One of the most highly decorated featherweights in the world will make his UFC debut this Saturday night (October 29, 2011) as former Sengoku, TKO and Shooto featherweight champion Hatsu Hioki takes on the always amenable George Roop in the opening bout of the UFC 137 main card.
Hioki is widely regarded as one of the most talented grapplers in MMA today. He enters the UFC with a 12-1-1 record in his past 14 fights and is currently listed as the number two ranked featherweight in the USA Today / SB Nation composite rankings. He's out to prove that the hype is real in his inaugural UFC bout.
George Roop has never seen a difficult fight he didn't like. He's stepped in against the likes of Leonard Garcia, George Sotiropoulos, Chan Sung Jung, Josh Grispi, Eddie Wineland and even teammate Mark Hominick in his last seven fights. He's coming off a big win over the former number one contender Grispi and an impressive showing against Hioki would vault him up the rankings as well.
Can Hioki break the current streak of underwhelming UFC fighters who came out of Japan? Will Roop play spoiler and halt Hioki's run for UFC gold? What must each man to do be victorious this Saturday night?
Record: 24-4-2 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Michihiro Omigawa (Sengoku 11)
How he got here: Hatsu Hioki is one the best featherweight that most American MMA fans have never seen. He spent much of the beginning of his career competing in Japan's Shooto organization, where he eventually rose to be featherweight champion. During that run, he also competed in Canada's now defunct TKO promotion, defeating eventual UFC title challenger Mark Hominick twice to win and defend the company's featherweight title.
The Japanese grappler also competed in Sengoku, where he would advance to the finals of a 16 man tournament before withdrawing due to injury.
Hioki would have his defining moment last year when he earned a title shot against the knockout machine Marlon Sandro and he showed he wasn't afraid to stand with the powerful brawler, winning a hard-fought unanimous decision and handing the Brazilian just the second loss of his professional career.
After one more fight in Shooto, Hioki signed with the UFC after Sengoku went belly-up earlier this year. The 28 year old will make his promotional debut this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Hatsu Hioki has competent stand-up skills, but his biggest weapon is his incredible ground game. He might stand and trade with Roop for a bit because he's not scared of anyone, but what he really wants to do is get inside, clinch up with the American and either drag him to the ground or work his trip takedowns.
If Hioki can get Roop on the ground, get your popcorn ready. He's one of those fighters that makes the ground work incredibly entertaining even for those uneducated on ground-fighting. He's constantly looking to pass guard, apply submission holds and his transitions are as smooth and seemingly effortless as anyone in MMA right now.
His mount is practically unstoppable and he's capable of straight up owning his opponents with a triangle from mount. He can either lock it in from top position or he can set it up and roll to his back and lock it in. He's truly a master of his craft.
Hioki will need to get this fight to the ground if he wants a decisive victory.
Key Wins: Josh Grispi (Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale), Chan Sung Jung (WEC 51)
Key Losses: Mark Hominick (UFC Fight for the Troops 2), Eddie Wineland (WEC 46), George Sotiropoulos (UFC 101)
How he got here: George Roop cut his teeth on the Arizona circuit, fighting at lightweight, where he worked his way up to becoming the Rage in the Cage lightweight champion. He would eventually head to Las Vegas, where he'd team up with coach Shawn Tompkins at Xtreme Couture and eventually with Team Tompkins after both sides split.
Roop was a castmember of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight where he won two fights before coming up short in the semifinals against Phillipe Nover.
The Arizona native had three fights in the UFC but was eventually bounced out with a 1-2 record after suffering a loss to George Sotiropoulos via second round Kimura at UFC 101. He cut all the way down to bantamweight for his WEC debut against former champion Eddie Wineland and would lose a decision.
After returning to his more natural featherweight, he's gone 2-1-1 in the last 19 months while scoring significant stoppage victories against top 145 pound fighters Chan Sung Jung and most recently Josh Grispi. Roop has never been one to run away from a tough fight and he stepped up to the challenge of greeting Hioki at UFC 137.
How he gets it done: George Roop is at his best when he can keep fights standing and work his crazy range. While Hatsu Hioki is only two inches shorter than him, Roop will still have a reach advantage, even if it's less than he's used to.
Roop's two best career performances have been when he's able to either connect with big kicks or outwork his opponents over the course of three rounds. He blasted "The Korean Zombie" with a beautiful head kick that knocked him out cold and after hanging on in the first round against Josh Grispi, he overwhelmed him in the third round and finished him with a body punch.
Roop will have to do everything in his power, use every trick in his bag to keep this fight standing and avoid letting Hioki do his magic on the ground. If Hioki clinches, he needs to free himself as fast as possible because he wants to avoid being on his back against the talented Japanese grappler at all costs.
Hioki is not a crazy wrestler so Roop just needs to work as hard as possible to keep him on the outside where he can pepper him with kicks and punches. Hioki has never been stopped so Roop should be hoping to outwork his opponent and win a decision.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is 100 percent where it takes place. If Hatsu Hioki cannot take George Roop down, he's going to have a significantly tougher fight on his hands. If he can take the American down, you can expect to see something similar to what submission specialist George Sotiropoulos was able to pull off against Roop.
The key battle for this fight is whether or not Hioki can put Roop on the canvas. He's not guaranteed to lose if he can't do it, but Roop's odds of winning will raise significantly if he can stuff Hioki's takedowns repeatedly over the course of three rounds.
Bottom Line: Both of these fighters are very viscerally entertaining. Hatsu Hioki is one of the most talented and exciting Japanese fighters ever and George Roop has put on a show the last four times we've seen him in the cage, whether it was a win or a loss. Expect to see a lot of action from Roop in the stand-up and the battle for position in the clinch should be wild as well. If this fight goes to the ground, just sit back and enjoy the Hioki show.
Who will come out on top at UFC 137? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!