Bellator MMA

Bellator MMA bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis was losing nearly every second of his title defense on Friday against former titleholder Kyoji Horiguchi, until he wasn't.  

Pettis (22-5) rallied late in Round 4 to retrieve victory from the jaws of defeat by knocking Horiguchi out cold with a stunning spinning back fist in the main event of Bellator 272. The violent finish inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, spoiled what had been a flawless return to the promotion for Horiguchi, who was forced to vacate the 135-pound Bellator title he won in 2019 due to a knee injury.  

Horiguchi (29-4), the 31-year-old fighter from Japan, left the cage on a stretcher after the knockout and was transported to a local hospital, according to Bellator officials. The finish came at 3:24 of the fourth round after Pettis missed a high kick attempt with his right leg and instantly spun into the knockout blow which the former RIZIN champion never saw coming.

Pettis, 28, had said throughout fight week that he didn't consider himself the true Bellator champion, despite having outpointed Juan Archuleta for the title in May, because Horiguchi had never lost the belt inside the cage.

 "I don't know if that doesn't signify it anymore," Pettis said. "I came out here and had to get beat up for nearly four full rounds. I came out and said to myself that I'm losing this fight and need to do something spectacular to turn this around." 

The harsh criticism Pettis gave of his performance leading up to the knockout wasn't without merit. Horiguchi, who ended a 12-month layoff, was nearly flawless in his execution for three-plus rounds and appeared to be on his way toward making a case as possibly the best 135-pound fighter on the planet.  

Horiguchi took Pettis down with ease in each of the first three rounds and routinely beat his opponent to the punch despite a reach disadvantage by darting in and out with clean strikes. Pettis wasn't just getting outlanded, Horiguchi's loose and unpredictable style had succeeded in more or less disarming Pettis into a lethargic performance fueled by frustration. 

The only strike of any consequence Pettis appeared to land during the first three rounds was an upkick from his back in Round 2 that opened up a cut below the right eye of Horiguchi. Pettis was also bleeding from his nose at the time of the knockout as Horiguchi began to sense Pettis' desperation and was landing routinely with hard strikes.

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"I needed to face some adversity and tonight, Horiguchi gave me all of that," Pettis said. "I had a tough time picking up his timing and rhythm. I'm only 28 and this fight showed me that I still have a lot to work on. I will be back in the gym soon." 

Horiguchi outlanded Pettis in total strikes by a margin of 73 to 19, according to BD-Sport Inc. He also converted on four of seven takedown attempts.  

The victory was the fifth straight for Pettis and his fourth overall since leaving the UFC to sign with Bellator in late 2019. Pettis, the younger brother of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony "Showtime" Pettis, recorded his first knockout win since 2013 under the RFA banner.  

Horiguchi previously went 7-1 in the UFC with his lone defeat coming against Demetrious Johnson in their 2015 flyweight title bout. He went to win his next 13 fights overall, including a 9-1 run in RIZIN.  

Both Pettis and Horiguchi will take part in the Bellator MMA Bantamweight World Grand Prix tournament which was announced during Friday's card. The eight-man draw begins in 2022 with the 135-pound title and a $1 million prize at stake for the winner.