Fight Night 43 in New Zealand. Which ground wizard will pick up a big win?