Kyoji Horiguchi should be talked about more when discussing the best bantamweights in MMA, says Mike Brown.

The American Top Team coach has been working with Horiguchi (28-3) for almost five years. Since leaving the UFC in 2017, the Japanese fighter went on to win the Rizin bantamweight grand prix, the inaugural Rizin bantamweight title, and the Bellator 135-pound title – thus becoming a two-promotion champion.

However, Horiguchi lost to Kai Asakura in August of 2019, losing his Rizin bantamweight belt. Shortly after, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery and was stripped of his Bellator title.

With Horiguchi making a long awaited return in a championship rematch against Asakura at Rizin FF 26 on Thursday, Brown, who’s in Japan to corner his fighter, believes people are not paying respect to the Japanese talent.

“I think he’s grossly underrated, but that happens a lot when you’re fighting outside the UFC,” Brown told MMA Junkie in a phone interview. “But if you look at his record, his pedigree – I mean, it’s incredible. He’s got a great record, and now he’s fighting at 135 where he’s much smaller than guys – I think he can fight at both weight classes (flyweight) fairly easy – but with a few extra pounds, I think him fighting at 135, it’s given him more power.

“That extra muscle is improving his shots, and he’s getting guys out of there a lot more easily than at 125 pounds. When you’re a smaller guy, and you have 10 less pounds behind your shots, it’s a little more difficult to get guys out of there with your shots.

“I think that’s brought some attention because he was on a nice winning streak and finishing guys. He had that 10-second win over Ian McCall, winning the Rizin grand prix tournament, he had three fights in two nights there, two wins over Darrion Caldwell, who’s a very tough fight and is much bigger than him – I mean, NCAA champion, so tall and just a difficult stylistic matchup for a guy like Kyoji. Before he was with us (at ATT), he fought Demetrious Johnson and kind of got outwrestled in that fight. But that just showed his improvement and ability to get back to his feet in the Caldwell fights.”

Horiguchi hasn’t fought in over a year. Although that’s generally bad news for any fighter, Brown thinks the 30-year-old competitor didn’t get held back too much.

“In a way, it was good timing because it happened to be during this COVID epidemic where a lot of people missed time fighting anyway,” Brown said. “So that was a big chunk where he wouldn’t have been able to fight anyway.

“But it’s still tough, especially coming off the loss. He wanted to get right back in there, but he’s mentally strong as they come and as focused as anybody can be. He lives the samurai life, man. That’s all he does: He eats, sleeps and trains. He’s 100 percent focused and occasionally when he needs to rest his mind, he’ll go fishing a little bit. But this kid is on it and as focused as anyone you’ll ever meet.”

The Gunma native has a tough task ahead as Asakura stopped him fair and square the first time they fought. There’s obviously big things on the horizon, as not so long ago he was being talked about plenty Statesside with his capture of the Bellator bantamweight title.

Brown knows the future is bright, but he’s focused on the task at hand.

“It was the first time it’s ever been done, so it’s a special thing,” Brown said regarding Horiguchi’s feat of becoming a two-promotion champion. “Most promotions aren’t doing cross-promotional championships, so this is very rare, but it’s one step at a time. First he has this RIZIN title fight, and we’ll see what happens after that.”