UFC featherweight Bart Palaszewski realizes the opportunity that is front of him this weekend. As he prepares to face Hatsu Hioki, a fighter many feel is the number two featherweight in the world, “Bartimus” must contend with his opponent’s skill set as well as fighting in front of a hostile Japanese crowd. While the Japanese fans aren’t as raucous as their North American counterparts they will no doubt be rooting for their countrymen.
Success against Hioki could put Palaszewski a win or two away from a shot at UFC gold. After years toiling in the Midwestern MMA scene before joining the WEC back in December of 2008, the Team Curran Jiu-Jitsu Blackbelt has finally made it to the big show. He certainly did not disappoint in his featherweight debut as he knocked out Tyson Griffin the first round of their UFC 137 bout to earn Knockout of the Night honors.
This will be Palaszewski’s second trip to Japan as he defeated Masayuki Okude via first round knockout at ZST 6 in September of 2004. The bout will be the 51st of a career that started over ten years ago in Hammond, Indiana. A lot has happened in the decade since; he’s had some tough losses coupled with some big wins. Nothing will compare to the experience he had against an overweight Griffin or will compare should he defeat Hioki.
“Knocking Griffin out was certainly a nice intro to the UFC,” said Palaszewski excitedly to FightLine.com. “I have a lot of knockouts on my record so it was something I knew I could do. I’m known for my knockouts, but it’s not what I went out there to do, but I have to admit it felt awesome. The UFC is where everywhere wants to be and it’s always been my ultimate goal.”
With a more than a twelve-hour long flight ahead, most fighters would be worried about getting acclimated to the time change but not Palaszewski. He actually considers it an advantage and is going about his training as if he were fighting here in the states. He will rely on his coaches to prepare a gameplan and let his fists do the talking.
“If you think about it Hioki is the one who is going to have to deal with the time change,” offered Palaszewski. “We are fighting on US Time when we get there so for me there really is nothing to prepare for other than the fight itself. I’m going to stay on the US clock so it’ll be 7:00 PM for me and about 9:00 AM for him. He gets to fight first thing in the morning so he’ll have some breakfast and then a punch in the face from me!”
Hioki is well known for his grappling and, while both men are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelts, it’s Hioki who will have an advantage when and if the fight hits the floor. He has amassed wins over some very good fighters including Marlon Sandro, Lion Takeshi, Mark Hominick and Jeff Curran. However, Palaszewski has better striking and has said he will try to do something that has never been done before – knock Hioki out.
“I would say my stand-up is where I hold the advantage,” said Bartimus. “Then again I feel that I hold the advantage in that area over most of the fighters in my weight class. His wrestling focuses more on the upper body and I’ve been working really hard in that area so I’m really not worried about it. I am actually looking forward to testing my wrestling and we are both BJJ blackbelts so it’s hard to say he has the advantage there, but I’m going to do my best to keep the fight standing.”
The list of viable contenders for Jose Aldo’s UFC Featherweight Championship is a short one. Hioki has to be considered next in line should he win on Saturday night, but after that it’s up in the air. Dustin Poirier is set to face Chan Sung Jung in May, but neither fighter is ready to face Aldo. Where does Palaszewski see himself as far as the contenders are concerned?
“I really believe that Poirier and Erik Koch are up towards the top,” assessed Palaszewski. “Hioki, if he beats me will get Aldo, but he is not getting a shot at Aldo. Guys like Koch who is 2-0 in the UFC and Poirier who is 3-0 have to be considered legitimate opponents for Aldo at this time. I think after I beat Hioki I can fight one of the guys I mentioned and then go after the title, but my focus is on this fight right now.”
“If the UFC comes to me with the title shot I won’t turn it down, but I think those guys are ahead of me,” Palaszewski continued. “The win over Griffin broke me in to the Top 10 of the division and a win over Hioki should put me in the Top 5. Maybe in June or July I could get a contender fight and with a win there maybe get a shot at the title towards the end of the year. I want to do things the right way; I don’t want to rush things. The UFC is where I want to retire.”
It took Palaszewski a long time to get to where he is at now. A lot of fights in small venues for very little money, but if you listen to him he wouldn’t have done things any other way. He is very grateful for the opportunity that he has in front of him and it’s also nice to be collecting a bigger paycheck. He also knows that things will just get better if he brings home a win this weekend.
“I worked really hard for a long time to get here,” Palaszewski said matter of factly. “I’m actually glad that I’m here in the sports prime as it keeps growing and growing. I’m extremely glad it took me this long because the pay is so much better! Before it was just the top guys who were paid well, but now we are all reaping the benefits. The sponsors are getting bigger, pretty soon you’ll see companies like Dodge and Nike sponsoring fighters.”
“Every one knows the big companies and they will realize that everyone will know what the UFC is and who the fighters are,” he concluded. “The little guys are where it’s at and the UFC is doing a great job promoting the lighter divisions. The UFC is getting hotter and hotter and there is no stopping it. Every sport goes through their ups and downs, but not the UFC. The FOX deal is going to give us the recognition we deserve. Every fight I shoot for a knockout because that’s what people want to see and I plan on putting on a good show in Japan. I do not want to disappoint my fans.”
Catch Hioki-Palaszewski as part of a seven-fight main card at UFC 144 this Saturday, also featuring Quinton Jackson vs. Ryan Bader and Frankie Edgar vs. Benson Henderson. As always, we will provide live round-by-round coverage of the event here at FightLine.com.