Former Shooto champ, Kyoji Horiguchi, will attempt to steal the strap from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) flyweight kingpin, Demetrious Johnson, this Saturday night (April 25, 2015) inside the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
After demolishing Dustin Pague with ground strikes in his Octagon debut, the Japanese fighter dropped down to flyweight. That proved to be a good decision, as the Karateka has been able to win three straight fights without much difficulty, including a knockout win over Jon Delos Reyes.
Despite his impressive and undefeated UFC record, Horiguchi has yet to face any of the top flyweights in the world. Due mostly to a lack of contenders in the division -- "Mighty Mouse" has already beaten most of them -- Horiguchi finds himself in a title fight.
Let's take a closer look at his skill set and see if he has a chance against the dominant champion.
Horiguchi has been practicing and competing in karate since he was a child, and it clearly shows in his fights. In addition to his karate experience, Horiguchi has been honing his skills at the Krazy Bee gym in Japan under the legendary Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto.
In order to make his karate style work, Horiguchi likes to keep an absurd amount of distance between himself and his opponent. From the distance Horiguchi regularly keeps, neither man can land effective strikes, even long range attacks like kicks.
This range favors Horiguchi. The Japanese fighter generally keeps a rather wide stance, allowing him to burst forward with either kicks or punches. Not only does his stance help this initial burst, but Horiguchi is naturally a very quick fighter.
It's very common for Horiguchi to test the waters a bit before attacking with punches, and he usually does so with his body kick. Though Horiguchi largely fights from the Orthodox stance, it's not uncommon for him to switch into Southpaw as he circles. Before he hops in with the body kick, Horiguchi will normally make sure he's in the opposite stance of his opponent, as it makes it easier for the strike to land effectively.
If his opponent looks for kicks from this range, Horiguchi can normally see it coming and use his quickness to counter. Regardless of whether he attacks with a left hook or overhand, Horiguchi counters his opponent's kicks with serious power.
When Horiguchi does engage his opponent with punches, they come in the form of lightning fast combinations before "Supernova" gets the hell back out of range. It's very common for Horiguchi to jump in with a straight right hand, which he'll occasionally follow up with a hard left hook.
While those two punches make up the majority of Horiguchi's combinations, he uses them very well. The Japanese fighter is excellent at swarming his opponent with lengthy combinations, and these blitzes are sudden and unexpected compared to Horiguchi's usual movement-heavy style.
Outside of when Horiguchi initiates, he's a very competent counter puncher. Since his opponent is often less experienced with closing the vast amount of distance Horiguchi keeps, there are usually openings. If his opponent comes up short, Horiguchi is quick to burst forth with his hard cross. Alternatively, Horiguchi will use his power hand to interrupt his opponent's attempt at a combination, bringing their attempt to close distance to a screeching halt.
Finally, Horiguchi is comfortable in the pocket when he decides to exchange there. On occasion, he will roll under his opponent's punches and come up with a vicious power punch.
Horiguchi will occasionally mix takedowns into his attack. However, he usually only looks to grapple with his opponent after his foe initiates, as it's difficult to land takedowns with half of the Octagon separating "Supernova" and his opponent.
It's clear from Horiguchi's style of wrestling that he's a very strong fighter. He commonly utilizes takedowns in which physical strength are a major advantage, usually against the cage. For example, he's proven to have a powerful double leg takedown against the fence.
Horiguchi is also quite strong in the clinch, and he's also fairly technical there, as well. In addition to simply manhandling his opponent, Horiguchi has shown that he's capable of sneaking in slick trips as he pushes his opponents away.
Regardless of whether a punch or takedown sends his opponent to the mat, it's a pretty terrible place to be against Horiguchi. The Japanese fighter is excellent with his ground striking, and it actually brought about his debut victory.
Horiguchi actually doesn't mind being in guard while delivering hard ground and pound. He'll quickly stand up and stack his opponent's hips, making it very difficult for them to move. From there, Horiguchi will slam hooks into his foe. If his opponent attempts to kick Horiguchi off, he'll peel the foot and come down with a hard punch before reestablishing position.
Defensively, Horiguchi has proven to be a difficult man to consistently take down. He's been tripped to the mat before -- his movement leaves him vulnerable if a takedown is successfully disguised -- but Horiguchi is always quick to scramble back to his feet.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
With just a single submission to his name in 15 victories, it's pretty clear that securing a tapout is not Horiguchi's goal inside the Octagon. Still, he's been forced to display his bottom game and submission defense.
Horiguchi is excellent at scrambling back to his feet, and he uses very basic techniques to do it. Once he's fully brought down to the mat, Horiguchi will keep his guard open and look to get his feet on his opponent's hips. If he's successful, Horiguchi will blast his opponent away from him and return to his feet.
If that fails, Horiguchi will use whatever space he's created to get in a butterfly hook. If he's able to secure an underhook on the same side, "Supernova" will explode back to his feet.
Defensively, Horiguchi has proven to be a tough man to submit. Out of desperation, a few of Horiguchi's opponents have attempted to jump on standing guillotines and arm triangles, but Horiguchi did a nice job staying composed shaking them off.
Additionally, Horiguchi found himself in a bad position in his debut when Dustin Pague scrambled onto his back. Despite the lanky fighter's body triangle, Horiguchi quickly stood up and leaned into the fence, giving his legs a rest. Slowly, he broke the body triangle and escaped the hold one step at a time, eventually breaking entirely free of "The Disciple's" grip.
Best chance for success
Horiguchi really only has one strategy in his arsenal, since he's not about to out-wrestle Johnson. He needs to keep this a long-range kickboxing match, as it's the only place Horiguchi can compete with Johnson on his feet and be out of range of the takedown.
In reality, a counter-punch knockout is really Horiguchi's best hope. Of course, it helps that he's one of the most gifted power punchers in the division, but it's still a fairly long shot. Luckily, Johnson's high output should give Horiguchi at least a couple opportunities to land his knockout blow.
While it's risky due to the threat of the takedown, Horiguchi still needs to burst in with the occasional swarm of punches. Otherwise, Johnson will have no reason to be hesitant when on the outside, and Horiguchi needs to keep him honest.
Will Kyoji Horiguchi become the UFC's first Japanese champion, or will Demetrious Johnson defend his strap once again?