Norifumi Yamamoto: A Legend of Mixed Martial Arts

Norifumi “KID” Yamamoto, born on March 15, 1977, in Kawasaki, Japan, was a force to be reckoned with in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA). He was a bantamweight fighter who also competed in the featherweight and lightweight divisions. His fighting style was a unique blend of kickboxing, wrestling, and shootfighting, which he honed while training in Tokyo, Japan.

Yamamoto’s career in MMA spanned from 2001 to 2018. He had a kickboxing record of 1 win and 4 losses, with his sole victory coming by knockout. However, it was in MMA where Yamamoto truly shone. He had a total of 26 fights, winning 18 of them. Thirteen of these victories were by knockout, two by submission, and three by decision. He had 6 losses, with one by knockout, one by submission, and four by decision. There were also two no contests in his career.

Yamamoto’s journey into the world of combat sports began with wrestling. He hailed from a family of wrestling royalty. His father, Ikuei Yamamoto, represented Japan at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and his sisters, Miyu and Seiko, were multiple-time world champions. Yamamoto himself was sent to Arizona to train as a wrestler, where he won three state titles before returning to Japan to try out for the Olympic team. However, he narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2000 Games.

Despite this setback, Yamamoto found a new path in MMA. Under the tutelage of his then-brother-in-law Enson Inoue, a Hawaiian heavyweight MMA pioneer, Yamamoto became a legitimising star for the burgeoning sport in Japan. His decision to leave wrestling behind caused a rift with his father, one he aimed to heal by retiring from MMA when at his prime in 2007, in a bid to qualify for the 2008 Olympics with the Japanese wrestling team.

Yamamoto’s MMA career was marked by memorable fights and significant achievements. He quickly gained popularity and was considered one of the best lightweight fighters in history. His gym, Krazybee in Tokyo, became a well-known training ground for fighters. One of his most memorable accomplishments came in 2005, during the K1 Hero’s middleweight grand prix, where he fought well above his natural weight class and still managed to win.

Yamamoto’s career was not without its challenges. He made his UFC debut at UFC 126 in February 2011, losing to eventual UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson via unanimous decision. In four UFC fights, Yamamoto went 0-3 with a no-contest in his last bout, at UFC 184 in February 2015, against Roman Salazar due to an accidental eye poke.

Despite the ups and downs, Yamamoto’s impact on the sport of MMA was undeniable. He was a trailblazer in the sport, particularly in Japan, and his legacy continues to inspire fighters today. Unfortunately, Yamamoto’s life was cut short when he passed away on September 18, 2018, at the age of 41, after a battle with cancer. His death was a significant loss to the MMA community, but his spirit and contributions to the sport will never be forgotten.


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