Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Kai Asakura
These two fought in August 2019, where Kai won via 1st round KO. Since then, we have not seen Kyoji fight as he’s been injured, and Kai has managed to go 3-1 with his lone loss coming via TKO against the newly signed UFC fighter, Manel Kape.
This is where both fighters excel the most in their fights historically and where the rematch can be won or lost.
Kai Asakura’s Striking
Kai is 3rd Degree Karate Black Belt and is an overall good technical striker who incorporates various feints, good footwork & lateral movement, varied striking (i.e., will attack high and low with kicks as well as bodywork), and very proficient countering ability (i.e., a counter right hand led to the stoppage in the first fight with Kyoji).
Kai also has big power in his hands as 10 of his 16 pro-MMA wins are by TKO/KO, some of which come against historically very durable opponents (i.e., Ougikubo and Horiguchi). I’d say the areas of improvement for Kai would be his head movement and the fact that he’s very heavy on his lead leg, making him susceptible to low kicks. He’s also been knocked out a couple of times professionally, so even though he’s a threat to finish Kyoji again, Kyoji is also a legitimate threat to finish him as well.
Kyoji Horiguchi’s Striking
Kyoji is a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He, too, is a good technical striker who incorporates feints, varied striking (i.e., will work the head, body, and low), has excellent footwork & lateral movement, and proficient countering ability (i.e., makes excellent reads in striking exchanges both offensively and defensively). Kyoji also has big power in his hands (i.e., rocked Kape multiple times, registered 4 knockdowns in 8 UFC fights, and 14 of his 28 professional MMA wins are by TKO/KO).
I’d say the areas of improvement for Kyoji are that he keeps his hands low (i.e., reminds me of Robert Whittaker, who does this but does a great job of reading the opposition’s striking threat by raising the guard while moving to avoid damage). As previously mentioned, he is coming off his first KO loss, so his durability may be fading. However, I’d say it’s more of a theory at this point as historically, he’s been very durable.
This is the facet of the fight Kyoji, and the ATT camp can take as a least resistance path. I’m not really sure what to make of Kai’s grappling. He can scramble very well from the bottom position while getting up intelligently (i.e., digging an underhook and not giving up his back). Also, his offensive wrestling capability and top control are proficient as well. Still, I’ve seen him mounted briefly twice (i.e., against Kape in the first fight and Chuwattana), which can play into Kyoji’s favor as he is the more threatening and better overall grappler. Also, Kai was taken down twice (i.e., from body lock + trip and single-leg TD) by Manel Kape in the first fight.
In contrast, Kyoji was able to soundly out grapple Kape when the two squared off. I won’t predict Kyoji to dominate the grappling here but what he can do is take the back (i.e., he is very good at scrambling into this position) and maintain a dominant position to win rounds or possibly finish should Kai get tired down the stretch.
Kai has a bit of size on Kyoji but still favor Kyoji as a wrestler, clinch fighter, and grappler on the mat overall.
All in all, I think the odds being a near pick makes a lot of sense considering the very competitive style matchup combined with the intangibles on the Kyoji side.
Ultimately, I am passing on this fight from a straight perspective, but I will look if we get an enticing FDGTD prop.
As far as a pick goes, I am going to side with Kyoji Horiguchi.