#2 Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto
In his prime, Norifumi ‘Kid’ Yamamoto was widely recognised as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. A highly accomplished amateur wrestler, Yamamoto burst onto the Japanese scene in 2001 and made a name for himself not through his grappling, but by his astonishingly powerful striking game.
‘Kid’ put together a fantastic record over the years that followed, and by the end of 2006, he was 15-1, with the lone loss coming via a fluke cut stoppage in his 5th professional bout. But unfortunately for stateside MMA fans, two things kept him miles away from the UFC; firstly, he was such a big star in Japan that he could earn far more money by fighting at home, and secondly – and more importantly – he was a natural 135lber, and while he could compete at 145lbs and even 155lbs, the UFC didn’t feature those divisions at that time.
Early 2007 saw Yamamoto step away from MMA in an attempt to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as a freestyle wrestler, but when an elbow injury put an end to that dream, he returned to the sport, only to tear his ACL right before his scheduled debut in the newly launched DREAM promotion.
The Japanese superstar returned to action in 2009, but never really looked like the same fighter he was before the injury, and his long winning streak was quickly snapped by a pair of upset defeats. By early 2011 though, the UFC had introduced the smaller weight classes, and Yamamoto’s star power made him a big signing for the promotion.
Unfortunately, by that point, Yamamoto’s prime was long over, and he subsequently lost 3 straight fights – two to largely unheralded opponents – before going to a No Contest in his 4th. The UFC fanbase never got a chance to see the best from a truly tremendous fighter and a pioneer of the smaller weight classes – a fact that became sadder when Yamamoto passed away from cancer in 2018.Published 31 Jan 2020, 06:52 IST