The rapid descent of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto has not been an easy thing for fight fans to watch. With no wins in his last three fights, the power-punching former dynamo has fallen hard and seems to be teetering on the edge of retirement. But as Kid has stumbled, his star protégé, Kyoji Horiguchi has risen to flyweight prominence at a staggering rate. Yes, the rising Krazy Bee talent appears hell-bent on filling his mentor’s massive shoes—perhaps even outgrowing them.
Despite being just 24 years old, Horiguchi has already amassed an impressive record of 14-1, including three consecutive wins in the UFC. Perhaps even more importantly, however, is how he’s winning those fights. He’s not coasting to decision wins; he’s flattening just about everyone in his path, demonstrating the same kind of crippling power for which Kid became famous. And he’s doing it with his own, unique karate-based spin. As a member of the flyweight division, which is sometimes maligned for its lack of knockouts, that makes him a real commodity.
Considering all of that, it’s clear why he’s already being talked about as a potential challenger for Demetrious Johnson’s well-guarded flyweight belt.
Of course, he’s got some work to do before that day comes. While his time in the UFC thus far has been impressive, he hasn’t yet done enough to warrant a shot. So, he’s been paired up with TUF veteran Louis Gaudinot at UFC 182 this weekend. To say there’s a lot riding on the bout would be an understatement. This is the biggest fight of his career.
The Gaudinot matchup, after all, will mark the Japanese striker’s first time on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view. And this isn’t any old pay-per-view. Headlined by a highly-publicized light heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, UFC 182 is already being talked about as a contender for 2015 card of the year. Considering the card goes down just three days into 2013, that’s saying something. Horiguchi’s placement on the main card, then, also says something.
It says that the UFC recognizes him as a likely contender for Demetrious Johnson’s flyweight belt. As such, they’ve put him on the main card of this huge event, where he can earn some real attention with his wild power. His position on the UFC 182 main card is the first step in the UFC’s marketing him as a title challenger.
Of course, all of that depends on his defeating Gaudinot, who is no slouch. We’re talking about the green-haired monster who was able to tap out current contender John Lineker. Horiguchi will have his hands full. That said, as the betting odds suggest, he should be able to get the job done. If he gets the job done, it’s likely he’ll suddenly find himself neck deep in the flyweight division’s top-10.
From there, the road gets much more treacherous for Horiguchi, as he’ll be forced to mix it up with the likes of Ian McCall, John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez, and Jussier da Silva. At that point his days as a betting favourite are likely to disappear for awhile. The odds will be stacked against him.
Should he traverse that gauntlet, though, and work his way to a UFC title shot, he’ll join Yushin Okami as one of just two Japanese fighters to contend for a UFC title (barring Lyoto Machida, who is half Japanese, half Brazilian). Should he upset the champion, whether that’s Demetrious Johnson, or somebody else, he’ll become the first Japanese champion in UFC history.
Considering the dominance of Japanese fighters outside the UFC, that may come as a surprise. We’ve seen fighters like Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki, Kazushi Sakuraba, Caol Uno and of course, Kid Yamomoto, tear it up in other organizations, but for whatever reason, that success has never translated into a Japanese UFC champion. At this stage, no fighter seems better equipped to rectify that than the surging Japanese flyweight, Kyoji Horiguchi.
Of course, there’s a good chance he’ll stumble before he reaches the top of the mountain because this is the fight game and the fight game is perilous. But should he beat the odds and steal the UFC flyweight belt, Horiguchi will bring glory to a country that, perhaps, has had more influence on the evolution of MMA than any other. He takes the next step toward that end at UFC 182 this weekend.
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