Hatsu Hioki is Shooto 143-pound world champion no more.

The world-ranked featherweight Tuesday issued a statement announcing that he has vacated his title in anticipation of an extended leave from the organization, in which he has fought the majority of his nearly nine-year professional career.

“At this time, I’ve returned the Shooto world lightweight title,” wrote Hioki, who won the belt with a May 2010 split decision over then-champ “Lion” Takeshi Inoue. “There is a pride in wearing the Shooto world title, but I think that in the near future I would like to challenge a new stage of pride.”

Hioki went on to state that he will remain closely tied to pro Shooto, as well as the amateur Shooto scene in Nagoya, Hioki’s birthplace and base camp at Alive gym.

Hioki, 27, has for months been rumored to be eying a leap stateside, likely to compete in the UFC’s newly formed featherweight division. While Hioki did not cite a promotion by name in his statement, Sherdog.com has learned from a source close to the fighter that Hioki will be in attendance at UFC 131 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on June 11.

Public comments from Zuffa officials have also indicated that Hioki’s presence would be welcomed with open arms.

“If Hioki wanted in the UFC, I would be happy to have him,” UFC Matchmaker Sean Shelby told MMAFighting.com in February. “I wasn’t looking to add talent until June or July, but I would make room for Hioki at any point.”

Shelby noted at the time that there had been no negotiations between the UFC and Hioki’s management due to Hioki’s contract with Sengoku Raiden Championship promoter World Victory Road. The future of SRC is currently unknown, the company having fallen virtually silent since funding from main sponsor Don Quijote was pulled in January.

Hioki has long been considered one of MMA’s finest 143-pounders, a reputation he upheld in claiming Marlon Sandro’s SRC featherweight title on Dec. 30 with a stunning five-round performance. The “Iron Broomstick” returned to the Shooto ring April 29, where submitted King of the Cage bantamweight champ Donald Sanchez via second-round triangle choke.

Sporting a record of 24-4-2, Hioki has been defeated only once in his past 14 fights, a highly contentious split decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa in November 2009. Hioki has twice beaten current UFC contender Mark Hominick and also holds notable victories over Rumina Sato, Jeff Curran and Ronnie Mann.

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