The first Pancrase event of 2016 takes place Sunday (1 a.m. ET) at the Differ Ariake Arena, with 13 bouts scheduled to air on UFC FIGHT PASS.
Originally intended to feature featherweight champion Andy Main defending his title for the first time against Juntaro Ushiku, a knee injury forced the American to the sidelines and the bout to be put on hold, thrusting a Japanese legend making his promotional debut into the main event spotlight.
Competing for the first time since being released by the UFC last May, 32-year-old Hatsu Hioki (27-9-2) returns to the cage looking to halt a two-fight losing streak when he takes on 24-year-old prospect Kyosuke Yokoyama (5-3) in the headlining bout.
After a lengthy career spent primarily in Shooto, Hioki arrived in the UFC as one of the top featherweight fighters in the world, but never managed to replicate the vast success he experienced in Japan while competing in the Octagon. Following a 2-0 start to his UFC run, Hioki dropped five of his next six outings, with his last two setbacks being the first time he was submitted (by Charles Oliveira) and finished by strikes (by Daniel Hooker) in his lengthy career.
The talented grappler looks to get back in the win column against Yokoyama, a member of the Krazy Bee team and a protégé of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto.
Don’t let the discrepancy in their records throw you off – this is far from a cakewalk for the returning veteran. Yokoyama started his career with just a single victory in his first four outings, but has since rattled off four straight victories in Pancrase to bring his record to 5-3.
With Hioki showing signs of slowing down during his UFC run and Yokoyama looking to establish himself as someone to watch in Pancrase and beyond, this should be an entertaining fight that has a ripple effect throughout the promotion regardless of who wins.
Yusuke Yachi (13-5) vs. Rodolfo Rubio (14-8)
Another Krazy Bee product, Yachi makes his Pancrase debut after a fourth-round triangle choke loss to Australia standout Alex Volkanovski at PXC 50 back in December. Prior to his most recent setback, the 25-year-old had won nine of his last 10 following a 1-3 stretch that covered the whole of 2010 and carried on into 2011 before he found his groove.
A contestant on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Rubio lost in the featherweight semifinals to eventual winner and current rising star Yair Rodriguez. He then lost his official promotional debut to fellow cast member Diego Rivas, leading to his release.
Coming off a first-round submission win back in December, “Fito” is looking to return to the form that earned him a place on TUF: Latin America and perhaps work his way back to the UFC.
Masakatsu Ueda (20-4-2) vs. Jose Alday (7-0)
How can you not be impressed with the Ueda? In a lengthy career that includes wins over the likes of Eduardo Dantas, Rumina Sato and Kyoji Horiguchi, the 38-year-old rebounded from the first two-fight losing streak of his career to post consecutive victories over Luis Alberto Nogueira and Kosuke Terashima.
Now the veteran bantamweight steps in to face an unbeaten 20-something looking to propel himself to the next level with a signature victory over the Japanese stalwart.
Just 24 years old and having racked up seven victories in the last two years, this fight will go a long way to determining whether Alday is a legitimate prospect or someone that have raced out to a strong record against subpar competition to begin his career. To his credit, he’s earned stoppage victories in five of his seven appearances, but Ueda is a huge step up and a serious test for the young Mexican fighter.
Others to Watch
Kenta Takizawa (4-1) just turned 21 in November and already has four TKO victories to his credit. The young Reversal Gym Tokyo representative takes on Alan Yoshihiro Yamaniha (12-4-4) in what should be a solid litmus test.
Sergei Martynov (5-1) carries the same name as a three-time Olympic medalist and his only career setback was a majority decision. With the seemingly endless wave of talent coming from Russia and its neighboring states in recent years, a 23-year-old still in the process of building his resume taking on a 35-year-old veteran in his 50th professional bout is worth keeping an eye on.