Back in September, Kyoji Horiguchi, then the simultaneous Rizin and Bellator bantamweight champ, returned to training after sustaining a concussion in a non-title loss to Kai Asakura.

In one of his first training sessions back, the Japanese talent heard his knee pop.

“My knee had been bothering me for a while,” Horiguchi said through his translator.

“After the fight against Kai Asakura on August 18th, I took a month off due to a light concussion. Then I came back and started working out in late September. During a workout, I felt discomfort in my knee. One day, my right knee just popped. I pushed it back in place somehow and finished the day hoping that it would be no big deal. But the same thing happened the very next day during sparring. I talked about it with my coach. He recommended me go see a doctor. The doctor advised me to get a surgery immediately.”

Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell

Lengthy layoff

Horiguchi did as he as he was advised, and went under the knife right away. Unfortunately, the recovery time for this surgery meant he would not be able to fight for a prolonged period.

Faced with a lengthy lay-off, he vacated both the Rizin and Bellator bantamweight thrones.

“I thought that it was natural for me to relinquish the titles because I could not defend them. The companies agreed with me,” Horiguchi said.

It was a tough break, but Horiguchi was determined not to let the situation discourage him,

“(There was) nothing emotional. The only thing on my mind was to get the titles back,” he said.

“So, I focused on rehabbing and had nothing to worry about. Early days after surgery, I played video games a lot. Once I started walking with crutches, I went fishing.”

Kyoji Horiguchi and Darrion Caldwell

Steady progress

While Horiguchi has made enough progress to walk and fish, he’s still not fighting fit. That being said he’s happy with the progress he’s made,

“It has been coming along pretty well,” the former two-promotion champ said.

“The rehab doctor has been telling me that I am ahead of schedule. I would say that I am 50 to 60%, if I had to scale my current condition.”

However he isn’t ready to set a date for his comeback fight,

“I do not like to set any timetable, because it will (cause me to) rush myself back on the ring. I will fight again whenever I feel ready. Ironically, the pandemic has given me extra time to recover. I should take advantage of that and make sure that I have no setback.”

Tenshin and Horiguchi 2

Bantamweight landscape

The Rizin bantamweight division has changed quite a bit since Horiguchi surrendered his title late last year. On New Year’s Eve, his recent foil Asakura battled Manel Kape for the vacant throne. In a significant upset, Asakura was knocked out by Kape, who then migrated to the UFC, meaning the division once again needs a champ.

Horiguchi hopes he’ll be granted an immediate title shot when he’s ready to return, but isn’t sure what Rizin is planning. That being said, he’s quite confident he’ll be booked for a rematch with Asakura in his next fight, whether it’s for the belt or not.

“Title match or not, I just expect to fight Kai Asakura again,” he said.

Kyoji Horiguchi punch

Total confidence

Horiguchi is also hoping he’ll get a chance to reclaim the Bellator bantamweight title in the near future. While that will depend on Rizin and Bellator continuing to co-promote, Bellator President Scott Coker previously stated that the Japanese star will get an immediate title shot when he’s healthy,

“I would appreciate it if they could give me a shot,” Horiguchi said.

At this stage, Horiguchi is reluctant to make predictions for the next chapter of his career, but he’s “100 percent confident,” he’ll become a champion again in 2020.

“I honestly do not give any thought to my future that much,” he said.

“I will focus on winning the both titles back in the short term and go from there. Other than my own career, I always want to promote MMA and make more fans happy, especially fans in my home country, Japan.”