With only one loss in MMA over the past six years, it’s understandable that Kyoji Horiguchi enters Bellator 272 with a boatload of confidence.
How confident? As far as he’s concerned, he’s indisputably better than anyone else at 135 pounds.
In Friday’s main event at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., Horiguchi challenges Sergio Pettis for the Bellator bantamweight championship, a title that Horiguchi never lost in the cage. Rather, it was a knee injury in the last quarter of 2019 that forced the Japanese star to relinquish the Bellator and RIZIN titles he held, the latter of which he regained this past December with a first-round TKO of Kai Asakura.
Horiguchi is the No. 8-ranked bantamweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — one spot ahead of Pettis — and as far as he’s concerned, he should be at No. 1. In an interview with MMA Fighting, Horiguchi was asked how he feels he stacks up against UFC stars Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, and T.J. Dillashaw and his response was definitive.
“It’s the same weight class, so of course, I’m better than them,” Horiguchi said.
“Let’s go,” he added when considering the possibility of the aforementioned fighters coming to Bellator. “I want it. Yeah.”
Horiguchi certainly has the track record to be considered among the best in MMA in two weight classes. During his flyweight run with the UFC from 2013-2016, he went 7-1 with his lone loss coming at the hands of then-UFC champion Demetrious Johnson. He returned home — while still doing the bulk of his training with American Top Team in Florida — to compete for RIZIN and has won 11 of his past 12 bouts.
The only loss Horiguchi suffered in RIZIN was to Asakura, which he later avenged, and during this time he also won a two-fight series with Darrion Caldwell to win an inaugural RIZIN belt and claim Caldwell’s Bellator belt.
In his absence, Pettis defeated Juan Archuleta to become Bellator’s champion, but Horiguchi is quick to remind everyone that Pettis is carrying a title that he vacated.
“Of course, why not?” Horiguchi said when asked if he’s the real champion. “Because I beat Caldwell, then get the belt. I’m the real champ.”
Though Horiguchi and Pettis are crossing paths for the first time, their UFC tenure ran concurrently with Pettis hanging around in that promotion for a couple more years following Horiguchi’s departure. At the time, Horiguchi was a top flyweight contender and Pettis was a prospect, now the situations are reversed with Horiguchi needing a win to take Pettis’ spot in Bellator’s hierarchy.
Horiguchi has seen plenty of Pettis footage and he’s been impressed with how far the current champ has come in his career.
“A couple of times I watched his fights because before we’re in the same weight category,” Horiguchi said. “He learned from high-level guys, so that’s why I’m watching his fights a lot.
“Of course, I watched his [UFC] fights back then and now. He’s becoming a better fighter and more technical. I will get the belt back.”
A win over Pettis would make Horiguchi a two-time Bellator champion and earn him his 30th pro victory against just three losses. Regardless of Friday’s result, Horiguchi has a healthy bantamweight roster ahead of him and whether he decides to stick around in Bellator for the rest of his career or pursue other opportunities, he knows he’s not anywhere near adding to his accolades.
“I want to retire, I will fight until 40,” Horiguchi said. “It’s my dream. If I have injuries before 40, I’m retiring, but my dream is 40. Ten more years, I can do it.”