Evaluating how well a Japanese fighter is going to perform seems a lot harder than it should be. One by one, these fighters come over to North America to compete, and while I don’t have any data to back this up, subjectively, it seems like almost all of them fall flat. Whether it’s Shinya Aoki, Takanori Gomi, Yoshihiro Akiyama, or Michihiro Omigawa, top Japanese fighters just don’t seem to be able to get the job done. In his eagerly-anticipated UFC debut last October, Hatsu Hioki took on an admittedly awkward opponent in George Roop. Based on rankings, and records, and SILVA scores, and just about anything else you’d want to look at, Hioki should have won easily, but instead, Roop gave Hioki a very tough fight, and ended up losing a narrow decision that arguably should have gone the other way.
What causes Japanese fighters to falter when they compete stateside is an open question. Part of the idea behind SILVA is to judge fighters objectively, by using only wins and losses as data, so that fighters across countries and organizations can be compared to each other. However, because certain regions aren’t very well connected, it’s possible that certain fighters are overrated as a result of a generally lower skill level throughout a region. It seems that fighters from Japan and Europe tend to under-perform their SILVA scores. A recent example would be Anton Kuivanen, who SILVA favored to beat Justin Salas handily, but instead it was Salas who won a decision. Perhaps SILVA overrates fighters who come from a different fighting environment than places like North America or Brazil.
To illustrate this, for those who didn’t watch PRIDE or don’t own UFC Undisputed 3, here is the rule-set used by PRIDE in its standard events:
- A ten-minute first round, followed by a five-minute second round and a five-minute third round
- Kicks and knees to the head of a downed opponent are legal
- Elbows to the head are illegal
- Fighters who stall may be given a yellow card; three such penalties results in a disqualification
- Fights take place in a ring
- Fights are judged as an entirety, with special emphasis placed on attempting to finish the fight
You get the picture. It’s just a vastly different environment than what is used in North America’s Unified Rules of Combat.
Now, I can’t say the Japanese MMA environment alone is why fighters like Hioki struggle in North America, but the different environments definitely favor different skill sets. What works for Hioki and Shinya Aoki in Japan might not work in the UFC.
I say all this to say that I don’t think Hioki’s struggles against George Roop were a fluke. All that fight represents is a continuation of the pattern shown by Japanese fighters when they compete in the UFC. Given that Roop is 12-9-1 as a professional, with a 29.32 SILVA score, to me, that fight serves as an indicator of poor things to come for fans of Hioki. In this fight, Hioki will be facing Bart Palaszewski, a very experienced fighter with a 36-14 professional record, and a very good recent fight history. Palaszewski knocked out Tyson Griffin in the first round of his last fight, and with his recent 5-1 run, he likely represents more than a step up in competition.
SILVA PREDICTION: HATSU HIOKI (73.69) OVER BART PALASZEWSKI (63.65)
For me, this is a very low-confidence pick. Given everything I said about the struggles of Japanese fighters, I have a hard time getting behind the idea of Hatsu Hioki winning this fight. He will be competing in his home country, which is a plus, but he’ll still have to deal with the UFC fighting environment. Hioki does still have great ground skills, and is an OK striker, so I’ll pick him to win this fight, but something in my gut is just screaming at me that Palaszewski is going to win here. Brain says Hioki… gut says Palaszewski… I’ll go with my brain, but maybe my gut is smarter than my brain. We’ll see.