Rivalries: Kyoji Horiguchi

More than 900 days have passed since Kyoji Horiguchi plied his trade under the Bellator MMA flag. The fact that major opportunity still knocks speaks to his quality.

The 31-year-old American Top Team standout will challenge Sergio Pettis for the undisputed bantamweight championship in the Bellator 272 main event on Friday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Horiguchi has rattled off 14 victories across his past 15 appearances and avenged the lone defeat in that stretch. He has excelled on a variety of stages, going 1-0 in Bellator, 7-1 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, 10-1 in Rizin Fighting Federation, 9-1 in Shooto and 2-0 in Vale Tudo Japan. Horiguchi boasts 18 finishes among his 29 career victories.

As Horiguchi makes final preparations for his forthcoming battle with Pettis, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his journey:

Demetrious Johnson

“Mighty Mouse” submitted Horiguchi with an armbar to retain his flyweight crown in the fifth round of their UFC 186 headliner on April 25, 2015 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Johnson coaxed the tapout 4:59 into Round 5—the latest finish in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Horiguchi found himself in a hopeless situation from the start. Johnson executed multiple takedowns in the first, second, third and fifth rounds, but he blew away the challenger in the transitions. He chained together his grappling and striking seamlessly, grinding down Horiguchi with a crushing pace. By the time the fifth round started, the Norifumi Yamamoto protege looked like a man who was ready for the misery to end. Johnson obliged but not before exacting a further toll. After securing his final takedown, the AMC Pankration cornerstone advanced to a mounted crucifix, smashed away with rapid-fire elbows and punches on Horiguchi’s exposed face and then transitioned beautifully from full mount to the farside armbar. Horiguchi tapped with just one second remaining in the bout.

Darrion Caldwell

Horiguchi continued to cement himself as one of the sport’s premier lighter-weight competitors, as he captured the Bellator MMA bantamweight title with a five-round unanimous decision over “The Wolf” in the Bellator 222 co-feature on June 14, 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Scores were 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46, all for Horiguchi, who improved to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with the former NCAA wrestling champion. Caldwell—who had submitted to a third-round guillotine choke from the American Top Team rep at a Rizin Fighting Federation event six months prior—was effective early, as he exploited his height and reach advantages in the standup exchanges and kept the Japanese superstar off-balance with well-timed takedowns. However, his gas tank could not withstand the workload. Horiguchi conceded takedowns but neutralized the Alliance MMA export from a seated position in a scene that repeated itself over and over again, scoring with short punches as Rahway, New Jersey, native clung to his legs. Caldwell scrambled on top in the fifth round but failed to consolidate his efforts with ground-and-pound or positional advancements, choosing instead to eat a few elbows to the side of the head before nearly wandering into an inverted triangle choke that sealed his fate on the scorecards.

Kai Asakura

Vengeance was indeed sweet. Horiguchi rebounded from one of his three career defeats and did so in sublime fashion, as he buried the Tri-Force Jiu-Jitsu Academy representative with punches to reclaim the Rizin Fighting Federation bantamweight crown in the first round of their Rizin 26 main event on Dec. 31, 2020 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Asakura, who had authored a 68-second knockout against the UFC veteran in August 2019, succumbed to blows 2:48 into Round 1. Horiguchi focused on kicks to the lower lead leg of his counterpart, routinely circled out of danger and forced the champion to engage him in open space. After hobbling Asakura with one particularly damaging leg kick, Horiguchi dodged a flying knee, floored him with a right hand and pounced with punches until referee Minoru Toyonaga saw fit to intervene.


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