Kyoji Horiguchi had a reputation as being the best bantamweight prospect in Asia when he was snapped up by the UFC earlier this year. He introduced himself to American fans in style with a second-round TKO win over TUF 14 alum Dustin Pague at UFC 166.
The 23-year-old’s UFC career has got off to the best possible start, but he is not getting too carried away just yet.
“Dustin was better skilled than most of the opponents I fought in the past. He is a great fighter, but I’m not patting myself on the back. It is just the start for me,” he said.
Horiguchi was snapped up by the UFC coming off a successful first defense of his Shooto 132-pound belt at VTJ 2nd. He scored a dramatic come-from-behind fifth-round TKO win over Shintaro Ishiwatari in one of the Asian MMA fights of the year.
Having potentially lost three of the opening four rounds, Horiguchi was on track for a loss, which would have cost him his title and potentially his chance of signing with the UFC, but he says he was not aware that he needed a knockout going into that decisive final round.
“No, I didn’t know I was behind in scoring. I’m not thinking about scoring; I just fight the best I can to win.”
Many Japanese fighters have struggled to succeed in the U.S. with some of them citing factors such as jet lag and the time difference. Horiguchi’s fight at UFC 166 was his first outside of Japan, but he didn’t suffer from any of the Octagon jitters that have often affected his compatriots.
“I didn’t feel any difference at all. To me it was just another fight; just like all of my fights in Japan.”
The sole blemish on Horiguchi’s record is a 2012 majority decision loss to One FC 135-pound contender Masakatsu Ueda. Although the judge’s weren’t all in agreement as to the outcome of that fight, he says he was beaten fair and square and paid the price for failing to prepare properly.
“I think I didn’t train my ground game as much as I should have for a guy like Ueda. I know he beat me fairly.”
Horiguchi is primarily a stand-up fighter and has just the one submission win to his name. He comes from a Karate background and this is where his interest in martial arts first began.
“I first started when I was five years old. My father forced me to go.”
Once he had turned 18, Horiguchi didn’t need any parental coercion to go and test his Karate skills in the sport of MMA.
“I first started MMA when I was 18. Since a kid, I have always loved combat sports, but I thought MMA is the ultimate sport to see who is the toughest.”
Next up for the Krazy Bee standout will be Chris Cariaso at UFC 169. The WEC and UFC veteran represents a definite step up in competition, but Horiguchi hopes his striking will be the difference.
“Cariaso is a very experienced MMA fighter, and has good striking technique. As usual, I am going to put my plan together based upon my stand-up game. I’m looking forward to testing myself this fight!”
The bout with Cariaso will be Horiguchi’s first at 125 pounds. He is currently the only Japanese fighter in the division in the UFC and a win against an opponent currently ranked sixth would establish him as an immediate contender to follow in the footsteps of Yushin Okami, Caol Uno, and Hayato Sakurai by securing a UFC title shot.