Made Of Iron

Hatsu Hioki’s mat destruction of American Top Team’s Chris Manuel in Sengoku’s Featherweight grand prix was vintage Hioki as much as it was an emphatic statement:

Leg trip, mount, and bring the pain. Armbar to topside triangle choke, bear down on opponent with all 143 pounds while constricting blood to the brain. And since he can, pummel him a bit before taking the arm home, forcing the tapout in less than 5 minutes. The Japanese fighter solidified his spot as the tournament’s favorite.

Hioki first ventured into mixed martial arts by placing third in amateur Shooto championships. At just 19 years old, the Nagoya-based fi ghter won his fi rst three bouts after turning professional. Then he ran into another future Japanese standout, Hirokyuki Takaya. The “Streetfi ght Bancho” landed overhand rights at will, knocking down Hioki multiple times. But the Alive team representative shook them offen route to losing his first bout.

That kind of resiliency — along with ill-fated slugfests like a draw against Bao Quach and a decision loss to Jong Man Kim — earned him the endearing unoffi cial moniker “Iron Broomstick.” At 5 feet 11 inches tall and 143 pounds, he holds wins over former WEC Featherweight title challengers Joe Pearson and Jeff Curran. He nearly submitted ADCC and Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu world champion Baret Yoshida before scoring a technical knockout. Like all Shooto standouts, he defeated Shooto legend and MMA cult icon Rumina Sato.

But perhaps his greatest accomplishments were in the only two non-Japanese bouts of his career, where he traveled to Canada and defeated TKO champion and UFC-WEC veteran Mark Hominick. In the fi rst outing, he worked “The Machine” over on the mat, fi nishing with a triangle choke. Their second bout saw Hioki beat the Shawn Tompkins pupil standing. It signaled a shift in Hioki’s game — he was no longer the fighter that hit the mat multiple times against Takaya. More importantly, he could fight a champion’s fight, lasting five 5-minute rounds.

His impressive international ledger spawned rumors Hioki was headed back to North America to fi ght for Zuffa’s WEC. Instead, the PRIDE veteran signed up for Sengoku’s Featherweight tournament.

The organization hopes to fill the void left by PRIDE’s departure. Its approach is a sporting one rather than the usual Japanese meld of professional wrestling theatrics and shoot fighting. Hioki fits perfectly into its mold: a serious athlete in need of a grand stage to rock. Shooto, for all of its virtues, is like a first love — always remembered but gladly in the past.

The move from Shooto’s ropes to Sengoku’s has been smooth for Hioki. He dispatched Manuel with his classic aggressive submission game. Standing, Hioki fights like a patient Miguel Torres, employing his length to keep distance and punish opponents. He favors low kicks and is increasingly interested in trading leather. Defensively, he loves push kicks and keeps his head out of range like Yushin Okami. A quiet character, Hioki entered the tournament’s second round — as a headliner — a three-to-one favorite over banger Ronnie Mann. He handed the Brit his second loss in 19 bouts by transforming an anaconda choke into a triangle.

The victory moved his record to 19-3-2, marking his tenth submission. He’s never been stopped, and moving into the tournament’s dusk, it appears he won’t go gently.

Two wins — that’s one night in Japan’s tournament format — away from the Featherweight championship, Hioki, 26, embodies Sengoku’s youth movement as a calm but dangerous role model. The killer instinct he brought into Sengoku has the universally ranked Featherweight on the brink of Japanese superstardom. And his chain submissions prove the “Iron Broomstick” is a weapon to watch.

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