Competing at home transforms athletes in every sport. For some, holding home court creates a bundle of nerves. For others, competing on their own turf does really little, though few can complain about the opportunity to let their families and friends see them compete close to where they grew up.

For UFC featherweight Darren “The Damage” Elkins, who competes out of Hobart, Ind., holding the home-field advantage when UFC Fight Night 27 hits Indianapolis on Wednesday provides extra motivation. He gets to combat former Sengoku featherweight champion Hatsu Hioki in an intriguing featherweight contest. Couple it in with the opportunity Elkins gets to compete in front of his family and friends, and it sets everything into place for arguably one of the most perfect scenarios for which he could have asked.

“I’m excited, honestly,” Elkins told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “It feels great. I got a lot of friends, family, co-workers and training partners that are going to come to watch. I think it’s going to be an awesome adrenaline rush, and it’s going to be an awesome feeling to fight in front of them.”

Part of Elkins’ excitement comes from the fact that he gets another highly touted opponent when he comes home on Wednesday. Despite Hioki’s skid, the UFC had difficulties finding someone with a willingness to step up and accept a challenge with “The Iron Broom.” When UFC matchmaker Joe Silva brought the fight to Elkins, however, he proved himself as the right man to call on for the job.

Elkins (top) drops ground and pound (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“I was reading online that the UFC was coming to Indianapolis, and I live in Indiana,” Elkins explained. “Indianapolis is only a two-hour drive for me, so I asked them, ‘I’d really like to fight in front of my home-state crowd, and I’d really like to fight in Indy,’ and they said they’d try to get an opponent. They told me Hioki was having trouble getting some opponents, and I said ‘Hioki’s perfect for me, I’ll definitely take that fight.'”

With a win, Elkins will aim to rebound from his UFC on Fox 7 loss to former UFC featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes, which marked only the second UFC defeat for Elkins and halted a five-fight winning streak. As with his upcoming bout with Hioki, Elkins took a big step up in competition when he looked to make the most of the opportunity in front of him, but Mendes decided to put a different plan into motion.

“It only lasted about a minute,” Elkins recalled. “I came out jabbing and throwing punches, and I stood right in the middle of them and stood right in front of him. He hit me with a big overhand right. [It landed] right on the button, and he put me down.”

Elkins agrees with the school of thought that says that athletes often learn more from their defeats than they do from their victories. Against Mendes, the world learned that he could hold his own, even if only temporarily, against a top-level wrestler with considerable knockout power. Though he did not get the win, Elkins did take a valuable lesson home with him.

“The thing I learned about that fight is I can’t sit in front of somebody for too long,” Elkins admitted. “I’m going to have to use better head movement, better angles, and really focus on my stand-up a little bit more.”

Hioki owns 10 wins by decision and 12 wins by submission. Elkins’ submission loss to Charles Oliveira, the only submission loss of Elkins’ career, came over three years ago. “The Damage” always goes looking for a finish, but don’t think for a second that he overlooked the possibility of potentially going to the judges against Hioki.

“He’s a grinding type of fighter, and he’s gritty,” Elkins said. “I’m a gritty type of fighter, so I do think it will be a lot of battles for position, and I’m hoping to put the pressure on him, go out there, get a finish, and make sure it’s a fun and exciting fight, because he’s very good at slowing things down, holding position, holding posture, and it’s hard to pass his guard. If you’re throwing punches, he’s pretty elusive. It’s really hard to get things going with him, and that’s what I’m going to have to do to find my rhythm on him.”

Elkins (R) celebrates victory (James Law/Heavy MMA)

Even if he takes time to find his rhythm, Elkins will still come in knowing exactly what to expect from Hioki. He fully prepared for Hioki’s ground wizardry, so much so that he’ll likely look to answer Hioki’s attempts to finish him before Hioki sets those attempts up. Elkins needs to make sure he stays ready for that, though, because he knows whenever an athlete overlooks Hioki, the results prove catastrophic.

“[I’ve made] some changes, obviously, but don’t give out a game plan,” Elkins said. “Obviously, Hioki’s going to want to go for a takedown, so it’s going to be a lot of being ready for that type of stuff and that jiu-jitsu, because he’s going to want to go to the ground and he’ll push for that. So I definitely want to be ready for his game plan, so that’s something I’m preparing for. What he does best is what I’m getting ready for, and I have my own game plan too, you know.

“Even the top guys beat him, but they were close fights. So it’s one of those things where you need to be ready for Hioki, and if you look past Hioki, he’ll take it to you. There’s plenty of challenges afterwards I can think about, you know. There’s a lot of guys who’re getting in title contention, and there’s a shuffle that’s changing constantly, so for sure it’ll be pretty easy to get the caliber of match-up that I want, but [only] if I go out and put on an impressive performance.”

UFC Fight Night 27 emanates live this Wednesday night from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and Elkins vs. Hioki airs as part of the Fox Sports 2 preliminaries prior to the main card on Fox Sports 1. However, with Elkins looking to score the biggest win of his career so far, none should find it shocking if his fight re-airs during the Fox Sports 1 portion of the card. After all, while Hioki must perform to the best of his skills on enemy soil, Elkins will come in as the crowd favorite.

Whether or not Elkins needs that extra incentive to impress, he will enjoy it come fight night, and when all is said and done, the world will take notice, one way or another.

Photo: Darren Elkins (James Law/Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.