INDIANAPOLIS – Darren Elkins got back on track Wednesday night, and he did so in mostly dominant fashion.
The Hobart based featherweight had to fight through some trouble in the first round, but then came on strong the final 10 minutes to take a unanimous decision from Japan's Hatsu Hioki.
The bout took place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as part of UFC Fight Night 27. It aired live on the new FOX Sports 2 cable network.
Elkins (17-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC), with the victory, set the UFC's new high-water mark for wins in the featherweight division, which was added by the promotion in 2011. It was his sixth win at 145 pounds, and he got back in the win column after an April loss to former title challenger Chad Mendes.
Hioki (26-7-2 MMA, 2-3 UFC), formerly the No. 2-ranked fighter in the world at featherweight, lost for the third straight time.
"Indiana, I love you – yeah!," Elkins said to his home-state crowd. He was fighting in Indiana for the first time since Hoosier Fight Club 1 in 2009. "It feels great. Friends and family who have never gotten to see me fight in the UFC, they all got to make this trip this time and I'm really happy about it. I fed off the energy."
Elkins looked like he wanted the fight early in the first round as he worked his boxing and had Hioki bleeding. Hioki, though, landed front kicks to Elkins' body, and eventually enough got through to have him hurt.
Hioki had Elkins in trouble and looked for a choke on the ground. Elkins, a state champion wrestler at Portage, defended for the moment, but he found himself back on the ground trying to survive the first round.
But in the second, Elkins' standup was even more on point than in the first. When Hioki swung over the top, Elkins used the miss to land a double-leg takedown and went to work. That was his bread-and-butter in the second, defending against Hioki's strong game off his back and landing ground-and-pound.
And that was the entire story in the third, as Elkins took the fight to the ground quickly and landed punches and elbows to the body and head throughout most of the final five minutes.
After the fight, which he won with unanimous 29-28 scores from all three judges, Elkins said surviving the trouble in the first round was owed to his head as much as his body.
"The mental game is my strong point," he said. "Some things, I make up for with my mental game and my conditioning. I thought I fought good. He hit me with a couple hard body kicks in the first. I recovered and fought hard, I thought if I pushed hard I could break him."
With six wins in his last seven featherweight fights, and now a win over his most notable featherweight opponent yet, Elkins said he's ready for another high-level opponent so he can start to inch his way back into title contention. He was close with a five-fight streak before his loss to Mendes, which he took on with just a month's notice.
"I'd like another guy who's top-rated," Elkins said. "I want to work my way right back into title talk. But they've gotta be big guys, big fights – one or two more."