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Caldwell vs. Horiguchi 2 [Bellator 222]

Friday’s Bellator 222 card is stacked from the blackout prelims on, with the event being capped by a welterweight title matchup between current champion Rory MacDonald and Neiman Gracie in a second-round matchup of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix. Leading into the fight, we see mouth-watering matchups solidifying the card including the co-main event between previous UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida facing off with Chael Sonnen, conceivably the most boisterous man in MMA in Dillon Danis, and wonder prospects in Aaron Pico and Valerie Loureda. The fight that is drawing the eyes of most hardcore MMA fans, however, is the bantamweight title rematch between Bellator champion Darrion Caldwell and RIZIN FF champion and former UFC title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi.

A post shared by 堀口恭司 Kyoji Horiguchi (@kyoji1012) on Jun 13, 2019 at 7:58pm PDT

Caldwell vs. Horiguchi 2 is one of two cross-promoted matchups at Bellator 222 between them and RIZIN, with the other being Lindsey VanZandt battling Japanese superstar Rena Kubota on the prelims. The first matchup between Caldwell and Horiguchi took place at RIZIN 14 back on New Year’s Eve in Japan, RIZIN’s marquee attraction of the year. The bout saw Caldwell have trouble corralling the quick-footed Horiguchi, as well as seemingly just adapting to the different environment of Japanese MMA. One outside factor that seemed to impact Caldwell’s performance was the lack of a cage, where Caldwell typically does his best work. This was apparently one of the principal reasons Caldwell had trouble getting Horiguchi down, as Caldwell, who is considered by many to be one of the best bantamweights in the world, was, and once again will be, the larger man in the fight. It’ll be interesting to see if the cage environment has any effect on Caldwell’s success this time around, given that Horiguchi himself has experience fighting in a caged environment.

A post shared by 堀口恭司 Kyoji Horiguchi (@kyoji1012) on May 7, 2018 at 7:45pm PDT

When it comes to the Japanese phenom Horiguchi, it is important to note, especially for fans who don’t watch Asian MMA (I get it, it comes on early), this isn’t the same man who fought in the UFC four years ago. Since his relocation back home in RIZIN, Horiguchi has become the biggest star in Japanese MMA and is considered by many to be the best fighter the nation’s ever produced. To give an idea of his popularity, his kickboxing match with Tenshin Nasukawa last year was essentially the Japanese equivalent to what Mayweather-McGregor was here, a mega fight between the two biggest combat sports stars in the region. Horiguchi was an active fighter in the UFC and transcended to not only capitalize as such but also to evolve as a fighter and progressing with his skillset. Horiguchi seamlessly blends a sharp kickboxing attack with an underrated submission and ground game. He defeated fellow former UFC flyweight Ben Nguyen only a little over a month ago at RIZIN 15, so this will be a quick turnaround for a guy who’s already a cardio machine as is.

The biggest X-factor in this fight, as I previously mentioned, will be the different environment of this match, most notably, the presence of a cage as opposed to a ring. While it may seem somewhat trivial to think of that being a major factor, for a guy that does his best work pressing and working for takedowns against the cage like Caldwell, it can be a massive factor. Another X-factor is what will happen if the fight hits the mat. Horiguchi has come into his own as a grappler, but Caldwell is the larger man and has a wrestling pedigree, while Horiguchi is a natural striker.

A post shared by Darrion Caldwell (@thewolfmma) on Jun 5, 2019 at 10:30am PDT

If you’re looking for my pick, I tend to lean Horiguchi. We’ve seen this story before, and I’m inclined to lean towards the man who I personally believe would beat “Triple C” Henry Cejudo if they were to fight right now. Caldwell is obviously an excellent fighter, but Horiguchi may be a globally ranked pound-for-pound fighter right now.

A post shared by 堀口恭司 Kyoji Horiguchi (@kyoji1012) on Nov 5, 2018 at 3:42pm PST

As I mentioned above, this is one of two cross-promoted bouts on this card. Horiguchi is the biggest MMA star in Japan right now, and Rena Kubota is probably the second biggest. Think of them as the Japanese McGregor and Rousey. Let me go on record saying that I love this cross-promotion between Bellator and RIZIN, I think it’s good for MMA. I wish the UFC would be more willing to do so themselves because the idea that every elite fighter in the world fights in the UFC is just flat out false. Bellator, RIZIN, PFL, and ONE all have fighters who would be top 5 contenders in the UFC. Who wouldn’t want to see Jon Jones fight ONE double champ Aung La N Sang at 205? Hell, that might be the only chance there ever is to see Jones legitimately lose a fight. How about Robert Whittaker taking on Gegard Mousasi? Mousasi may be favored in that fight and had he stuck around in the UFC, he may be the undisputed UFC middleweight champion. And how about the one I mentioned above, Henry Cejudo against Kyoji Horiguchi. Perhaps the two best smaller-weight fighters in the world right now, plus it gives people who don’t like the cringe god Cejudo a chance to watch him lose. There are many great fights that can be cross-promoted, and give Bellator and RIZIN credit for having the guts to do so in an era of MMA where money, superstardom, and promotional supremacy seemingly rules all.

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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