Darrion Caldwell has long believed he’s the best bantamweight in all of mixed martial arts but he’s all about proving it rather than just saying it.
That’s why, when the opportunity came up to travel to Japan to face Kyoji Horiguchi for the inaugural Rizin bantamweight title, he jumped at it.
“Honestly, Scott Coker had done an interview where he said he’d like to see our bantamweight champion versus Rizin’s bantamweight champion and I looked at who was Rizin’s champion and it was Horiguchi and I immediately jumped on it,” Caldwell said before leaving for Japan.
“I knew it would be a great opportunity. That was in late October and then the opportunity came about with a bout agreement we jumped on it.”
Horiguchi has won ten straight fights and Caldwell is relishing the opportunity to prove himself against an opponent with impeccable credentials.
“He’s proven that he can compete with the best guys. To me he’s a top bantamweight in the world so this is a good opportunity for me.”
In many ways the timing couldn’t have been any better for Caldwell. He hoped to get at least one more fight in during 2018 but there wasn’t a clear cut number one contender among Bellator’s roster of bantamweights.
Meanwhile, Horiguchi has gone on a long winning streak since leaving the UFC. Last year he won the Rizin bantamweight Grand Prix, racking up four knockouts and one submission along the way.
While he was a flyweight in the UFC, Horiguchi also faced the best of the best in that organization and ran up a remarkable 7-1 record with his only loss coming to one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the history of the sport and the best 125lber of all time in Demetrious Johnson.
That’s exactly the kind of opponent Caldwell wanted next because beating somebody as accomplished as Horiguchi will look awfully good on his record.
“It’s absolutely a huge win on my resume,” Caldwell said.
“It’s just solidifying everything I already know about Bellator. They’ve got the best bantamweight in the world. It’s a good opportunity for me, in front of a bunch of fans who have never seen ‘The Wolf’ before, so to go out there and perform, it’s going to be even better.”
As confident as Caldwell might be about walking out of Rizin 14 with a second world title around his waist, he’s not in any way looking past Horiguchi.
Caldwell has seen what Horiguchi can do, especially when he’s throwing his hands with bad intentions. At the same time he knows that the Japanese bantamweight has never taken on an animal like him before either and feels his opponent is in for a rude awakening,
“Obviously this is the best striker I’ve fought. He’s been at the pinnacle of this sport. He fought for a UFC title. He poses a lot of different threats I haven’t seen before,” Caldwell said about Horiguchi.
“I expect it to be a war. I’m going out there to finish this guy but I expect him to come out and scrap. He’s explosive, he’s fast. It’s almost going to be a cat and mouse game where I’m trying to get my hands on him all night cause he’s elusive. He’s got great attacks. I know he’s going to be ready to fight. We’re just going to steal the show.”
As complimentary as Caldwell might be about Horiguchi now, he pulls no punches when it comes to his prediction on how this championship fight will end.
“I see Kyoji Horiguchi slumped on the canvas inside one round,” Caldwell said.
And, as excited as he might be about winning a second world title, Caldwell believes the biggest benefit in traveling to Japan to face Horiguchi will be the recognition it will give him after the fight.
As a Bellator fighter, Caldwell knows that he’ll probably never get the chance to face current UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw for true supremacy at the top of that division but beating somebody like Horiguchi is a great first step towards the public recognition that he’s the top 135lbs fighter in the world.
“This is definitely going to open up a lot of eyes,” Caldwell said.
“It’s going to make people realize what I’ve been proving night in and night out, that I’m the best in the world. He’s one of the best 135lbers in the world. I don’t really get mixed up too much with the UFC guys cause I know none of those guys can beat me in reality. They’re going to get protected. So the facts don’t get out that I’m the best bantamweight in the world.
“It’s my job to go out there and fight and I think the world will know who the best bantamweight is if they don’t already know.”