One of the last remaining top ranked featherweights not in the UFC could be headed stateside before too much longer.
Japanese standout Hatsu Hioki vacated his 143-pound Shooto title, and is expected to become a free agent from his commitments with Sengoku as well, which could lead to his signing with the UFC within the next few months.
Hioki is currently ranked No. 5 in the MMAWeekly.com World MMA Rankings, and is literally the only non-UFC fighter ranked in the top ten.
“There is a pride in wearing the Shooto world title,” Hioki wrote in a release. “I would like to think that in the near future, I would like to challenge a new stage of pride.”
Throughout his career, Hioki has remained one of the top featherweights in the sport. He holds wins over several top fighters including Marlon Sandro, Ronnie Mann, and Rumina Sato.
The Japanese fighter has trained in the United States and worked alongside UFC fighter Kenny Florian during one of his past camps.
Hioki will be in attendance at UFC 131 in Vancouver next week. It’s expected that he and his management will meet with the UFC at some point during his time in Canada, but there is currently no deal in place for him to fight in the Octagon.
Should he make his way to the UFC, Hioki would immediately inject himself into the fray among the best featherweights in the sport. The test will not be easy, however, as displayed by the last fighter to defeat Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, who found that out when he made his UFC debut and lost by unanimous decision to current top contender Chad Mendes.
Stay tuned for any developments while Hioki is in Canada next week for UFC 131.