One to Watch: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Neil Seery

Fightland Blog

By Jake Hughes

Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC

UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Arlovski, or UFC Fight Night 87, will see the UFC pay its first ever visit to the combat sports hotbed of the Netherlands.

Sunday’s show, taking place at Ahoy Rotterdam in the country’s second city, will see British-born Dutch heavyweight Alistair Overeem vie for a chance to compete for Fabricio Werdum’s UFC heavyweight title should he emerge victorious against Belarusian veteran Andrei Arlovski.

Like with most UFC cards, there have been plenty of changes made to the line-up of fights. Popular Irish flyweight Paddy Holohan was expected to fight the fantastically-named Willie Gates at the event. But, the Dubliner was forced to retire early citing a rare blood disorder which surfaced following a recent medical. Gates will now be facing off against Japanese scrapper Ulka Sasaki.

With a gaping, Irish hole left in the UFC flyweight division following Holohan’s premature exit from the sport, it’s Neil “2 Tap” Seery’s chance to represent his countrymen as Ireland’s premier fighter in MMA’s 125lbs weight class. Undoubtedly his toughest test to date, Seery will be taking on Japanese hotshot Kyoji Horiguchi in Sunday night’s UFC Fight Pass prelims headliner.

Both men are coming off wins following disappointing losses with Seery submitting Jon Delos Reyes with a guillotine choke after dropping a unanimous decision loss to Louis Smolka, while Horiguchi won a unanimous decision over the gritty Chico Camus following his loss to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in the final seconds of the fifth and final round, submitting to an armbar.

Seery started his professional MMA career relatively late at 25 years old. In fact, his career didn’t exactly start off as he would have hoped, having gone 1-4 in his first five fights. With five of his 11 losses coming by way of submission, the Irishman’s ground game had left a lot to be desired in the early stages of his fledgling MMA career. But, Seery’s renaissance came to the fore in his early thirties, which saw him capture the Cage Warriors flyweight title with a much-improved ground arsenal before heading to the UFC as a late replacement for Ian McCall to take on Englishman Brad Pickett at UFC Fight Night 37 in 2014.

2 Tap went on to lose a spirited unanimous decision against Pickett. But, it was enough to showcase the veteran’s abilities in competing at the UFC level. With an unspectacular 16-11 record, Seery is one of those fighters whose win-loss ratio is out of sync with his abilities and is now seeking his fourth victory in the UFC’s Octagon.

Seery’s sophomoric appearance in the UFC was on that famous night in Dublin which saw the Emerald Isle burst onto the worldwide MMA scene for the first time. With the show punctuated by the main event win from Conor McGregor over Diego Brandao, Seery was one of five Irishmen (counting Northern Irishman Norman Parke and not counting honorary Irishman Gunnar Nelson) to be victorious at the then-named O2 Arena in Dublin.

Despite the highs enjoyed in the summer of 2014, the truth of the matter is there are only four Irish fighters remaining on the UFC roster: Seery, McGregor, Aisling Daly and Joe Duffy. This is a fact Seery is very much wary of. Speaking to MMAJunkie, Seery said: “To be perfectly honest, it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst. I said it to a couple of people last year that when a country is on a high—you’ve got this many athletes in the UFC and everybody looking in at it—the bubble will burst. Obviously that’s the case at the minute. It’s like everything else—the Irish will have it good for a while, tough for a while, and then it’ll come good again. And I believe it will.”

He may be a successful fight in the UFC. But, Seery is one of the few fighters on the promotion’s books to hold down a full-time job in addition to his MMA excursions. With a UFC record of 3-2, Seery feels it’s appropriate to work alongside his training regimen considering the fact he could be cut from the UFC roster at any moment due to the promotion’s current culture of culling the dead wood.

“People are fooled when they walk through that door because they think they’ve got job security—but you’ve got nothing. You’ve got a piece of paper that says you’ve got a four-fight contract, but that doesn’t mean to say you’re going to get four fights and make a million dollars.

“To me, it’s like every other good ride. It was always destined to come to an end, whether it’s a good end or a bad end. That’s why I’ve always told people to put something in place and try to do something else. Fighting is Plan B, so you should already have Plan A tucked away.

“I don’t need anything else from the sport because it’s been fantastic to me. I’m under no illusion that it is going to come to an end, and as long as I’m healthy walking away from the game; I really don’t care about anything else.

“I’m 3-2 in the UFC, and there’s a possibility that, by next week, I’ll be 3-3 and the UFC could give me my marching orders. But I won’t shed a tear or be disappointed. I’ll clock back into work and will look back on a great ride.”

Horiguchi, meanwhile, is on a quest at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Japanese striker has been near-flawless in his UFC run so far, bar his crushing loss to flyweight champion Johnson.

11 years Seery’s junior, Horiguchi grew up participating in full-contact sport karate in his youth while avidly watching PRIDE Fighting Championships. As the JMMA world continued to crumble around him, Horiguchi—still enamoured with the JMMA heyday enjoyed by PRIDE FC—was still dead-set on pursuing a career in MMA and joined the famed Krazy Bee gym.

When the Japanese star joined the gym, he was instantly picked to be Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto’s main training partner. Horiguchi was formerly a huge fan of Kid’s, and at 18 he had the opportunity to learn his trade alongside his hero. You can see where Yamamoto’s influence has played a part in the promising career of Horiguchi’s – both are/were well-rounded knockout artists, a rarity in the smaller weight classes.

PRIDE FC legend Yamamoto said of his teammate: “I'm sure he will be champ one day. He will hold the belt for a long time.” Since that quote, Horiguchi did indeed fight for the UFC title but lost in the dying seconds of the fifth round to Johnson as mentioned before. But, that’s not to say it won’t happen one day, no matter how imperious Johnson’s present form.

Photo by Mitch Viquez/Zuffa LLC

Horiguchi has long been tipped to be the MMA star Japan has yearned for as the country hopes to regain its status as one of the key regions for the sport. It’s understandable why: with a record of 16-2 at the age of 25, Horiguchi has knocked out nine of his opponents from his 16 wins. An average sized flyweight, he formerly competed at weight divisions higher than his—culminating in Horiguchi winning the Shooto bantamweight championship at the age of 22 after fighting as a featherweight on the Japanese circuit. A Japanese knockout artist is guaranteed money in the region in a promotional sense and he has certainly warranted all hype thrown his way thus far.

Seery is the big underdog in this fight as Horiguchi aims to stake a claim to another chance to fight for the UFC flyweight title. But, it’s nothing new to the Dubliner. "I think Paddy Power [a bookmaker] have had me as an underdog my whole career so this isn't anything new to me. They lost a few quid though I can tell you that. So I don't mind that I'm an underdog. The odds don't mean anything to me."

Saying that, Seery is well aware of the challenges posed by his opponent on Sunday night. “"He's an outstanding fighter, anyone that can go five rounds with Demetrious Johnson is. He lost with only one second to go so it just goes to show how tough of a fighter he is. It's going to be a tough ask but it's a fight at the end of the day."

Horiguchi is undoubtedly the more athletic and flashy fighter of the two. But, if anyone can make it a tough dogfight with Horiguchi, it’s Seery. In a classic clash in styles, either man could earn victory. While a future title rematch is always going to be in the offing for Horiguchi, what’s to say Seery won’t get a chance at fighting for the UFC flyweight title should he beat an opponent as spectacular as Horiguchi in such a shallow weight class?

This fight is guaranteed fireworks with big implications for both men in their flyweight division and we’ll get to watch it all unfold on Fight Pass on Sunday.


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