Hard to believe that Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto was once one of the top Mixed Martial Artists in the world. A full-on mainstream media superstar in Japan for several years, Yamamoto was also one of the best and most exciting fighters in the sport. The consensus wisdom was that if Yamamoto was hands down the best fighter in the world under 150lb and if he ever got to fight as a featherweight he would dominate.
Yamamoto, a natural 145 pounder, ran up a 17-1 record in which he routinely creamed natural lightweights (155lbs) and even welterweights (170lbs). His combination of strong wrestling and K-1 level kickboxing was unusual for Japanese fighters. Hardcore fans salivated at the dream of a Kid Yamamoto vs. Urijah Faber fight -- a bout that never happened because Yamamoto was only big in Japan and Faber was only known in the States.
That was way back in 2005-2007.
From 1998 to 2005, Japan was unquestionably the world's biggest MMA market. Not only did its huge fan base draw the world's best international talent, but Japan produced some of the world's top fighters. Yamamoto was one of them. Now he's just another fighter on the downward arc of his career and Japan's MMA market has vanished.
There's no shame in losing a three round decision to Darren Uyenoyama, an expert submission fighter who's been fighting since 2002, but it sure wasn't the Kid Yamamoto of old.
Yamamoto hurt Uyenoyama repeatedly with strikes in the brief moments of the fight when it was on the feet. At one point, early in the second round, Yamamoto crushed Uyenoyama's nose with a hard left hand and for a second it looked like Yamamoto could win.
Unfortunately for Kid fans, Uyenoyama spent about 90% of the fight on Yamamoto's back, utterly dominating position, landing strikes and threatening with the rear naked choke. He used a number of slick variations on pulling guard to get the fight to the ground and once there he invariably got Yamamoto's back and locked on the figure four body lock with his leg.
Yamamoto defended valiantly and never gave up, but it was clear by the end of the third round that he knew he had not done enough to win the fight. For fans of a certain era of Japanese MMA, Yamamoto's decline and fall is a sad sunset.