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The death of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto at age 41

By Zach Arnold | September 17, 2018

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Cancer has killed one of the biggest Japanese fight sport attractions of all time.

If you only knew of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto from his UFC stint, you missed what made him such a special fighter and icon in Japan. He was great and had a lot of heart.

Kid Yamamoto headlined fights that drew tens of millions of television viewers. His family is considered wrestling royalty. When K-1 went to war with PRIDE after the 2003 New Year’s Eve battle, they created HERO’s. HERO’s was Kid Yamamoto and Kazushi Sakuraba. You can’t tell the story of PRIDE’s death without talking about New Year’s Eve 2003 and the implosion of PRIDE.

For many years, the dream fight was Kid Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber. HERO’s vs. WEC/UFC. UFC already played the political game with PRIDE and bought the PRIDE assets. The rest is history.

When Kid Yamamoto left K-1, K-1 struggled to hit double-digit TV ratings.

Kid Yamamoto will forever be linked with kickboxing icon MASATO. Remember the ratings for Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos on Fox? Kid Yamamoto vs. MASATO in a kickboxing match drew four times the ratings on broadcast television.

The UFC stint for Kid Yamamoto was regrettable. UFC wasn’t going to change their matchmaking philosophy and adopt a Japanese-style marketing plan to get a last round with Yamamoto as an ace. Predictably, Yamamoto’s career in UFC went as expected. The company booked Yamamoto against Vaughan Lee at Saitama Super Arena in a decision I will never comprehend. Yamamoto lost. UFC’s ambition to utilize the required business tactics to grow business in Japan diminished.

Fortunately, Yamamoto’s 2012 UFC Saitama appearance didn’t diminish the legacy he created in Japan or his business accomplishments. There was a final Masato/Kid Yamamoto reunion on New Year’s Eve 2015 — and it managed to draw bigger ratings than Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s event.

What made Kid Yamamoto fascinating is that he didn’t fit the classic, traditional conservative image of a Japanese fighter. Shukan Gendai went after Kid Yamamoto for “marijuana parties.” There was so much media scrutiny linking Kid Yamamoto to Enson Inoue’s behavior.

Ten years ago, Enson was arrested for possession of marijuana. Trying to explain the stigma of marijuana usage in Japan to outsiders, especially Americans, is impossible. It’s the same deal with tattoos and how any non-covered up tattooed person on broadcast television is viewed as associated with organized crime.

Kid Yamamoto never changed. He stayed true to himself. He didn’t conform. What worked for him wouldn’t have worked for other Japanese icons.

Topics: Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 5 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

5 Responses to “The death of Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto at age 41”

  1. Tradition Rules says:

    I’ll repost what I typed elsewhere:

    He was a prodigy when he started in Japan. He went t high school here in the Phoenix are and won THREE state wrestling championships. At one point in his career his record was 17-1. A pioneer and one of my early favorites.

    He was just diagnosed last month.

    “Yamamoto came from a wrestling family. His father Ikuei Yamamoto represented Japan at the 1972 Olympic games in Munich and his sisters Miyu and Seiko both won world championships in freestyle wrestling. Kid received his education in the United States and wrestled at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, Arizona, capturing three state championships (with a third-place finish as a freshman). During that time he lived and received training from Townsend and Tricia Saunders. He also trained briefly under Choi Mu Bae.”

  2. Diaz's packed bowl says:

    Sad sad sad sept…
    Kid gone, no good fights, ufc and its fighters at an all time toxicity,and now Jones gets 3 years off for paying 1/4 mil and ratting on other cheaters.
    Well i’ll be back in oct for Habib and Fedor

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Unbelievable how bad the UFC has gotten.

      • Tradition Rules says:

        I agree, it’s not even the same company.

        • Diaz's packed bowl says:

          I saw at the “dark press conf” a beaten man. Connors been drinking too much which means his cardio will be minimal, his trash talk was stilted forced and dated, and his body language reminded me of after he was choked by Diaz, and Rousey in the lead up to the Holm beating.
          I predict Connor has some small success in the 1st round but Khabib will end him by the third round.

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