There are certain places someone can go in life to announce their arrival and say that they’ve made it. Yankee Stadium. Carnegie Hall. The Grand Ole Opry House, Madison Square Garden. And so on.
For professional fighters, Las Vegas is known as the Fight Capital of the World for a reason. And after eight consecutive wins, three in the UFC, Japan’s Kyoji Horiguchi is about to find out why as he gets the fight that may truly introduce him as a young man who will not only be a legitimate contender for the flyweight title, but the first fighter from his country to capture the imagination of fans outside of Asia.
It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of the happy-go-lucky 24-year-old, but he’s approaching his UFC 182 bout against Louis Gaudinot at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in precisely the right manner.
“It is nothing special for me where I fight at this point since I do need few more steps to climb up the ladder,” Horiguchi said through manager / translator Fumihiko Ishii. “However, it will be a great chance for me to show my best performance in the cage and finish the fight for American UFC fans to recognize me.”
> WATCH: Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Dustin Pague on UFC FIGHT PASS
American fans have received a double-dose of Horiguchi thus far in his UFC career, with the Gunma native knocking out Dustin Pague in the second round in Houston in October of 2013, and then decisioning Darrell Montague in Cincinnati in May. But it was his performance in his current home of Tokyo in September that cemented his place as a top 125er in the UFC, as he knocked out Jon Delos Reyes in Saitama Super Arena.
“It’s not pressure, but I always had a feeling that I cannot lose the fight regardless if it was in Japan or not,” he said. But because it was in my home country, I prepared specially for the fight; not only for my career but also to show my big appreciation to my Karate master - NIHEI Sensei – the supporters who are always around me, and for my fans.”
He delivered the goods in the bout against Delos Reyes, proving that he was ready for the next move in a career that began back in 2010. That move is against Gaudinot, a fighter who poses a significant challenge despite not having a win on his record since 2012.
“In reviewing his fights, he throws hard punches and makes the transition to finish the fight by choke,” Horiguchi said of his opponent. “So, I have to pay attention to his choke attack. However, the most important thing for me is not what he is going to do for me, but what I can do to him.”
A student of Kid Yamamoto who trains with the Krazy Bee team, Horiguchi can knock people out, a key element when it comes to building a fan base internationally. Add in an easygoing manner that turns all business on fight night, and he could be the one to break the barrier that Japanese fighters like Yamamoto, Caol Uno, Kazushi Sakuraba, Yushin Okami and Takanori Gomi have been unable to smash though. And the key reason is because none of those fighters won a UFC title. When asked about being in the conversation for a world title, Horiguchi says “I may need few more steps to see the title race,” noting that “in any case, I cannot afford to lose the upcoming fight.”
Fair enough, but if he defeats Gaudinot, that’s 4-0 in the UFC, and in a division in need of compelling challengers for champion Demetrious Johnson that he hasn’t defeated yet, a couple more wins could put him in line for a shot to make history.
I ask him if it’s important to break the U.S. market and at least gain the diehard fan base owned by the likes of Sakuraba and Gomi.
“Of course,” he said. “That’s the only way for me to make success in UFC.”
So what will it take?
“Fight the best, as usual, and finish the fight to get a lot of attention from the fans; I want them to look at me as a finisher,” he said, adding, “And I do need to study English too.”
He smiles, an expression that needs no translation. And if 2015 is the one that changes his career and life for the better, Horiguchi isn’t worried about things not being the way they were before. Sometimes, change is good, and while the results may be bigger and better, the work stays the same.
“I have to focus and manage hard training in every aspect of MMA – Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, stand-up, cardio. This will bring me good news.”
Check out the full UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier fight card