Kyoji Horiguchi has shown no signs of slowing down since his UFC departure. He’s now riding a sturdy 11 straight wins, all but one of them at bantamweight. Although largely unacknowledged, to all those with their eyes on the sport, he is undoubtably one of the best MMA fighters for his weight on the planet today.
Steaming through Hideo Tokoro, Gabriel Oliveira, Manel Kape, and Bantamweight King of Pancrase Shintaro Ishiwatari, American Top Team fighter Horiguchi took the RIZIN Fight World Grand Prix tournament championship in 2017 stopping all of his opponents. He then went on to knock out Ian McCall in 9 seconds at RIZIN 10 in May of 2018. Just two months later he faced former Shooto featherweight champion, Hiromasa Ogikubo at RIZIN 11 and took a hard earned UD win.
Aside from his UFC battle against Demetrious Johnson, his latest bout against current Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell was on paper one of his biggest challenges of his professional career to date. This was no giveaway – Caldwell is a lot taller and possesses elite wrestling and grappling skills – a dangerous opponent for Horiguchi in the RIZIN Bantamweight title match that took place at the Saitama Super Arena on December 31st, 2018, with around 29,000 in attendance.
Rounds one and two saw Horiguchi struggle with the world class wrestling of Caldwell who shut him down on the canvas at every opportunity. It was another takedown from the Bellator bantamweight champion in round 3 that saw the incredible skills of the Japanese ace shine through once again.
A deft ankle pick off a Horiguchi kick saw Caldwell in the guard of Horiguchi and he immediately went on the attack looking for the neck of the American wrestler turned MMA champion.
Latching onto an arm-in guillotine, Horiguchi closed up his guard and gave Caldwell no time or space at all. He had to tap. The home crowd went wild, as did the domestic and international commentary. We were witnessing the prowess of not only a top fighter, but an outstanding champion.
Kyoji Horiguchi is clearly one of the fastest, most skillful and most well rounded MMA fighters of our time. His speed, footwork, reaction times, conditioning and athleticism are an absolute beauty to behold. He does not fold under pressure and has unequivocally shown that he can pull through adversity at the highest level in this sport and not just get the win, but take the win in thoroughly convincing fashion. His next challenge will have to reflect his first class status in the MMA world.