KYOJI HORIGUCHI: THE REAL KARATE KID

The name Krazy Bee conjures up all sorts of images from past, present, and future. Norifumi KID Yamamoto bashing his way through Shooto, K-1, Hero’s, all the way to the UFC.  Kotetsu Boku being a surprise addition to the burgeoning ONE Fighting Championship and grabbing the Lightweight title his first fight in. And the new wave of fighters coming up through ranks, such as Shooto Rookie Champion Yusuke Yachi, and Kyoji Horiguchi, recently announced as the Shooto Featherweight Championship contender slated for March 16th against current belt holder Hiromasa Ogikubo.

Kyoji, at only 22 years of age, possesses a rare combination of talent, uniqueness, stamina, strength and ungodly determination that makes him a thrilling fighter to watch. He encapsulates the new breed of Japanese fighter who has at his disposal the education of an established MMA gym, full-time fighter training partners, a definitive ranking promotion in which to grow, and all the time in the world to leave his mark on it. And as much as Kyoji is aggressive and at times overly committal in his attacks in the ring, outside of it, his demeanor belies his age. Kyoji is candid, confident, and calm. He’s humble without being passive and he’s assertive without being cocky.

In fact, Kyoji Horiguchi reminds me a lot of another guy, Tatsuya Kawajiri. And here is where MMA-in-ASIA will segue into our interview with the Shooto Featherweight Challenger.

Right now, you are one of the most highly talked-about Japanese fighters. Are you aware of that?

No!

I did an interview with Kawajiri and I asked him who are some fighters to watch out for. He mentioned you exclusively.

Oh really? Kawajiri… wow.

I know your background is in karate, so how did you get into MMA?

When I was a high school student, the karate I did wasn’t hitting anything but air. I wanted to be stronger. I was watching TV, I saw PRIDE, and it was more flexible. There was every kind of style. I got interested in it.

Who did you like?

From PRIDE, let’s see… Mirko Crocop. Wanderlei Silva. Fedor.

Of course!

[laughs]

Your base is in karate; your kicks come from karate. What particular style?

The “no-hitting” style.

But your kicks are really amazing! When you fought in Vale Tudo Japan against Ian Loveland, a much taller opponent –

– Yeah, he was.

You were still able to get inside with those kicks, some to his head. How were you able to do it?

Sideways stepping and then kicking. It’s my style, karate! The footwork is all from karate.

Did you take anything from boxing or Muay Thai?

No, not boxing.

So, your sideways stepping, then kick –

– karate.

Okay.

Going forward is very important in karate. Everything in my style comes from karate.

So your karate is like “Japanese MMA”?

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Your punching is very strong, how do you practice?

Karate is thought of as not moving around much, very rooted. But really I don’t practice like that at all. I’m always moving around, punching. Using my whole body behind everything. It’s all karate. My original style.

Your record now is nine wins with just one loss, against Masakazu Ueda by decision. That was a huge fight for you. What did you learn from that fight?

That fight, I couldn’t fight using my own my style. I have to do my style, keep doing it, but he wouldn’t let me. If I can’t, I won’t win. I changed up during that fight, but I learned I shouldn’t have.  For being in close, well, I have to stick to my own style. My style is stand up, but I knew Ueda so I tried a style with takedowns. I don’t like it.

From watching your fights, it seems like your forwardness might be a cause for concern. You’ve had to be careful of getting caught in guillotines and beware of strong wrestlers. Do you see this as a weakness? What are you doing to work on it as you develop as a fighter?

Well, let’s say that boxing is a very close distance fighting style. But karate is very special, working with longer and shorter distances going in and out much further. So I don’t care about long, short, tall opponents, whatever, I don’t care. If I go in, I do try to protect points like my neck, but I’m very strong, and I can work through it.

What is your training like before a fight?

Same as usual, it doesn’t change, some more running.

And after the fight, what do you do to relax?

Fishing! Fishing and eating it. [laughs]

What advice would you give to other young athletes who want to pursue a career in MMA like you are?

MMA involves techniques from every part of your body. So if you want to advance higher, you have to remember this and you must practice everything, footwork, punching, everything.

What’s your goal for the future?

The UFC.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

Kid Yamamoto for hiring me, and everybody at Krazy Bee for helping me.

Good luck on your upcoming Shooto Championship bout.