Yoshinori Horie is back competing on Asian soil this weekend after an unsuccessful stint in the UFC. The 24-year-old featherweight faces compatriot Yojiro Uchimura in the headliner of Pancrase 312 on Sunday.

The three-round encounter was promoted to main event after lightweight champion Salimkhan Sadulloev pulled out of his interim title defense with Tatsuya Saika. That makes Horie the headliner and he says it feels good to be back,

“It is great to be back in Pancrase. I consider this promotion as my old stomping grounds. I am not the man you know today if it wasn’t for this company. It feels like home,” Horie said through his interpreter.

Horie has been one of Pancrase’s stars since 2016, establishing himself as one of the most promising Japanese prospects. In the span of ten months, he won five straight matches, including a 72-second demolition of Kazunari Kimura in the 2017 Neo-Blood featherweight tournament finals.

His first stiff test came three months after winning the Neo-Blood tourney in the form of grizzled veteran Katsushi Sugiyama, but Horie passed with flying colours and walked away with the unanimous decision victory.

Screeching halt

Horie’s red-hot start came to a screeching halt when UFC veteran Issei Tamura knocked him out with a right hook in the second round of their March 2018 clash. It took eight months to earn his redemption by defeating Masaya Takita via first-round stoppage.

By this stage he was known by the moniker ‘Rising Star’ for obvious reasons. Horie soon caught the UFC’s attention after steamrolling Hiroshige Tanaka in the opening frame of their bout at Pancrase 303 last March.

Horie took on Hakeem Dawodu at UFC 240. The showdown provided plenty of entertainment but the Japanese fighter’s promotional debut did not go according to plan as he was finished with a head kick in the final round.

Despite being a very young, exciting fighter who holds a lot of potential and could draw Asian traction for the company, Horie received the heartbreaking news that the UFC decided to part ways with him.

Major setback

Horie admitted that he never expected to be released after one fight in the organization, but it was a setback that he had no choice but to accept,

“It was surprising to me. I think I did enough to stay in the UFC. But at the end of the day, it is still business. I respect that. Thankfully, I found a place to resume my career,” he disclosed.

Pancrase had no hesitation in signing the featherweight for a second time and Horie is grateful to the promotion for sticking by him after such a major setback,

“I would like to thank Pancrase for opening its door again. It’s time to put on the work. It’s a new beginning for me,” he stated.

“I am back for good. I am excited and ready to get the win.”

Title talk

The man standing in the way of his re-entry to the winner’s column is Uchimura, a battle-tested competitor who has shared the stage with several prominent names in the Japanese MMA circuit such as Nobutatsu Suzuki, Guy DeLumeau, Tanaka and Koyomi Matsushima.

Uchimura, who also moonlights as a kickboxer, has emerged triumphant in four of his last five outings under the Pancrase banner.

Knowing what Uchimura brings to the table, Horie is not treating his Pancrase comeback as a tune-up fight,

“He is a veteran of the sport. I totally respect him as a fighter. It’s a big challenge for me, but this is what I came for. I know the bigger the challenge, the bigger the reward,” he explained.

Horie believes he has what it takes to vie for Isao Kobayashi’s Pancrase featherweight title. It’s something he never managed during his first stint with the promotion but he is determined to do it second time around,

“I am so excited to return and do what I do best. I couldn’t be happier about it. I have what it takes to be the champion in my division, and once again, I will show that against Uchimura,” he declared.