As 2020 draws to a close, fans are already gearing up for future UFC and Bellator events in the new year. However, this New Year’s Eve features a Rizin Fighting Federation title bout that will not disappoint. In a rematch from August 2019, Kai Asakura and Kyoji Horiguchi fight in the headliner of Rizin.26, which takes place at the Saitama Super Arena. This time, Asakura’s bantamweight title is on the line.
The pair first met at Rizin.18, which took place less than 18 months ago. With greater pedigree and experience, Horiguchi was seen as the favorite. However, around 30 seconds into the opening round, Asakura stunned Horiguchi with a straight right hand just as Horiguchi leapt to throw one of his own. As Horiguchi flailed around the ring, Asakura unleashed punches and knees. Horiguchi was dropped by a left hook. He scrambled to his feet, but he was sent back to the canvas courtesy of another right hand from Asakura. The referee saved Horiguchi from any further punishment and awarded the victory to Asakura. The fight lasted a mere 68 seconds.
Prior to his loss to Asakura, Horiguchi had gone 22-1 since 2012. His only slip-up came when he challenged Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the UFC flyweight championship. Horiguchi recorded seven UFC wins prior to his departure from the company in 2016. Since then, he has defeated such notable names as Manel Kape and Ian McCall under the Rizin banner in Japan.
In 2018, Horiguchi was pitted against the Bellator bantamweight champion of the time, Darrion Caldwell, for the vacant Rizin title. The contract included a clause that stipulated that the first fight would be for the Rizin belt and a rematch would be held with the Bellator strap on the line. Horiguchi tapped Caldwell in the first fight with a third-round guillotine choke. The Japanese fighter then dominated Caldwell en route to a decision in the rematch. With these two wins, Horiguchi claimed both the Rizin and Bellator titles. He also sandwiched a first-round knockout victory over Ben Ngyuen between these victories.
Asakura has fought the entirety of his career in Asia. He went 12-1 before his victory over Horiguchi. After his signature win, he went on to finish Ulka Sasaki in the first round. In his next fight, Asakura lost to the aforementioned Kape at Rizin.20. Asakura surrendered the belt to Kape in the defeat.
After Kape vacated the championship to sign with the UFC, Asakura was once again slated for a shot at the Rizin title, this time against Hiromasa Ougikubo. Asakura won the August bout via a first-round knockout caused by a series of knees and soccer kicks. Asakura most recently scored a knockout over Shoji Maruyama in a non-title bout. Once again, the victory was the result of soccer kicks that are considered legal within the Rizin rule set.
This upcoming fight offers many interesting contrasts. Horiguchi has been plagued by injuries, which forced him to vacate his Rizin and Bellator titles in November 2019. He has had ACL surgery and a 15-month layoff, so it will be interesting to see whether he is the same fighter we have grown accustomed to seeing in action. Conversely, Asakura has fought four times since their first meeting, and he went on to capture the Rizin crown in Horiguchi’s absence. It will be of further intrigue to witness how well Asakura’s activity serves him in this match-up.
This will be the final major MMA fight of the year, and it has a plethora of storylines. With its rematch scenario, Horiguchi’s major layoff, and the promise of a Japanese crowd, this fight offers everything. Horiguchi is seen as the more technical and skillful fighter, but the memory of the first fight is enough to suggest that Asakura should not be discounted. Given all of these factors, the Rizin.26 headliner is one to watch.
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