Until he wasn’t.
Down three rounds to zero and on the verge of losing a fourth, Pettis (22-5) pulled off a comeback for the ages on Friday night, knocking RIZIN bantamweight champion Horiguchi (29-3) out cold with a spinning back fist at 3:24 of Round 4 to defend his bantamweight title in stunning fashion at Bellator 272, which took place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
“I was just like, ‘Man, I’m losing this fight. I’ve got to do something spectacular.’ And it came out at the right time,” Pettis said of his dramatic finish, which is sure to be near the top of every Knockout of the Year list in 2021.
To say Pettis was getting dominated by Horiguchi before the fight-ending sequence would be an understatement. Horiguchi was ahead on the striking totals by a massive margin of 73-19 and had controlled the action from pillar to post with takedowns in every round. His accuracy on the feet was remarkable as he was landing at a 56-percent clip and picking Pettis apart with leg kicks, spinning back kicks to the midsection, and precise punching combinations. Horiguchi’s ground control was no less impressive, as he easily wrestled Pettis to the floor several times, took Pettis’ back, and blasted him with punches on the mat.
But all Pettis needed was one moment to deliver the equalizer — and he did exactly that in the waning minutes of the fourth round, crushing Horiguchi with a spinning back fist off a missed head kick to defend his title with the most brutal finish of his 10-year career.
“I needed to face some adversity, and tonight Horiguchi gave me all of that,” Pettis said. “Man, it was hard trying to time his rhythm, try to get his movement down, but man, I just had to open up. My coaches always tell me, ‘If you open up, you’re one of the best in the world,’ and that’s what I’m pushing for. I’m only 28 years old and this fight showed me that I have a lot more to work on.”
With the win, Pettis moved to 4-0 under the Bellator umbrella.
He and Horiguchi now head into Bellator’s upcoming bantamweight grand prix, where a possible rematch could await the two in 2022.
In a co-main event battle, former UFC and PFL featherweight Jeremy Kennedy (17-3) picked up right where Mads Burnell left off and dominated Emmanuel Sanchez (20-7) with a steady diet of takedowns and submission attempts to win a decision by unanimous 30-27 scores.
Kennedy completed takedowns in all three rounds and finished a whopping seven of his eight total takedown attempts. Sanchez worked hard in the opening round to fire off as much offense as he could off his back, but as the bout went on, Kennedy imposed his will more and more on his struggling foe, spending long swathes of the final 10 minutes with both hooks locked in and hunting rear-naked chokes from Sanchez’s back.
In his post-fight interview, Kennedy dedicated his win to his late friend and former teammate Kyle Reyes, who passed away at age 30 in August.
“He was in my corner for my last few fights, Kyle ‘Boom’ Reyes,” an emotional Kennedy said. “I didn’t want to go home with a loss. I didn’t want to take any extra chance, zero chances whatsoever. I wanted to win every single exchange 30-27. I wanted to win every second of every moment of this fight, and I didn’t care what that looked like.”
Sanchez has now lost three consecutive bouts after winning 12 of his first 15 appearances in the Bellator cage and twice vying for the promotion’s featherweight title.
Elsewhere on the night, TUF veteran Josh Hill (21-4) punched his ticket to be the top reserve fighter for Bellator’s upcoming bantamweight grand prix with a highlight-reel one-shot knockout of Jared Scoggins (10-2), who missed weight by four pounds.
Hill controlled the action in the opening round with his grappling, but it wasn’t until 56 seconds into Round 2 that he landed the heat-seeking missile of a right hand that folded Scoggins to the canvas.
Hill has now won three of his four bouts under the Bellator umbrella.
“Hell yeah,” Hill said after discovering he was the top reserve name for 2022’s bantamweight tournament. “I should be in there regardless, but hey, I’m your No. 1 man.”
Josh Hill stiffs Jared Scoggins with a BEAUTIFUL right hand KO!— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) December 4, 2021
The “Gentleman” delivers on his KO promise LIVE on @SHOsports.
Tune in LIVE now! https://t.co/RNtauZGbbQ#Bellator272 pic.twitter.com/ZrmET3cPxO
In the opening main card bout, Johnny Eblen (10-0) needed just 71 seconds to protect his undefeated record and stop Collin Huckbody (10-4) with a standing TKO.
A 29-year-old product of American Top Team, Elben rocked Huckbody with an early left hand, then took him down before standing back up and securing the referee’s stoppage with blitzkrieg of punches.
Elben has now won all six of his Bellator appearances and finished two in the first round. Afterward, he called out a recent challenger for the Bellator middleweight belt.
“John Salter, I signed a bout agreement to fight you in Florida, and you p*ssied out,” Eblen said. “I don’t know if you got hurt or if you p*ssied out. But I want to see you in this goddamn cage, dog. Let’s go. Let’s gear up and let’s get after it.”
"Diamond Hands" strikes again! @JohnnyEblen takes almost no time at all to get his 6️⃣th win inside the Bellator cage.— BellatorMMA (@BellatorMMA) December 4, 2021
We are LIVE on @SHOSports with #Bellator272 https://t.co/TbKTQ7lKsu pic.twitter.com/uKSLL0pZV9
Main Card (Showtime)
- Sergio Pettis def. Kyoji Horiguchi via KO (spinning back fist) at 3:24 of Round 4
- Jeremy Kennedy def. Emmanuel Sanchez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Josh Hill def. Jared Scoggins via KO (punch) at :56 of Round 2
- Johnny Eblen def. Collin Huckbody via TKO (punches) at 1:11 of Round 1
Preliminary Card (MMA Fighting)
- Alexander Shabliy def. Bobby King via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
- Kai Kamaka III def. John de Jesus via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Levan Chokheli def. Vinicius de Jesus via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 30-27)
- Justin Montalvo def. Jacob Bohn via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-28, 29-28)
- Mike Hamel def. Killys Mota via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
- Spike Carlyle def. Dan Moret via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:58 of Round 3
- Kyle Crutchmer def. Oliver Enkamp via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)