After a year away from the chaos, Kyoji Horiguchi is ready to fight at the top of the RIZIN and Bellator bantamweight divisions.
There are a few names in Japanese MMA promotion RIZIN which are constants. Fighters who work constantly, win frequently and have cemented themselves as mainstays in the show. Undoubtedly among them is bantamweight Kyoji Horiguchi.
The first half of 2019 saw him continue his momentum inside and outside even of the promotion. Continuing his double-digit win-streak which earned him a title championship in the Japanese promotion the year before, Horiguchi then travelled to the United States where he defeated Darrion Caldwell in a rematch to become the Bellator Bantamweight Champion.
2019 was Horiguchi’s best year yet – until it wasn’t. His 13-fight win streak was surprisingly snapped in August when rising bantamweight Kai Asakura stopped him in just over a minute. A possible rematch between the two was taken out of the picture later in the year when Horiguchi tore his ACL, forcing him to relinquish his belts. Now with his return against Asakura slated for RIZIN 26 on December 31st, Horiguchi has a chance to pick up where he left off.
For Horiguchi, the time off in 2020 was important. Having fought two or more times a year since 2010, 2020 will be the first year that Horiguchi gets only one fight in. The break was done out of physical necessity, but it also provided mental clarity.
“My mindset was always towards a fight,” said Horiguchi in an interview with Knockdown News through a translator. “I definitely had wears and tears that I was nursing throughout my fights. At this time I was able to refresh my mind from fighting and I was able to heal up,”
When recovering from surgery and training, Horiguchi had his sights set on the exact opponent and date he got. The bantamweight wanted to return on the grandest stage in JMMA, New Year’s Eve, and against his toughest opponent yet, Asakura.
He’s heading into his New Year’s Eve fight with a tunnel vision like no other. Does rematching someone who beat him add pressure? The feeling is “usual,” he says. Do any other fights on the card, including many important bantamweight bouts, interest him?
“I don’t have anything that interests me outside my fight,” claimed Horiguchi. For now, Horiguchi has his sights set on his return and seemingly nothing else.
While a win for Horiguchi on New Year’s Eve would bring back a large portion of the status he had in the bantamweight division before, there would still be work to do. Should he win at RIZIN 26, Horiguchi eyes another Bellator title fight.
“I do feel that I owe Bellator another fight because I wasn’t able to defend it,” said Horiguchi.
The feeling is mutual with Bellator President Scott Coker, who extended a title shot offer to Horiguchi when he first relinquished the belt. Bellator has crowned a new champion in the time being, as a five-round fight earned Juan Archuleta the belt in September.
Horiguchi’s future plans aren’t meticulously sketched out. Apart from one fight in Bellator, which he feels he owes, he hasn’t thought about what the future would look like for him in that promotion.
Fighting amid a global pandemic, like everyone else, Horiguchi and his team had to make sacrifices. Per a report from Marc Raimondi, Mike Brown, a coach for Horiguchi at American Top Team, is currently in a 14-day quarantine in Japan for the fight.
The quarantine will pass through all Holidays in December but expire before Horiguchi’s fight. Coming from Coconut Creek, Florida, USA, Horiguchi has had to do a quarantine as well.
“Basically I have a house [in Japan] and I train there and I can’t use public transportation,” said Horiguchi, who returned to the country earlier in the month.
The healing, training and quarantine are out of the way for Horiguchi. The question which has not been answered yet is if it will all be worth it.
Will a year of rebuilding finally bring Horiguchi back to the top of RIZIN?