The UFC has decided to give the fans an additional hour of mixed martial arts action on Pay-Per-View this Saturday when they return to Japan for the first time under Zuffa leadership as “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) defends his lightweight title against “Smooth” Ben Henderson (14-2) in the Saitama Super Arena for UFC 144. “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-9) and “Darth” Ryan Bader (13-2) will play the second fiddle in the UFC’s symphony of violence and Japanese superstar “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-5) will welcome Jake Shields (26-6-1) to the middleweight division. Former WEC champ “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (14-2) will meet “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (21-6) to start things and bouts between “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-6) and “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (14-4), and “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (7-7) and Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) will round out the evening. In one of the more interesting fights for the night, former Shooto Lightweight Champion and Sengoku Featherweight Champion Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2) will look to remain unbeaten in the UFC. Against him is WEC featherweight slugger “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (35-14), who also is 1-0 in the UFC and has no intentions of letting the Japanese stud celebrate a victory in his home country.
At First Glance: Usually when a promotion heads to a fighter’s home base, they put him against a fighter he matches favorably with and if one examines Hioki’s resume and Palaszewski’s most recent bouts, this fight seems no different. “Bartimus” has won five of his last ten bouts via KO or TKO and has suffered his two of last three defeats against fighters with substantial ground regimens. In fact, only three of his nine losses since 2004 have come from submission or wrestling specialists. Hioki is just that – a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt with 12 of his 23 victories coming via submission. However, looks can be deceiving and much as Akiyama will face a stiff test before the hometown crowd against Shields, Palaszewski’s own BJJ black belt and submission-heavy training team at Curran Martial Arts make him a serious threat to the Japanese star.
In Depth: ”The proof is in the pudding”, as the old saying goes. Hioki has put away several top-level fighters of all styles in the past several years, including dangerous strikers with elite grappling skills like Marlon Sandro (20-3), top level kickboxers like “The Machine” Mark Hominick (19-9), and dangerous submission aces like Rumina Sato (26-13-2). “Bartimus” certainly has power in his hands and top notch grappling skills, but he faces an opponent who has never been finished and whose only losses are razor thin and, in fact, very controversial, decisions. Palaszewski’s real chances for victory unfortunately rest on his weakest skill set: takedown defense. While he is certainly not inept in that area, the Polish IFL veteran has suffered all but two of his losses as a direct result of being controlled on the ground and has secured all eight of his submission wins from his back. This disturbing tendency to always find himself in the defensive grappling positions will not sit well against a grappler on the level of Hioki.
Wild Card: The biggest flaw in Hioki’s game is his lack of power on the feet. This gives an instant advantage to “Bartimus” at the beginning of every round that will last as long as he can stuff the takedown. Palaszewski only has one loss by TKO or KO in his career, despite having faced several dangerous strikers. As long as the fight stays standing, Palaszewski can slug it out with the Japanese grappler and likely win the decision by doing more damage in the exchanges, and landing more total strikes as he punishes Hioki for every takedown attempt.
The Verdict: With the home field advantage and a decided edge in raw grappling skill, it is highly unlikely that Hioki will lose to Palaszewski. The Polish fighter has the power to make it a fight and the wrestling to at least stall the takedowns, but he will only be delaying the inevitable as the Japanese sensation drives him to the mat with an outside trip or lateral takedown and proceeds to end the fight by submission. Hioki via Submission (Armbar), Round 2