On the very last card of the year, Kyoji Horiguchi vs Kai Asakura headlines Rizin FF 26. This isn’t the first time these two met – Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura One came on the 18th of August 2019 where Kai Asakura walked away with the win in barely over one minute, and without receiving a decent punch.
Rizin is a little more complicated with championships – that match was a non-title fight, but Kyoji vacated the title shortly after, and the title has found its way into the hands of Kai. This is Kyoji’s chance to win the title back, but does he have what it takes? We’ll look at the strategies each needs to take out the other and find out where the advantage lies. Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura 2
Kai Asakura – Fade and Counter
Kai won the last encounter with ease. He floated back away from all of Kyoji’s attacks, patiently dropping in counter punches and waiting for the connection until it finally hit home. From there he smelt blood and engaged, not stepping off the gas until the fight was finished, landing strikes on the dazed opponent and avoiding the counterstrikes with ease.Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura
Evasiveness was how Kai won the first encounter, and it’s a word synonymous with his style. Versus Ulka Sasaki, instead of employing a fade and counter, he was staying in the pocket and coming off of the centreline to land strikes. There it was another counter right hand that signaled the beginning of the end. And it was more of a similar strategy against Hiromasa Ougikubo, where Kai pushed the pace more but was constantly out of range. By keeping Hiromasa at the end of his range Kai neutralized him for the most part and was able to land uppercuts and body shots with ease.
Manel Kape is the only loss on Kai’s record since June 2017. So how did Manel do it? Mostly by beating Kai at his own game. He slipped the right hand, was faster on the counter, and controlled range to keep Asakura on the end of his punches. Both he and Hiromasa did not engage too much and give Kai the chance to counter, but Manel used good footwork to control distance, while Hiromasa allowed Kai that opportunity. By dictating range, Manel was able to decide when engagements happened and could beat Kai to the punch. Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura
Aggressively, Kai’s right hand is excellent. He relies more on footwork than the jab to control position, and evasiveness with the feet and head to remain safe. He will use a left high kick with accuracy and enjoys a flying knee, but they’re rarely the most dangerous attacks. The one time his kicks to come into play is in ending sequences – Asakura leans into the Rizin rules, and will often throw the soccer kick to finish a downed opponent. Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura
Kyoji Horiguchi – Advancing Aggression
Kyoji was on the receiving end of the last fight, being far too easily countered through the fight. It’s not an issue of speed though, Kyoji’s hands are far from slow, as shown in the Ben Nguyen match – there he was quicker to the punch, more accurate, and won through virtue of his hands. Ben didn’t win where Kai did due to no control of time and measure. Had he dictated range, perhaps the outcome would be different? That’s good news in some ways for Kyoji though, that he probably does have the physical attributes to win this, if he has the right strategy. Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura
So what was wrong with his strategy before? Kyoji’s style is centered around aggression and forward movement. Darion Caldwell had Kyoji sprinting at him, while Hiromasa Ougikubo was on the receiving end of some excellent shifting attacks. Those habits have worked well for Kyoji in the past, but those are exactly the aggressive patterns that Kai exploited last time.
Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura – Bull and Matador
Kyoji is tough, gritty, and a decent grappler, but Kai fights by being elusive and counter striking. He will back away and find the counter shot unless Kyoji finds a way of tempering his aggression and bringing Kai forwards. Not only does Kyoji need to not rush onto Kai’s punches, but he needs to ensure that he doesn’t mimic Hiromasa and end up at the end of Kai’s reach.
There are two options for Kyoji. Either he needs to be better at being Kai than Kai is, like Manel Kape, or (more likely) to be careful about how he advances to avoid the counter shot and pressure Asakura back to the fence. Once there Kyoji needs to stop Kai moving out laterally, and land either flurry from short-range, a counter strike as Kai pushes back into him (like he did against Hideo Tokoro), or hit a takedown. Strategically, it’s easy enough to see what Kyoji needs to do. Tactically, I don’t know how he pulls this off. Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura Kyoji Horiguchi Vs Kai Asakura
The matchup favors Kai, but this is an unpredictable sport and Kyoji hasn’t fought for well over a year. It’s very hard to tell what Kyoji has been working on and what his strategy is going to be. It’ll be interesting to see what Kyoji does to change it from the bull and matador fight that came before. Whatever he does, Kyoji will need to make some significant changes in order to reclaim his belt.
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