Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, who for years was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and was a major crossover star in Japan, passed away on Tuesday in Japan. He was 41.
Yamamoto had announced on 8/26 that he was battling cancer.
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Yamamoto was part of a famous wrestling family in Japan. His father, Ikuei Yamamoto represented Japan in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. His two older sisters, Miyu and Seiko, were multi-time world champions. Miyu, who is 44, is a regular star with Rizin. Miyu’s son Arsen, was an age group champion in wrestling and also fights with Rizin.
He was recruited into fighting by Enson Inoue, a well known Hawaiian fighter who at the time was married to Miyu. Kid, as he was known, was considered one of the best fighters in the world from 2004 to 2007. Even though his natural body weight was 141, so by today’s standards he was roughly the same size as the top flyweights but was competing against lightweights. He captured the Hero’s lightweight Grand Prix tournament in 2005.
At the time, Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber was considered the dream fight at 145, but due to political differences, with Yamamoto under contract to K-1 while Faber was to Zuffa, such a match wasn’t possible.
He had a 17-1 record in 2007 at the time he retired to fulfill his father’s dream and attempt to wrestle in the 2008 Olympics. He was injured in the qualifying tournament and failed to make the team. He was never the same as a fighter when he returned.
By the time UFC signed Yamamoto in 2011, knee and elbow injuries saw him a shell of himself and he went 0-3 with 1 no contest in UFC competition, with his last fight coming in 2015.
Yamamoto was a huge television ratings draw during that period, and the December 31, 2014, fight with Yamamoto vs. Masato in kickboxing rules did a 31.6 rating and about 33 million viewers.