A cross-promotional, champion vs. champion bout has been added to Rizin Fighting Federation’s New Year’s Eve lineup.
Bellator MMA bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell will face Kyoji Horiguchi for the inaugural Rizin 135-pound belt at Rizin 14 on Dec. 31 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The matchup was announced on Wednesday night.
According to a release, the bout will take place in a ring over over the course of three, five-minute rounds. Caldwell’s Bellator title will not be on the line in the contest. In the past, fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Muhammed Lawal and Hisako Kato have been allowed to compete interpromotionally, but Dec. 31 will mark the first occasion that a championship has been at stake between fighters from the opposing organizations.
“Working for the Japanese fight company K-1 was a magical time during my promotional career and I have always felt strongly that MMA in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ would rise again. It truly is amazing to see what Nobuyuki Sakakibara has been able to do thus far with Rizin FF, so when he reached out to me about putting Darrion Caldwell against Kyoji Horiguchi for Rizin’s belt, we spoke to Darrion and he jumped at the opportunity,” Bellator President Scott Coker said. “Bellator wants to support Rizin, and by sending our bantamweight champion to compete during their New Year’s Eve event, we look forward to this leading towards more collaboration between the two promotions in 2019. I want to wish Darrion luck in his quest to prove he is the best 135-pound fighter on the planet.”
Caldwell’s last bout came at 145 pounds, as he knocked out Noad Lahat in the second round at Bellator 204 on Aug. 17. He claimed Bellator’s 135-pound crown with a five-round verdict over Eduardo Dantas in Oct. 2017 and defended the title with a first-round submission of Leandro Higo this past March. A former NCAA national champion wrestler at North Carolina State University, Caldwell is 13-1 over the course of his professional career.
Horiguchi is regarded as one of the top fighters in the world at both bantamweight and flyweight. Since losing to Demetrious Johnson in a 125-pound title bout at UFC 186, Horiguchi has reeled off 10 consecutive victories. His last combat sports appearance come in the kickboxing realm, when he lost a decision to Tenshin Nasukawa on Sept. 30.
Sakakibara, the Rizin president, said he would like to see more fighters from his promotion square off against Bellator MMA talent next year.
“I am very grateful and honored that Bellator and Scott Coker would send us their unarguable bantamweight champion to fight for Rizin’s first-ever world title fight. This title fight will be a true champion vs. champion to determine the world’s best bantamweight fighter,” Sakakibara said. “We hope this kind gesture will kick off of a series of exciting matchups between both promotions in 2019. My dream would be that eventually we can co-promote a mega event in both countries with a ‘Champion Carnival’ taking place where stories and rivalries can be built and told.”