Kyoji Horiguchi has now staked his claim as possibly the best bantamweight in all of mixed martial arts after becoming Bellator champion on Friday night.
While it wasn’t the performance he probably wanted, the reigning RIZIN bantamweight champion added the Bellator bantamweight title to his resume with a five round, unanimous decision victory against Darrion Caldwell at Bellator 222 from New York. Horiguchi now holds a pair of wins over Caldwell after submitting him with a third round guillotine choke last December to claim the inaugural RIZIN title.
It was a grueling fight for all 25 minutes with Horiguchi fending off takedowns and then doing damage to Caldwell whenever he got space enough to do damage with his strikes. Despite spending a lot of time with his back on the mat or against the cage, the judges still awarded Horiguchi the decision with scores reading 48-47, 49-46 and 49-46.
“I do apologize for it being a lack of action fight,” Horiguchi said while holding onto two bantamweight titles. “The plan was to conserve energy at the beginning and then finish strong.”
It was a wrestling heavy performance as expected from the former NCAA Division I champion throughout the first two rounds as Caldwell planted Horiguchi on the canvas and used the cage to his advantage to control his opponent’s body.
Horiguchi was constantly trying to get free of Caldwell’s vice-like grip but he just couldn’t find the adequate room to make an escape. While he maintained a suffocating top game, Caldwell didn’t do much damage with Horoguchi constantly squirming and moving in an effort to get back to his feet.
The momentum began to shift in the third round with Caldwell showing the effects of a waning gas tank, which allowed Horiguchi to easily stuff a couple of takedown attempts. Horiguchi then transitioned to put the Bellator champion on his back but his ground and pound attack didn’t put Caldwell in any real danger.
Even when Caldwell managed to latch onto a leg and put Horiguchi on the canvas, he was happy to hold onto the Japanese veteran without doing much of anything to advance his position or look for a finish. In return, Horiguchi did his best to fire back from the bottom with short punches and elbows any time he had enough space to launch his strikes at Caldwell.
By the end of the fifth round, a restless crowd in Madison Square Garden let the fighters know they were getting rather frustrated with a fight that saw Caldwell focused on his wrestling with Horiguchi doing everything possible to mount some offense off his back.
In the end, Horiguchi did enough damage over the course of five rounds to earn the victory and return home to Japan with the Bellator bantamweight title in tow.
While he remains a RIZIN fighter, Horiguchi will be required to return to Bellator at least once per year to defend his newly won title.