Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto has passed away on Tuesday, September 18, at age 41. The Japanese MMA legend announced a month prior that he was diagnosed with cancer, and was being treated overseas at the time.
Yamamoto had four fights in the UFC since he signed on in 2011, but his stint with Zuffa would not paint a proper picture of his stellar fighting career. For years prior to his initial retirement in 2007, Yamamoto was one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
He routinely fought above his weight class, and was the first true superstar from the lighter weights. Despite being a natural bantamweight, he won the Hero’s 2005 lightweight Grand Prix by besting Genki Sudo, Caol Uno, and Royler Gracie, all by knockout.
Known as a wrestler with heavy hands, Kid also fought in a cross-over match up with kickboxing great Masato, where he scored a knockdown but ultimately dropped a decision to the much bigger K-1 champion. The event drew widespread acclaim in Japan, reportedly drawing in over 52,000 fans in the arena, and 34 million viewers on TV.
In 2007, Yamamoto knocked out current ranked UFC fighter Rani Yahya in front of almost 48,000 fans. Japan’s biggest MMA star was 17-1 at the time, which included other quality wins over the likes of Asian champions Bibiano Fernandes and Jadamba Narantungalag, WEC star Jeff Curran, and Olympic wrestlers Istvan Majoros and Kazuyuki Miyata (a record setting four-second flying knee KO).
Kid also tried his hand in wrestling as he looked to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, but also battled numerous injuries on the next couple of years. He signed with the UFC a bit past his prime, and debuted against Demetrious Johnson in 2011. He ended his career with a record of 18-6 (2 NC).
Since his passing, the mixed martial arts world has expressed their thoughts on one of the sport’s true pioneers.
I am glad to have known you Nori. Until the next fight, OK?
— Josh Barnett (@JoshLBarnett) September 18, 2018
— 菊野克紀 (@kikunokatsunori) September 18, 2018
Gutted to hear that Kid Yamamoto has passed. After his fight with cancer, God’s finger touched him and he slept. RIP Kid. You will be missed. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto Highlight & Tribute (SW) 山本徳郁 https://t.co/65l0hjjYQX
— MichaelSchiavello PM (@SchiavelloVOICE) September 18, 2018