Ahead of Cross-Promotion Milestone, Kyoji Horiguchi Hopes Bellator MMA Opens Flyweight Division

Strange as it may seem, Japanese star Kyoji Horiguchi will represent American promotion Bellator MMA at a massive cross-promotional event with RIZIN Fighting Federation on New Year’s Eve.

“Yeah of course, it’s a little strange, you know? Because I’m Japanese. Why am I on Bellator’s side, American side?” Horiguchi (30-5) said with a laugh, speaking to Cageside Press in an exclusive interview just days out from departing from Florida, where he trains with American Top Team, back home to his native Japan. “It is what it is. I will do my best.”

By now, Horiguchi will have already arrived in Japan in advance of the Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN card. The current RIZIN bantamweight champion will be taking his second straight fight in Saitama, after defeating Yuto Hokamura by submission in September.

The oddity of a reigning bantamweight champion for the Japanese powerhouse representing the Bellator side in this head-to-head showdown between promotions is really just a footnote. The card is a milestone in a sport where fight promotions have largely brushed aside such concepts, often putting up a bold front (the “they’re not in our league” sort of response) to compensate for reality: in MMA, on any given night, just about anyone can win a fight. What if we lose?

Horiguchi, who is in favour of more cross-promotional events, is one of the biggest favourites on the Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN card. He has, after all, defeated Hiromasa Ougikubo twice previously. But as Horiguchi told us, Ougikubo has improved since those first two fights. “Yeah of course. He’s getting better all the time. He’s a really scary guy for me.”

Noting that his opponent “has skill,” Horiguchi admitted that in this third fight, “I have to take care of everything.” Horiguchi would also admit that he was surprised to see Ougikubo win RIZIN’s bantamweight grand prix last year, defeating Kai Asakura in the process. “I’m really surprised,” said Horiguchi. “That was a fight.

There’s another difference ahead of this trilogy fight. For the first time since 2017, Kyoji Horiguchi will return to the flyweight division, where he once challenged Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson under the UFC banner.

The reason for the move is simple: Horiguchi likes fighting at bantamweight. “I really like bantamweight,” he told us. As he should: according to Horiguchi, he cuts just six pounds to make the bantamweight limit. But flyweight, he suggested, “is much more easy, I think.” Even though it will require some dieting, and a bigger cut. “That’s why I will go down.”

His return to 125lbs comes on the biggest of nights for Japanese MMA, but whether he remains in the weight class remains to be seen. Bellator, to whom Horiguchi is contracted, doesn’t offer a flyweight division for men. Horiguchi wants them to.

“I hope Bellator opens flyweight. I hope,” the Japanese standout told us. “If not, it’s a complicated question.” Complicated even further by the fact that in RIZIN, he holds the bantamweight title. The Japanese org is at least willing to book him at flyweight, however, and he intends to keep fighting for both companies. “I want to do both. I can fight, but I don’t know if Bellator makes a flyweight [division]. It’s complicated,” he reiterated. “I hope [so].”

In the meantime, there are rematches, revenge, and even super-fights potentially ahead for Kyoji Horiguchi. Thus far, boxing great Floyd Mayweather has faced two of Horiguchi’s fellow RIZIN stars, Tenshin Nasukawa and Mikuru Asakura.

Despite the size difference, Horiguchi is willing to face “Money” Mayweather, who also vastly out-sized kickboxing phenom Tenshin. “I’m a different weight category. Floyd Mayweather and I, there’s a big difference in [weight class]. I’m really interested in a boxing match with him, but it’s tough.”

Meanwhile, his goal is to land rematches with a couple of foes from Bellator’s bantamweight grand prix. “I want to fight against Sergio Pettis and Patchy Mix. Because I lost,” he told us. But aside from that, Horiguchi isn’t putting too much thought into 2023 just yet. Instead, he plans to “just focus on the next fight. Next fight, get [the] win. That’s all.”

Watch our full interview with Bellator MMA vs. RIZIN star Kyoji Horiguchi above. The event takes place on December 31, 2022 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.