Everything seemed to be going perfectly for Kyoji Horiguchi at Bellator 272… until it wasn’t.

Two-time Rizin bantamweight champion Horiguchi was making his return to Bellator in a bid to recapture the bantamweight title he never lost in the cage as he challenged reigning champ Sergio Pettis in the headline bout at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.

And Horiguchi appeared to have the clear edge over the American through three and a half rounds before Pettis connected with a one-in-a-million strike that turned the bout on its head.

Pettis had barely laid a glove on Horiguchi during the contest, with the American having landed a total of just 19 strikes according to Bellator’s official stats provider. But that 19th strike proved decisive as he followed up a head-kick attempt with a spinning backfist.

That backfist connected cleanly on Horiguchi, instantly knocking out the Japanese fighter and stunning the watching crowd, which included the other six men set to join Pettis and Horiguchi in next year’s Bellator bantamweight grand prix.

After his stunning win, Pettis admitted the fight was slipping away from him before he found a spectacular strike to turn the bout in his favour.

“I came out here and got beaten up for four rounds,” he said.

“When it happened, I was just like, ‘Man I am losing this fight. I’ve got to do something spectacular.’ It (the decisive punch that ended the fight) came at the right time.

“I needed to face some adversity, and tonight Horiguchi gave me all of that. It was hard trying to time his rhythm, trying to get his movement down.

“My coaches always tell me, ‘If you open up, you could be one of the best in the world.’ That’s what I’m pushing for.”