by Ricardo Mendoza – MMAWeekly.com
(pictured: Jeff Curran at left; Hatsu Hioki at right)

In what could be the first step in creating a featherweight division in Pride Bushido, top-caliber featherweights Hatsu Hioki and Jeff Curran are set to face off at Pride Bushido 12.

Hioki has been climbing the Shooto Lightweight rankings over the past year and has steadily been grabbing the attention of MMA fans in Japan. Curran has gone a perfect 9-0 since losing his UFC debut to Matt Serra back in 2004.

This fight could have easily been a title match in any organization with a featherweight division due to the kind credentials that these two fighters have. You can expect this fight to be an amazing ground battle between two very exciting and skilled ground fighters.

These two fighters deserve the opportunity to display their skills in front of a bigger audience, and they have gotten that opportunity in Pride Bushido. There are many great fighters at that weight, and it’s difficult to see them at their best when they have to move up in weight to 160 pounds and fight bigger opponents. Hopefully, this will be the first step in creating a featherweight division in Pride.

Hatsu Hioki has a 9-1-1 record in MMA and trains with the “Alive” team alongside Pride Bushido veteran Daisuke “Amazon” Sugie. Hioki last saw action this past May at TKO 25, where he dominated UFC veteran Mark Hominick on the ground. Hioki got the fight to the ground and was able to easily pass Hominick’s guard, transitioning from side mount to full mount with ease. From there, Hioki was able to control the pace of the fight with strikes from the top, along with various submission attempts. The end of the fight came at the conclusion of the second round, when Hioki was able to lock on a tight triangle choke that looked to have Hominick done for the night. As the bell sounded to end the second round, Hominick had been choked unconscious, giving Hioki the technical submission victory. Hominick holds victories over Yves Edwards and Jorge Gurgel in the UFC.

In his three fights prior to facing Hominick, Hioki defeated former Shooto Lightweight contender Hideki Kadowaki with an armbar submission in the first round of a Shooto fight in July 2005; he defeated tough Finnish fighter Tom Niinimaki last November by fully extending Niinimaki’s elbow in a submission, which caused the referee to stop the bout; and then he fought to a draw with Bao Quach at a Shooto event in February of this year. Hioki is a master on the ground, but his stand-up remains a question mark.

Jeff Curran has a 23-7-1 record in MMA and trains out of his own team, which is appropriately called Team Curran. Curran is coming off an impressive submission victory over Pride Bushido veteran Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett at King of the Cage: Redemption on the River this past February. Prior to that fight, Curran beat then-undefeated Shooto standout Antonio Carvalho by decision at Iron Crown 9: Purgatory. In what was a very technical battle, Curran did more in the judges’ eyes and walked away with a majority decision in a close fight. Curran is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Pedro Sauer and has shown in his most recent fights that he indeed is a force to be reckoned with on the ground.

In the stand-up position, Curran has the advantage, as Hioki has not been tested recently in the stand-up. On the ground, Curran is the more technical fighter, while Hioki is the more aggressive fighter. Hioki will more than likely start going for submissions shortly after the fight hits the ground.

It’s a tough fight to predict, but Hioki should be able to walk away with the victory in my opinion. Though I doubt he will be able to submit Curran, Hioki should be able to keep the pressure on Curran and pull out a decision victory in what should be an amazing display of ground skills from both fighters.

Prediction: Hatsu Hioki by decision