At tomorrow's (March 1, 2014) TUF: "China" Finale in Macau, Hatsu Hioki will be getting what may well be his last chance in UFC. Following three straight decision losses, Hioki's days as a top fighter are far behind him, but it is now up to him to see if he can at least hang with UFC caliber fighters.
After making his name in Japanese MMA with promotions like Shooto and Sengoku, Hioki was expected to be a featherweight contender when he was signed by UFC in 2011. His star started to fade, however, following narrow decision victories over known journeymen George Roop and Bart Paleszewski.
Since those wins, Hioki's reputation has fallen even more, as he is now on a three-fight losing streak, which includes a debatable split-decision loss to Clay Guida, but also two decisive unanimous decision losses to Ricardo Lamas and Darren Elkins.
In UFC, it is rare for a fighter to remain with the promotion after long losing streaks like Hioki's. It is a testament to his reputation that he is still with the promotion, but his fight against Ivan Menjivar in Macau would almost definitely be his last with the promotion should he not come out victorious, and that is why it is so important.
Luckily for Hioki, the odds seem to be in his favor.
The last time he fought close to home was at UFC 144, when he beat Bart Paleszewski by unanimous decision, and it seemed to give him a needed boost. Although this bout is not being held in Japan, the distance is not nearly as difficult as coming from Japan to the U.S., which should help him to not reproduce some of the more lackadaisical, tired performances he's had in recent outings.
He will also probably be much larger than his opponent, considering Menjivar is returning to featherweight after a stint in the UFC's bantamweight division, citing a difficulty in making weight that was affecting his performances. Hioki is already a lanky featherweight, and against the small, compact Menjivar, he would be well advised to strike at a distance, which is something he has been known to do.
However, Menjivar is absolutely not a fighter to overlook.
With 36 professional fights to his name, he is very experienced, and has faced some top level opposition. "The Pride of El Salvador" is well rounded, and dangerous wherever the fight goes, and he will not let Hioki off the hook if he makes a big mistake.
At TUF: "China" Finale, Hioki will have to show the skills that made him such a touted prospect in his past. With an impressive win over Menjivar, he will be coming back in a big way, and putting an end to an ugly losing streak.
See how he does in our "Fight Pass" live results and play-by-play thread right here.