As the second-ranked featherweight in the world, Hioki is the highest ranked Japanese fighter in the world and will hope to earn his crack at Jose Aldo's belt before a partisan crowd. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)
The second bout of the UFC 144 broadcast may well see the featherweight division's new #1 contender crowned as world #2 featherweight Hatsu Hioko takes on Bart Palszewski. The Japanese crowd will be hoping to see Hioki earn a shot at his third major featherweight title, while the seasoned veteran Palaszewski tries to play spoiler.
The addition of Hioki to the UFC's featherweight division was one of the most anticipated signings of 2011, as it brought over the highest ranked fighter who was previously outside of the Zuffa umbrella. With a great deal of hype comes high expectations, however, and as one of the UFC's most recognizable faces in Japanese fighting the pressure will be extra high in the UFC's return to Asia.
Hioki is on a five-fight winning streak since suffering a loss to Michihiro Omigawa, going uneaten in that time frame. The run has seen Hioki win the two biggest featherweight crowns in Japan, first claiming the Shooto title and then the Sengoku strap, and now needs only the biggest prize of them all, the UFC featherweight title, to complete his collection. Hioki's UFC debut came against George Roop, and while Hioki was the prohibitive favorite coming in, Roop gave Hioki everything he had leaving the Japanese fighter to barely escape with a split decision victory.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Although neither fighter is incapable in their less-favored area of work inside the cage, this fight will likely break down into a style-vs-style pairing as the fight wears on. Although sound on the feet, Hioki is on a different level on the mat, where he has racked up a dozen submission victories in his career. Hioki is aggressive on the mat and won't stop hunting for the opening to improve his position or snatch a limb from Palaszewski if the American fighter gets caught out of position.
Despite an unexpectedly difficult debut in the UFC, Hioki is still a strong favorite in this bout. The fantasy odds beg to differ, however, with the Japanese fighter available for just -120. Place a straight bet on Hioki for a relatively safe but modest return, and include the submission fighter in your parlay. Although a submission is possible, Palaszewski has been submitted just once in the past seven years and that was a technical stoppage which he disputed, so go with Hioki to positionally earn a unanimous decision.
Bart Palaszewski analysis after the jump.
"Bartimus" was one of the most recognizable fighters in the International Fight League, however when Zuffa came calling for select fighters when the league folded, Palaszewski was not on the list. Instead Palaszewski was forced to earn his shot at a WEC spot in a fight in Adrenaline MMA and re-secure a spot with Zuffa following a 1-2 run in his first WEC stint.
Since returning to the WEC, Palaszewski has been on an impressive run. He decisioned future WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis in his first fight back with Zuffa, then added a submission of Karen Darabedyan and knock out of Zachery Micklewright to improve his winning streak to four straight bouts. The run was halted by a split decision loss to Kamal Shalarus, however the decision was a contentious one, with Palaszewski having displayed the more technical and accurate striking. When the WEC was rolled into the UFC, Palaszewski dropped down to featherweight and took on a UFC lightweight making the drop in Tyson Griffin. Griffin had been near to the lightweight title before a losing skid and was favored in the match-up, but Palaszewski stopped Griffin with strikes in the first round.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Although Palaszewski has an impressive 11 submission wins, he prefers to spend his fights on the feet using his accurate striking to batter his opponents until the ref is forced to intervene. If he can maintain his distance against Hioki he should possess the pure striking edge over Hioki, with the only concern being that often a less gifted striker can win the stand-up if his opponent is too worried about takedowns to properly employ offense and defense as he knows how. On the mat Palaszewski will be at a disadvantage, but is no fish out of water. Having watched his fight with Jim Miller multiple times in the past few years, it never fails to impress how successful Palaszewski was at escaping multiple very deep and dangerous submissions from a fighter known for finishing subs.
In fantasy betting the value on Hioki comes with the corresponding lack of value on Palaszewski, who is paying off much less than you would find at a sports book. If Palaszewski is to take this fight it will be by keeping his distance and hammering Hioki with ranged strikes until Hioki crumbles, so take Palaszewski for a late TKO in the third round.