Kyoji Horiguchi, a former champion in multiple promotions who is widely considered among the best active 135-pound fighters in the world, agreed Thursday to return to Bellator MMA.
The signing of Horiguchi (29-3) was confirmed on social media by Bellator president Scott Coker as the promotion only added to a bantamweight division overflowing with depth as rumors continue to swirl regarding a possible future announcement of a Bellator World Grand Prix tournament at the weight class.
Horiguchi, a 30-year-old native of Japan, is the former Bellator MMA and RIZIN bantamweight champion, having won both titles in consecutive victories over Darrion Caldwell over a six-month span ending in 2019. The first fight took place at Rizin 14 in Japan with Horiguchi winning by third-round submission while the rematch was held at Bellator 222 in New York when "The Typhoon" closed out the two-fight series across both promotions with a decision win.
Just five months after their second fight, a knee injury forced Horiguchi to vacate both titles. He returned in 2019 and suffered an upset knockout loss to Kai Asakura at Rizin 18 but avenged the loss 16 months later in a first-round TKO of Asakura last December.
Horiguchi, who trains out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla., appeared on the gym's "Punchin' In" podcast earlier this week to announce his free agency and expressed interest in fighting current Bellator bantamweight champion Sergio Pettis, who captured the title by decision over Juan Archuleta at Bellator 258 in May.
"Maybe Pettis because I want to return back the belt," Horiguchi said. "That's why Pettis."
In addition to Pettis and Archuleta, the Bellator bantamweight division features a number of elite fighters and promising future stars in the likes of Raufeon Stots, Patchy Mix, Magomed Magomedov, Leandro Higo, Caldwell and James Gallagher. Current Bellator lightweight champion Patricio "Pitbull" Freire, who lost his featherweight title to AJ McKee in the finals of the 145-pound Grand Prix in July, also recently shared his interest in potentially seeking a title in a third division at bantamweight.
Horiguchi closed out his four-year run in Rizin with a record of 9-1, including a 2017 victory in the promotion's Bantamweight World Grand Prix tournament. Before that, Horiguchi went 7-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming in a flyweight title fight against Demetrious Johnson when he was submitted with one second left in the fifth round.