The man called “KID” – what you need to know about Norifumi Yamamoto before UFC 126

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BY THE FIGHT NERD & YOSHUA DECASTRO

As he makes his UFC debut, Norifumi Yamamoto, known famously as “KID” (yes, it’s always capitalized), brings to the Octagon not only a well rounded game, but also an upbringing akin to that of a Hollywood movie. Many newer fans have no idea who this fighter is, and might not for awhile longer as Yamamoto looks to battle Demetrius Johnson on the preliminary undercard fights of UFC 126. The event is headlined by Anderson Silva defending his middleweight title against Vitor Belfort, but it wasn’t that long ago that Yamamoto was main eventing MMA shows in Japan.

So who is “KID” Yamamoto and why are hardcore MMA fans obsessed about his entrance in the UFC, and slightly peeved that he is fighting on the undercard and not the main card? How about a quick history lesson the fighter and his role in Japanese MMA, and how he earned the respect of fans across the nation.

The son of Olympic Wrestler Ikuei Yamamoto, KID received his education in the United States. He became the winner of three state titles including placing third as a freshman in Marcos de Niza High School. Ikuei represented Japan at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich and his sisters, Miyu and Seiko, both won world championships in freestyle wrestling. However, life was not always smooth sailing for the Olympic Wrestling hopeful. According to an article by Iron Life, Yamamoto inadvertently shot a Yakuza in the face with a BB gun. Hunted by the powerful organized crime group, Yamamoto sought the protection of Japanese MMA Legend Enson Inoue, who at the time was married to his sister, Miyu Yamamoto.

Under Enson Inoue, Yamamoto began to refine his skill for MMA competition. Starting out in Shooto, one of Japan’s oldest and well known MMA Organization, Yamamoto began to make a name for himself, though not always in a positive light. Often times taunting his opponents and in one infamous bout, he continued to assault opponent Tetsuo Katsuta after the bell had rang.

Yamamoto also fought former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thompson in Honolulu, Hawaii at Shogun 1 in 2001. Yamamoto, who was competing in his fourth pro MMA fight, dominated Thompson, who at the time was also a rookie with just three fights under his belt, with takedowns and strikes but unfortunately caught an accidental kick to the groin three minutes into the second round, forcing an end to the match and a no contest on their records.

After making the switch from Shooto to the now defunct K-1 Hero’s, Yamamoto racked up an 11 fight win streak including wins over Royler Gracie, Genki Sudo, Caol Uno, and Bibiano Fernades, before suffering consecutive losses to wrestler Joe Warren and Sengoku Champion Masanori Kanehara. Genki Sudo in particular was important for Japanese MMA and K-1, and the match was for the K-1 HERO’S 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix Final. Sudo was among one of the most popular faces in K-1 at the time, and a heartthrob with the young ladies of Japan, as was Yamamoto. This would be the equivalent of The Backstreet Boys having a bar brawl with N’Sync, and just as devastating. KID came out on top with a first round TKO, and only two fights later Genki retired from the sport for good.

At K-1 Heroes 5, Yamamoto broke a knockout record against Kazuyuki Miyata, blasting him straight out of the gate with an astonishing flying knee. Prior to signing a contract with the UFC, Yamamoto bounced back with a TKO win over Team Quest’s Federico Lopez in DREAM 14, where KID reportedly changed his training methods and trained in Okinawa under former WBA Light Welterweight Champion Akinobu Hiranaka, who also previously trained K-1 legend Andy Hug.

Yamamoto sets off on his journey in the UFC octagon, first taking on WEC veteran Demetrious Johnson in a prelim bantamweight bout for UFC 126 and looking to make waves and build his cred with the new American audience anew. Will the explosive KID debut in the cage, or will his first fight in the US since 2001 go sour courtesy of “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. The prelim bout between Yamamoto and Johnson will be broadcasted for free live via the UFC’s Facebook Stream this Saturday night. So now you know about “KID” Yamamoto, and knowing is half the battle!

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