A year and a half ago, Kyoji Horiguchi was on top of the world. With both the RIZIN Fighting Federation and Bellator MMA bantamweight crowns in his possession, it wasn’t crazy to argue that Japan’s finest was the best in the world at his weight. Unfortunately for him, the break down of his body accompanied by a surprise loss led to his time away and vacating of the belts.
The now 30-year-old Horiguchi started his 2019 campaign fresh off of becoming the inaugural bantamweight champion in RIZIN history. To do so he would dispatch of the then Bellator titleholder, Darrion Caldwell in a comeback of the year contender for 2018.
As the new year started, Horiguchi began to feel some knee and back issues that lingered as time went on. However, he didn’t take them too seriously and continued on with his business. Eventually, during a training session, his knee gave out resulting in a torn ACL that wasn’t made any better by continuing to fight in the Summer.
“Overall, I had the mentality that I could probably get through this,” Kyoji Horiguchi told MyMMANews on BROADENED HORIZIN regarding his handling of the injuries. “But it did feel weird so when I would come to Japan I would visit some doctors and get it checked out. But overall, I thought I could get over it. I looked at it as a good time to rest.
“It wasn’t that I wasn’t taking [Kai Asakaura] seriously, more so that my conditioning wasn’t 100 percent. I wasn’t maintaining my body which led me to not being able to prepare properly for this fight. So I think that’s what did everything for me.”
Directly after his capturing of the Bellator title in his Caldwell rematch at Bellator 222, Horiguchi turned right around to book a fight two months later back in RIZIN. Yet to defend his title, the American Top Team product would be matched for a non-title headliner opposite rising bantamweight contender, Kai Asakura.
12-1 at the time and still seemingly in the shadow of his older brother, Mikuru, Asakura would do the unthinkable and unseat the king. The 28-2 Horiguchi had won 13 bouts in a row and that all came to a screeching halt when Asakura needed only 67 seconds to find the finish and catapult himself into superstardom.
Although he didn’t become champion on that night, Asakura would take that label shortly after Horiguchi announced his hiatus. At RIZIN 26 on this coming New Year’s Eve, the roles are now reversed as Kyoji Horiguchi looks to take back what was once his.
“In general, I don’t really feel pressure heading into a fight, at all,” Horiguchi responded when asked if there is or isn’t pressure on him heading into the rematch. “So in those terms, I don’t feel too much pressure. I just go in there and prepare myself for the opponent who I’m going to be fighting and that’s it. But as for the New Year’s Eve fight, I know it’s gonna be a fun fight with a lot of action, for sure.
“I think [Asakura’s] variations in striking has improved. He’s able to mix in some takedowns within the exchange, so I think overall he’s developing.”
Since defeating Horiguchi, Asakura has gone 3-1 with that lone loss coming in a rematch of his own. That coming against Manel Kape in the fight to decide the new champion after Horiguchi vacated. Aside from that outing, Asakura has looked borderline unstoppable with his brilliant knockouts of Ulka Sasaki, Shoji Maruyama, and Hiromasa Ougikubo to take home the title.
Despite Asakura getting the better of Horiguchi in their first meeting, when it comes to the big New Year’s Eve events he’ll be seeking redemption. For the former champ, competing on the final night of the year is nothing new for Horiguchi as it will be his fourth time doing so.
In MMA, few moments are bigger than being a part of the massive RIZIN yearend extravaganzas. It’s right up there along with competing in a UFC title fight, and the Takasaki, Gunma native has done both. As a matter of fact, Horiguchi’s last loss prior to facing Asakura came in that lone opportunity he had when challenging Demetrious Johnson.
Regardless, the fighting fisherman said it doesn’t matter which is bigger or if one has more significant meaning than the other. In the end, he’s doing the same thing for either and that’s fighting another individual.
While Horiguchi can drown out all the noise that comes along with his performances, it’s undeniable that he took his game to another level once he left the UFC in 2016. At the time, he was already one of the very best flyweights in the world at 18-2. Once coming back to Japan as a 135-pound bantamweight and kicking off his RIZIN tenure, things really took a turn as seven of his 10 victories ended by stoppage (5 KO/TKOs, 2 submissions).
“I think there’s two aspects to why I was able to finish fights,” he began. “One is because I went up a weight class. That’s definitely a factor. The second factor is that I’ve changed my fighting style to finishing fights instead of winning fights. So I think that’s the biggest factor for me to be able to finish fights.”
Now, with Kyoji Horiguchi returning from the first layoff of his career and believed to be fully healthy and better than ever, it’s a scary thought. The former champ had always hoped and planned to return on the grandest stage. The countdown is officially on until he gets the chance to right a wrong.
BROADENED HORIZIN EP. 5 AUDIO ONLY BELOW:
以下の日本語版 (JAPANESE VERSION BELOW):
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.