Whether he's fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship or the Rizin Fighting Federation, Kyoji Horiguchi is one of the best flyweights on the planet. The rest of 2017 will give him the chance to prove he could be one of MMA's best bantamweights, to boot.
On Sunday, Rizin staged its ”2017 in Yokohama: Sakura” event, drawing an announced crowd of 12,729 to the Yokohama Arena. Today, the promotion held a press conference to reveal the early blueprints for the remainder of the year, including the announcement of a 16-man bantamweight tournament.
Rizin CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara told the media that he was initially interested in promoting a flyweight bracket over 2017, but the Sunday performance of Horiguchi, who violently dominated Yuki Motoya for 15 minutes, inspired a change in thought.
“It was already announced that in 2017, we will hold a GP at 49 kilograms for the women, but the men's GP will take pace at bantamweight,” Sakakibara explained. “Motoya is a really strong fighter, however, Horiguchi won with a different dimension of strength, beyond his weight class. I consulted with Horiguchi [after the fight] and told him I want to raise this [bantamweight] division to a drastic degree.”
Prior to his UFC debut in October 2013, Horiguchi fought largely at 132 pounds in the Shooto ranks, where he won the Shooto world title over Hiromasa Ogikubo, then defended his successfully against now-Pancrase champ Shintaro Ishiwatari
In addition to Horiguchi, Sakakibara confirmed that the 16-fighter field will feature 20-year-old Erson Yamamoto, the nephew of “Kid” Norifumi Yamamoto, as well as Japanese MMA's “Cinderella Man,” 39-year-old Hideo Tokoro. Sakakibara further said that while he wants to import top international talent as well, he is focused on bringing in the best bantamweight fighters from Japan's top promotions, including Deep, Pancrase, Shooto and ZST.
Rizin's bantamweight grand prix will begin on July 3 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, with the four opening rounds bouts in the top half of the tournament bracket. The remaining four opening bouts will take place in the autumn, though Rizin has yet to announce a date or venue for its fall event. Similar to the promotion's previous GP offerings, the quarterfinals are scheduled for Dec. 29 for the first leg of Rizin's New Year's season festivities. The semifinals and finals will be held on the same night, Dec. 31, at Saitama Super Arena.