UFC Made Huge Mistake Letting Go Of Kyoji Horiguchi

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Kyoji Horiguchi
Image Credit: AP / John Locher

On early Sunday morning in Fukuoka, Japan, flyweight sensation Kyoji Horiguchi picked up yet another dominant win, this time brutally knocking out former UFC fighter Ian McCall in just nine seconds in the main event of RIZIN 10. Horiguchi has now won nine-straight fights since losing to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson back at UFC 186 in April 2015, and he’s a perfect 6-0 since signing with RIZIN last year, with wins by either knockout or submission in his last five fights. It’s fair to say Horiguchi is an amazing talent.

The decision by the UFC to let Horiguchi become a free agent and sign a contract with RIZIN is looking more and more foolish every time the young Japanese native fights. At just 27, Horiguchi is just reaching his prime. That UFC brass didn’t see the potential upside this youngster has and not putting a premium on it is looking like a huge mistake. Yes, Horiguchi is getting paid very well to fight in RIZIN, but there’s a reason for that. The man is arguably the second-best flyweight in the world along with Joseph Benavidez, and he deserves to be paid like it. Yes, he did lose to Mighty Mouse and the fight was a blowout, but that fight was three years ago and it’s clear Horiguchi has improved leaps and bounds since then. Right now, he’s fighting at an extremely high level and there’s reason to believe he’s the only flyweight out there with the chance to dethrone Johnson. Too bad we won’t get a chance to see the rematch anytime soon with Horiguchi, a RIZIN fighter now.

Though McCall is on the downside of his career, what Horiguchi just did to him was something no one else has ever been able to do. McCall fought Johnson twice and the champ wasn’t able to finish him. Benavidez wasn’t able to finish him. Dominick Cruz couldn’t finish him. John Lineker couldn’t finish him. In McCall’s 15-plus year career only Charlie Valencia (via submission) over 10 years ago and Manel Kape via controversial cut stoppage could stop McCall. The fact Horiguchi was able to go in there and finish McCall in less than 10 seconds is an incredible achievement. It shows how dangerous of a fighter he is and how much knockout power he has for a little guy. It’s rare knockout power that the UFC should have put a premium on and made a better attempt at keeping rather than just letting him go to RIZIN and getting nothing in return for one of the best flyweights in the world. The fact the UFC couldn’t see his potential is shocking considering the eye for talent the promotion’s matchmakers have, and the UFC surely would love a do-over on this one.

The last few years saw a number of fighters leave the UFC and sign free-agent deals with promotions such as Bellator, RIZIN and ONE, and for the most part no one complained since many of these fighters were grinding wrestlers or aging veterans. But letting go of Horiguchi has turned out to be a colossal blunder. Yes, Mighty Mouse smoked him, but he’s also crushed pretty much everyone else who has stood in the cage with him. The UFC should have recognized that the 24-year-old version of Horiguchi wouldn’t be the same guy that the 27-year-old version of Horiguchi is.

The man has improved dramatically since leaving the UFC and he sure would look good on the UFC flyweight roster right now. The UFC is having a hard time finding anyone to find Mighty Mouse and make it a competitive fight. Well, I’d bet the house this new and improved version of Horiguchi could give Mighty Mouse the toughest title defense he’s had yet. It’s a shame we won’t get to see that fight since Horiguchi is no longer under contract with the world’s largest MMA promotion. But in the meantime, at least we get to see this man emerge as RIZIN’s biggest superstar, and it’s great to see. Horiguchi is one hell of a talent, and he still has room to get even better.

Do you believe Kyoji Horiguchi has improved significantly since his UFC departure?