Bellator today announced that the organization’s current bantamweight titleholder Darrion Caldwell (13-1) will represent the promotion in an exciting matchup against 2017 Rizin Bantamweight Grand Prix winner Kyoji Horiguchi (25-2). The two will compete for the inaugural Rizin bantamweight championship at Rizin 14 on Monday, Dec. 31 from Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
In the three-round (15-minute) Rizin FF world championship bout – which will be held in a ring under Rizin’s unique rule set – the victor of Caldwell vs. Horiguchi will leave Japan’s historic combat sports venue a Rizin FF champion. Caldwell’s Bellator bantamweight title will not be on the line in the contest.
The latest agreement between Bellator and Rizin FF furthers a collaboration between the two companies which has seen multiple athletes, including Fedor Emelianenko, “King Mo” Lawal and Hisaki Kato amongst others, compete interpromotionally, but never before has a title from either promotion been on the line.
“Working for the Japanese fight company K-1 was a magical time during my promotional career and I have always felt strongly that MMA in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ would rise again. It truly is amazing to see what Nobuyuki Sakakibara has been able to do thus far with Rizin FF, so when he reached out to me about putting Darrion Caldwell against Kyoji Horiguchi for Rizin’s belt, we spoke to Darrion and he jumped at the opportunity,” Bellator President Scott Coker said. “Bellator wants to support Rizin, and by sending our bantamweight champion to compete during their New Year’s Eve event, we look forward to this leading towards more collaboration between the two promotions in 2019. I want to wish Darrion luck in his quest to prove he is the best 135-pound fighter on the planet.”
“I am very grateful and honored that Bellator and Scott Coker would send us their unarguable bantamweight champion to fight for Rizin’s first-ever world title fight. This title fight will be a true champion vs. champion to determine the world’s best bantamweight fighter,” Rizin FF President Nobuyuki Sakakibara said. “We hope this kind gesture will kick off of a series of exciting matchups between both promotions in 2019. My dream would be that eventually we can co-promote a mega event in both countries with a ‘Champion Carnival’ taking place where stories and rivalries can be built and told.”
Caldwell, a 30-year-old Rahway, N.J. native and the current Bellator bantamweight champion, most recently moved up a weight class to challenge himself, successfully finishing veteran Noad Lahat. Fighting out of San Diego, Calif., “The Wolf” has emerged as one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world, collecting 10 victories since signing with Bellator in 2013. The 2009 NCAA D-1 National Champion wrestler from NC State boasts a resume that includes five first-round finishes, a 25-minute war against Eduardo Dantas to claim the world title and a textbook guillotine choke submission victory over Leandro Higo in his first career title defense earlier this year. Caldwell will look for fifth consecutive win and a second world title belt when he enters the ring against Kyoji Horiguchi on New Year’s Eve in Japan.