Kyoji Horiguchi, the former UFC flyweight title-challenger, has had some expected and unexpected changes in his MMA life as of late.

With a little over a week until UFC Fight Night 97 after completing media obligations in Japan, Horiguchi received a message from his manager at 2am to call him when he woke. As we all know that phone call was to notify him that the Manila card was put on the shelf and never to be spoken of again.

“I felt that something happened with my upcoming fight when I saw the text. I was a bit surprised since the whole event was cancelled but I just accepted it and refocused my plans for the future.”

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Despite always being the consummate professional, he was concerned about the financial impact this had on his team and the supporters who arranged to go to Manila to cheer him on at the event. The UFC told him that he would be reimbursed for any extra costs but this did not cover anyone else.

However, this was not the only change he had to endure recently. Earlier this year, he made the permanent shift to Florida and joined American Top Team.

Moving to another country where the language is new and the land is unexplored can be an obstacle that most would not attempt to tackle but the 26 year-old Japanese contender is determined to become the best mixed martial artist in the world.

“I was more excited about joining ATT and training with the coaches there than focusing on what I may lose in the process. I have dedicated coaches who manage my personal training program in addition to participating in regular professional training sessions conducted by ATT head coaches.”

Horiguchi is completely satisfied with his coaching staff which consists of Kami Barzini (wrestling), Mickey Rod (boxing), Roger Krahl (striking) and Phil Daru (S&C) as well as having a slew of flyweight and bantamweight fighters to train and spar with is a plus in his book. Also, he has former WEC featherweight champion turned coach Mike Brown alongside aforementioned Kami Barzini coming up with the game plan for his fights.

Transitioning into his new home has been going smooth even outside of training. English classes are offered which he attends with other fighters from countries such as Brazil and he goes fishing with Steve Mocco (wrestling coach) whenever he has time.

“All of them are my friends and they are very kind to me. The only thing I miss about Japan is that I cannot go fishing when I want. Since I do not have a car in Florida, it is very difficult for me to go fishing by myself.”

At the end of the day, the goal in mind was to elevate his skills and take on the best to be the best.

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A few weeks after the cancellation of the Manila show, the flyweight contender fight against Ali Bagautinov was rescheduled for UFC Fight Night 99 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This match-up is between former title-challengers that both need a win if they want to get a rematch anytime in the near future. In the day and age of fighters calling for title shots and picking their preferred opponents, the American Top Team flyweight stays humble and does not think too far ahead.

“Hopefully I could get back on track to challenge for the UFC flyweight title as soon as possible but right now I am focused on this fight in front of me and I believe finishing Bagautinov is the key.”

“If you look at his resume, Ali is a great fighter with a lot of martial arts experience. I think this is a good match-up for the fans and of course us.”

Bagautinov has a checkered past with performance enhancing drugs since he was busted for EPO in a pre-fight drug test at UFC 174 where he challenged for the title and lost via unanimous decision to Demetrious Johnson before United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) came into the picture.

Although the 26 year-old has no worries about the Russian and feels that USADA has done a great job cleaning up the sport, it can be a pain to follow their rules of engagement.

“It is really inconvenient for us fighters to manage their requirements since we have to update them every single minute we change our schedule and location.”

Win, lose or draw at UFC Belfast, he is planning on leaving it all in the cage and then going back to Japan to see his family and friends to celebrate the holidays and the New Year.

“Fighting in Belfast is a great opportunity for me and I hope they become my fans after watching me fight.”

Catch the Japanese flyweight elite when he takes on Ali Bagautinov at UFC Fight Night 99 in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 19 November on the preliminary card to see if he can take advantage of the moment.