It didn't take long for Hastu Hioki (25-4-2) to return home. According to reports from MMA Weekly, the Japanese star has been matched-up against WEC veteran Bart Palaszewski (36-14) for UFC 144 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. UFC officials have yet to confirm the bout.
Hioki, the No. 3 ranked featherweight in the world, earned the Shooto lightweight title and Sengoku featherweight crown overseas before making his October UFC debut. Despite entering the Octagon to much acclaim, the 28-year-old struggled en route to a razor-thing split decision victory over George Roop. Nonetheless, the win was Hioki's fifth straight and tenth of his last eleven contests.
Across the cage, Palaszewski returns after a tremendous Octagon debut that saw the 28-year-old flatten Tyson Griffin with a thunderous left hook midway through the first round at UFC 137. The stunning finish earned "Bartimus" Knockout of the Night honors and was his fifth victory in sixth contests. Palaszewski holds previous wins over UFC contenders Anthony Pettis and Ivan Menjivar.
In addition, reports indicate a heavyweight tilt between French striker Cheick Kongo (17-6-2) and K-1 veteran Mark Hunt (7-7) has been targeted for the February card.
Kongo, a kickboxing specialist training out of Wolfslair MMA Academy, last tasted defeat in a late-2009 first-round submission loss to Frank Mir. Since then the massive veteran his ripped through three victories over Paul Buentello, Pat Barry, and Matt Mitrione.
Meanwhile, Hunt hopes to extend his momentum after earning a two-fight win streak with UFC victories over Chris Tuchscherer and Ben Rothwell. The surprising run snapped a six-fight slump stretching back to mid-2006.
UFC 144 will be held on February 26th, 2012. UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar defends his belt against former WEC lightweight kingpin Ben Henderson in the night's main event.
UFC 144 fight card:
Lightweight Championship: Ben Henderson vs. Frankie Edgar
Featherweight: Hastu Hioki vs. Bart Palaszewski
Lightweight: Anthony Pettis vs. Joe Lauzon
Welterweight: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Jake Shields
Middleweight: Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch
Heavyweight: Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Hunt