Madison Square Garden in New York City played host to an epic night of fights for Bellator 222 on Friday (local time). Two of Asia’s most prominent faces, Rena Kubota and Kyoji Horiguchi, were in action and the former fell short while the latter became a two promotion champion.
Horiguchi was a fish in sharks’ waters in the opening round against Bellator bantamweight champion Darrion Caldwell. The Japanese fighter looked out of sorts inside a cage as his opponent utilized wrestling to take the Japanese fighter down and pin him up against the fence.
After a stalemate for the first couple of minutes in the second round, Caldwell was able to get Horiguchi back onto the canvas, up against the cage. He looked to improve his position but the strikes from the bottom by the Rizin champion made it difficult for the American.
With 30 seconds left in the frame, the referee stood the two fighters up and Horiguchi looked to push the pace to end the round. He had Caldwell backpedaling at the start of the third round too and was pushing the fight forward, eventually winding up in top position.
Caldwell was turtled up and, after a scramble, the Japanese sensation was able to land in a dominant top position and push him up against the cage again. The fight returned to the feet, with the American immediately shooting for a takedown, but Horiguchi was able to stuff it and wind up in top half guard.
The round ended with both men swinging for the fences, the two hitting the ground and Caldwell pushing Horiguchi up against the cage. The Japanese fighter looked to be the fresher of the two combatants coming into the fourth round.
Caldwell shot in for a takedown and Horiguchi locked onto a signature guillotine, but the American was able to get his head loose. The defending champion had the challenger up against the fence for what seemed like an eternity, but was just holding on.
Horiguchi was landing the strikes from the bottom position. After two and a half minutes on the ground, the referee decided to stand the two up. The reigning Rizin 135lbs champion pushed forward and was able to finish the round with a late takedown up against the fence.
The two were still looking to finish the fight in the fifth round. There was no feeling out process at this point and both were throwing some heavy leather. Much like every other round, Caldwell got the fight to the mat, pushed Horiguchi up against the cage and stayed the in between the Japanese fighter’s legs for quite some time with no progression.
Horiguchi looked to lock in guillotine attempt after guillotine attempt, but unfortunately was unable to secure the fighting ending choke. When all was said and done, the judges had rendered a decision and the Japanese fighter was declared the new Bellator bantamweight champion via unanimous decision with the scorecards reading 48-47 and 49-46 (x 2).
With the win Horiguchi improves to 28-2 and adds the Bellator title to his Rizin strap. Meanwhile Caldwell drops to 12-3 after losing to the former UFC flyweight title challenger for the second time this year.
Kubota (8-3) was another Rizin star coming into the Bellator cage, but that did not faze her opponent Lindsey VanZandt (6-1). She took the Japanese fighter to the mat and put her to sleep with a rear naked choke late in the first round.