Even though he only fought once in 2011, it may have been the biggest year ever for UFC featherweight Bart Palaszewski.
“It was good,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “There was a little down time because I got sick at the beginning of the year, but I finished it pretty strong.”
Palaszewski used his downtime effectively by adding to his game.
“I’ve been working a lot of things that I never had time to, and kind of wanted to,” he said. “The fight with Tyson (Griffin at UFC 137) and the fight before it forced me to work on my wrestling a lot.
“I’ve become a lot more confident. I’m pushing forward more. I have a pretty aggressive style with my striking, and I was always kind of sketchy with it because I was afraid I was going to be taken down, but I’m confident enough in my wrestling that people are going to have a hard time taking me down.”
Palaszewski’s emphasis on ground work will come in handy when he has his first fight of the year against Hatsu Hioki at UFC 144 Japan at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan on Feb. 26.
“He’s a good grappler, but so am I,” stated Palaszewski, then laughed, “I’m a jiu-jitsu black belt, but I just choose not to showcase my skills on the ground.
“It’s the fight I asked for and obviously got. I’m looking to break into the Top 5, and by beating Hioki that’s definitely going to happen.”
Admittedly, Palaszewski would love to stand and trade strikes with Hioki. If he gets an opportunity to land anything on the feet, Palaszewski feels it could end the fight quickly.
“I definitely think I have the power to knock him out,” he said. “I’ve seen guys drop him with jabs, but he usually got saved by the rules.
“He got dropped a lot in Shooto, and thanks to the standing eight count, he got to recover. We don’t have that in the UFC, so I’ll be able to jump on him right away. I think if I can connect hard enough to drop him, he’s going to sleep.”
A win over a top-tier opponent like Hioki could go a long way towards establishing Palaszewski as a contender for the featherweight title; even if that’s not his immediate goal.
“I’m looking at one fight at a time right now; so I’m not looking past Hioki,” he said. “There are a lot of guys ahead of me. (However), if I do well against Hioki and the UFC comes to me with a title shot, I’ll take it.
“I set my goals pretty high with breaking into the Top 5. That’s a pretty tall order with the division we have. I broke into the Top 10 with the win over Tyson, so hopefully by the end of 2012 or the start of 2013 I’ll be in the Top 5 and get a crack at the belt.”