Long hailed as a potential threat to Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight boss Jose Aldo, Hatsu Hioki has to this point avoided a confrontation with the Brazilian juggernaut.
In lieu of that potential blockbuster, Hioki will meet the underrated and underappreciated Ricardo Lamas as part of the UFC on FX 4 “Maynard vs. Guida” prelims on Friday at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Six of the eight undercard bouts will air live on Fuel TV. Two others will stream to the UFC’s Facebook page.
A slick-grappling Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt who has held titles inside Shooto and Sengoku, Hioki has lost only once -- a controversial split decision to Michihiro Omigawa -- in his last 16 appearances and will carry a career-best six-fight winning streak into the cage. The 28-year-old Japanese ace last appeared at UFC 144 in February, when he cruised to a unanimous decision over the world-ranked Bart Palaszewski. Wins over Mark Hominick (twice), featherweight King of Pancrase Marlon Sandro and former Shooto lightweight champion Takeshi Inoue highlight Hioki’s resume, which includes a dozen submissions. In 32 professional bouts, he has never been finished.
With Lamas, Hioki tackles a rugged wrestler who earned NCAA Div. III All-American honors at Elmhurst College in Illinois. The 30-year-old Chicagoan has won each of his past two fights, putting away Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts mainstay Cub Swanson and the resurgent Matt Grice in succession.
“We are both on a winning streak,” Hioki said in his pre-fight interview with UFC.com, “so this fight is important in that sense.”
Hioki’s wobbly trek through the featherweight division and his forthcoming showdown with Lamas is but one reason to tap into the UFC on FX 4 prelims. Here are four more:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC on FX 4 Free Fan Pick’Em
Story’s Latest Chapter
Less than a year ago, Rick Story was looked upon as a dark horse title contender at 170 pounds, mentioned in the same breath as Johny Hendricks, whom he had already beaten, and Jake Ellenberger.
Story had pieced together six-fight winning streak and was staring at a main event showdown with Nate Marquardt at UFC Live 4. However, Marquardt did not receive medical clearance and was pulled from the lineup on the eve of the show, leaving Story to deal with AMA Fight Club’s Charlie Brenneman on short notice. Brenneman sprang the upset, and Story went on to lose his next bout to Martin Kampmann at UFC 139 five months later, fading back into the population as a largely forgotten piece of the UFC’s 170-pound puzzle.
A Brave Legion representative, Story will move towards reclaiming his place of prominence when he locks horns with promotional newcomer Brock Jardine. The run-up to UFC on FX 4 has again proven tumultuous for the 27-year-old Washington welterweight, as his first two booked opponents, Rich Attonito and Papy Abedi, dropped off the radar with injuries.
Dustin Pague needed all of 3:21 to submit Jared Papazian with a first-round rear-naked choke at UFC on FX 3 on June 8. Apparently, his competitive thirsts went unquenched. When the UFC needed a fill-in for the ailing Francisco Rivera, Pague answered the call, the sweat from his most recent triumph barely dry.
A semifinalist on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Pague will seek his second Octagon victory in two weeks when he throws leather with Ken Stone at 135 pounds. The 24-year-old Virginian absorbed little damage while dispatching the overzealous Papazian, but the prospect of a second weight cut this month could prove taxing, physically and mentally. Pague has earned a reputation as a finish-or-be-finished kind of fighter, as only one of his 16 career bouts has reached the judges.
Stone, meanwhile, has yet to find firm footing under the Zuffa LLC banner. The American Top Team representative was victimized in brutal stoppage losses to Eddie Wineland and Scott Jorgensen before he righted himself and choked Donny Walker unconscious at UFC Fight Night 25 in September.
Luis Ramos could turn into a historical footnote at some point, as he was the man charged with welcoming Erick Silva to the Octagon. He lasted just 40 seconds at UFC 134. Silva has since emerged as the welterweight division’s hottest prospect.
Ramos draws a difficult assignment in his sophomore outing, too, as he will match skills with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 alum Matt Brown. Anchored at the same Nova Uniao camp that spawned Aldo, the 31-year-old former Shooto champion has yet to lose consecutive fights as a professional.
A man who embodies Midwest toughness and blue-collar work ethic, Brown has proven vulnerable to submissions during his UFC run. In fact, his last four defeats have all come by tapout, three of them via choke. When allowed to remain upright, Brown, who has never been knocked out, can generate a ferocity few can match. Pete Sell undoubtedly still has nightmares about it.
UFC on FX 4 will mark the promotional debuts for three men: Jardine, C.J. Keith and Joey Gambino. They have combined for a 26-1 record.
Of the three, Gambino appears to have the brightest future. An accomplished amateur wrestler in New York, the 23-year-old has transitioned seamlessly to mixed martial arts, compiling a perfect 9-0 record with eight finishes. Moreover, Gambino trains out of the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal, alongside UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, longtime bantamweight staple Ivan Menjivar and rising 170-pound contender Rory MacDonald, among others. Widely regarded as one of the sport’s top prospects at 145 pounds, he replaces the injured Jim Hettes.
Gambino has his work cut out for him against Steven Siler. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 alum has won 15 of his last 17 bouts, including a surprising unanimous decision victory over American Top Team’s Cole Miller at UFC on FX 2 in March.