UFC Flyweight title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi will face Champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC 186 on April 25, 2015. While the shot comes early in his career, the karate stand out’s meteoric rise has been methodical and meticulous.
Horiguchi captured the Shooto World Championship just over two years previously. He was already pegged as a star before that fight, even from his third outing in which he won the 2010 Shooto Rookie Tournament. In fact the only loss on Horiguchi’s record was a majority decision he dropped to Japanese ranker Masakatsu Ueda. From that fight, he learned to stick to his own strengths and style, yet he bumped up the other aspects of his game.
Horiguchi’s UFC entrance saw him transition down a weight class and go undefeated in four fights. Horiguchi feels that the title shot being afforded him at this point in his career is a fantastic opportunity, not just for a chance at gold or to represent Japan, but because he truly feels he is ready for it.
Horiguchi has rarely been staggered by a punch in any of his fights, and he’s escaped the tightest of chokes with calm determination to come back with KO wins. Indeed as he is in the cage, his personality is a rare combination of thrilling sparkle with patient persistence that belies his youth. And for that reason, Horiguchi remains scant of words, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves.
ASIA MMA interviewed the challenger ahead of his title fight. Horiguchi gave his opinion of the match, his opponent, his recent fishing exploits, and why he knows so much about beauty pageants.
ASIA MMA: First of all, congratulations on getting a title shot.
Horiguchi: Thank you!
ASIA MMA: How is your strength and cardio right now?
Horiguchi: Very good.
ASIA MMA: How long have you been in Canada? Quite a while?
Horiguchi: No, no we arrived in Canada on the 18th.
ASIA MMA: I thought you had been in Canada and the US for a few weeks?
Horiguchi: I was in Canada before, but I went back to Japan.
ASIA MMA: How was training at AKA?
Horiguchi: It was just for feeling the wrestling; it was not hard sparring. It was to understand how a wrestler behaves, that’s it.
ASIA MMA: Who have been your training partners while getting ready for this fight?
Horiguchi: Krazy Bee, everyone at Krazy Bee!
ASIA MMA: Have you been working on anything specific?
Horiguchi: The only thing really specific that I did was come to AKA so that I could train together with good wrestlers like with Shawn Bunch, the Olympic level wrestler. To get an idea of how quickly the wrestler comes to get the takedown. That’s the only thing I did special, other than that it was the same.
ASIA MMA: Your speed and your powerful striking are going to be the strong points coming into this fight. Do you think Johnson has any weakness against your striking?
Horiguchi: Of course he’s a great champion, so I don’t think he has a weakness. But I do believe I have some advantage against him: my strong punch, my stand up game and my distance, distance control.
ASIA MMA: You fought a lot of taller fighters in Japan, do you feel comfortable fighting a smaller fighter now, someone your size?
Horiguchi: Of course! I don’t really need to think about reach and them being taller and other things. Less areas to pay attention to.
ASIA MMA: You have said you were honored to have the title shot, but there is one thing you haven’t said and that is very common with many challengers in your position as a younger fighter facing a long-term champion. Many say that they are the person they’re fighting is their hero or they look up to them, but you haven’t. What do you personally think about Johnson and his career?
Horiguchi: Of course I do respect him as a champion. What I respect the most is he hasn’t lost a championship fight. However he’s a little bit boring to the fans. I do like his ground game.
ASIA MMA: Your coach Kid Yamamoto lost to Johnson before, does this feel like you’re getting to avenge Kid?
Horiguchi: Yes and no, but…
This is MY fight.
ASIA MMA: Does Kid being back in the UFC inspire you? Did it make you happy to see him fighting again?
Horiguchi: Of course I was happy to see him in the cage but It was a big disappointment with the opponent and the eye poke. I didn’t really believe it was that hard so it was a big disappointment.
ASIA MMA: As a rare Japanese title challenger, do you feel proud to be a Japanese in this position?
Horiguchi: No, nothing special really. This is MY fight. I need to overcome. That’s all. I want to make sure I can make success of my career.
ASIA MMA: You’re getting a UFC title shot at just 24 years of age. do you feel like you’re at the top of your conditioning right now?
Horiguchi: Yes. I am ready. I am 24 but I started karate at five years old. I have 19 years of experience in martial arts.
ASIA MMA: And your brain is 80 years old.
ASIA MMA: I’ve known you a long time and you’re like an old soul, you may be young but you have the mind of an old man!
Horiguchi: [laughs] Thank you. I’m a martial artist.
ASIA MMA: What’s the last fish you caught?
Horiguchi: I caught a black bass about a week ago. It was about a foot and a half long, about 45cm.
ASIA MMA: Good job!
Horiguchi: That’s my real profession!
ASIA MMA: You’re a fisherman who likes to fight.
Horiguchi: That’s how I caught the championship match!
ASIA MMA: Another personal question. You posted a lot of stuff on Facebook about a beauty pageant. Is your girlfriend really Miss Gunma?
Horiguchi: That’s right.
ASIA MMA: How did you catch that fish?
Horiguchi’s manager, Fumi Ishii chimes in: Even I have asked him that, he’s never told me the secret!
Horiguchi: We were schoolmates in junior high, we grew up together.
ASIA MMA: So you were like childhood sweethearts?
Horiguchi: Yeah that’s right.
ASIA MMA: Beyond the importance of this being a title fight for you, is there anything else you see as significant for this match?
Horiguchi: Money! [laughs] I want to show my performance in the Octagon and hopefully I can get more sponsors.