A pair of bantamweight titleholders face off for the second time, as Bellator bantamweight champion battles Kyoji Horiguchi, the proud owner of the Rizin FF title. The pair are no strangers to each other, having fought at Rizin 14 on New Year’s Eve, with the winner being declared the inaugural Rizin FF champion. On that night, Horiguchi got the job done, scoring a third-round guillotine choke to claim the gold. Now, nearly six months later, the two are set to run it back on American soil, with Caldwell’s redemption and Bellator crown on the line.
Heading into Bellator 222, much was made of the differences between a ring and a cage. In the last meeting, Horiguchi got his hand raised inside a traditional ring. Bellator President Scott Coker was adamant during Media Day that in the Bellator cage, it would be Caldwell who would have the advantage.
In the end, it changed nothing.
While it wasn’t a highlight-reel finish, Horiguchi got the job done over the course of five rounds, picking up a unanimous decision win over Caldwell (48-47, 49-46 x2) to claim the Bellator crown, becoming a dual-promotion champion.
Bellator and Rizin’s business relationship goes back a long way, with Coker working with Rizin founder Nobuyuki Sakakibara closely while he was running Strikeforce, and Sakakibara was running Pride FC. The two sides have said a deal was already in place for Horiguchi to defend his new belt at least once a year, while competing in Japan as well. The pair also teased the idea of an all Bellator vs. Rizin tournament somewhere down the line.
Horiguchi is arguably considered the greatest mixed martial artist to emerge from Japan. A pro since 2010, he improves to 28-2 in his career. Caldwell had his sights set on a trilogy bout his next time out, before settling beef with Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, looking to add the Brazilian’s featherweight championship to his collection.