Horiguchi could be on the fast track to UFC title contention. | Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
It’s a long-standing belief that Japanese imports have struggled in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Hatsu Hioki, Norifumi Yamamoto, Takanori Gomi, Caol Uno, Hayato Sakurai -- the list goes on and on.
Some have tasted mild success. Yushin Okami once challenged Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight title. Often forgotten due to dubious circumstances and a botched referee stoppage by “Big” John McCarthy, mixed martial arts legend Kazushi Sakuraba -- a late replacement for the injured Yoji Anjo -- captured a one-night heavyweight tournament after getting a second chance against Marcus Silveira at UFC 15.5: Ultimate Japan 1.
Tsuyoshi Kosaka was an early Octagon pioneer and paved the way for many Asian fighters, but largely does not get the respect his résumé warrants amongst even the most hardcore of fans.
Many Japanese fighters left their mark in the rings of Pride Fighting Championships and Shooto, but have yet to achieve the ultimate level of success on the sport’s modern day biggest stage. But, the two-decade long Octagon draught could be coming to an end. Fans of Japanese mixed martial arts may have found their savior.
Meet Kyoji Horiguchi.
Signed to the UFC with little to no mainstream hype, Horiguchi is paying his dues the old-fashioned way. In his big show debut against Dustin Pague, the 23-year-old Gunma Prefecture native made a splash with an explosive second-round stoppage at UFC 166.
Following that performance, Horiguchi clipped the highly-touted Darrell Montague repeatedly at UFC Fight Night “Brown vs. Silva” in Cincinnati en route to a memorable, unanimous decision triumph. The Ohio crowd took to its collective feet several times to pay tribute to what it was witnessing.
“I am glad that I was able to win the fight against such strong and experienced fighter, but at same time, I learned many lessons from Montague,” Horiguchi (13-1, 2-0 UFC) recently told Sherdog.com. “I will continue to improve my skills, and hope to show more exciting fights for the fans.”
Looking to continue the momentum built up with a seven-fight win streak, the Krazy Bee representative will next tangle with Chris Cariaso at UFC Fight Night “Hunt vs. Nelson” on Sept. 20 in Saitama, Japan.
“The UFC rankings tell me he is well-rounded and a very good fighter,” said Horiguchi of Cariaso, who the promotion ranks as the eighth best flyweight on its official website. “As you may know, I am always looking to finish the fight.”
Cariaso (17-5, 7-3 UFC) will provide a stiff test for the budding knockout artist. A win over the 33-year-old Fight and Fitness product would place Horiguchi in the discussion with upper-tier contenders at 125 pounds.
While UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson continues to rule a new and under-undeveloped division with an iron fist, worthy challengers are few and far between. It’s plausible that it will not take more than a handful of consecutive victories to place Horiguchi face-to-face against a date with history and a shot at the most prestigious accolade MMA has to offer.
“It is not only my goal, but also all of my family for me to become an UFC champion,” declared Horiguchi.
His path to accomplish the loftiest of goals is well defined, and the road leads to Cariaso in September.
The combat sports world will be watching in anticipation to see if Horiguchi is the messiah Japanese MMA fans have been clamoring for. Only time will tell.