Following his exit from the UFC, Kyoji Horiguchi was making a compelling argument to be considered as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport after conquering both the Rizin and Bellator bantamweight titles.
It was an amazing accomplishment for a fighter who was previously considered an elite flyweight with his only loss over the span of seven years coming to Demetrious Johnson in a title fight back in 2015.
After picking up back-to-back wins over Darrion Caldwell, Horiguchi was riding high but then he was matched up against Kai Asakura in a non-title fight at Rizin 18 and that’s when the bottom fell out.
Horiguchi suffered a stunning knockout just 67 seconds into the fight with Asakura putting him down and out in what could end up as the biggest upset of 2019. While the loss didn’t cost Horiguchi either of his titles, there’s no doubt it’s a bad look to have a reigning champion get knocked out in such dramatic fashion.
“I can’t talk about why that fight happened or how it happened because I really wasn’t aware of the situation,” Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Fighting when asked about Horiguchi. “I just knew it wasn’t a title fight.
“That’s the beauty of this sport. I think Horiguchi probably underestimated the opponent a little bit and thought he’d just take it to him and the guy comes out and knocks him out. That’s MMA. You never know what’s going to happen.”
As part of an overall deal with Rizin, Horiguchi is contracted to fight for the Japanese promotion but after winning the Bellator title, he will also be required to return to the United States to defend that belt as well.
Coker says as of now there are no set plans for Horiguchi in Bellator but he expects the reigning bantamweight champion to rematch Asakura before the year is over.
Once that is settled, Bellator will begin exploring options for Horiguchi’s next title defense — perhaps even a trilogy against Asakura if he’s able to duplicate his performance from the first fight.
“I believe [Rizin] wants to have a title fight sometime in the fall,” Coker revealed. “They’ll have a title fight and I think eventually Horiguchi, if he wins, will come here and defend his belt and if not the other guy will come and he’ll have to fight Horiguchi, maybe he’ll have to come fight Horiguchi under the cage rules with Bellator rules and see what happens.
“It’s a little bit complicated but at the end of the day, the champ’s going to come over and he’ll fight whoever the top contender is, whether it’s a Japanese fighter, or whatever, we’ll have a great fight for him.”