At long last, Kid Yamamoto enters the Octagon!

By Frank Curreri

Enjoy Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto while you can, because the Japanese sensation is not on the Randy Couture career plan, or even the Chuck Liddell longevity plan, for that matter.

Not even close.

Couture, 47, is still fighting. Liddell, at 41, recently retired. Yamamoto, a 33-year-old bantamweight, aims to crown his legacy with a UFC title and fight for two or three more years before walking away from the sport that made him famous in his homeland.

“I can fight when I’m older, but I don’t want to fight at that age,” said Yamamoto (18-3, 1 NC). “Maybe a couple more years and then I’ll quit. I always wanted to fight in the US and now the UFC has my weight (135), so it’s the right time. This is my last season.”

It’s been quite a wait – taking nearly a decade to finally land the ultra-aggressive knockout artist into the Octagon. For too long, when American fans debated the top bantamweights, it was begrudgingly wrapped in theory (which makes for a rather poor proving ground). Go back five years or so to when there was much talk about what would happen if Japan’s “Kid” clashed in a Super Fight with California’s “Kid” (Urijah Faber)? Miguel Angel Torres vs. Kid Yamamoto, who takes it?

 


Today, the competitive landscape is much more cluttered and other fighters have closed the gap. There is no shortage of potentially intriguing challenges for Yamamoto, beginning with UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz, as well as the likes of Joseph Benavidez, England’s Brad Pickett and Scott Jorgensen, among others. Always one to speak his mind without a filter, Yamamoto recently raised eyebrows when he purportedly told a reporter for Japan’s Daily Sports that “there aren’t really any guys at my level” in the UFC’s 135-pound division.

The media outfit also reported that Yamamoto, when asked about Dominick Cruz, called the reigning champ “nothing special” and added, “I’ll bring him down.”

Asked about the comments, Yamamoto defended his remarks as simply the way all great fighters must think. He chuckled several times while delivering his response, seemingly amused that people find such talk noteworthy or remarkable.

“Every fighter thinks like that. That’s natural,” Yamamoto said. “What am I supposed to say, ‘Oh, he’s better than me”? He’s stronger than me”?’ No way, I can take anybody! It’s so funny. It’s not a big deal (laughs). Tell everybody to chill out and not to get too excited. Everybody has to think that they are the best.”

This is Yamamoto’s ultimate chance to show, once and for all, that he is the standard by which all other 135ers should be measured. To reach the crème de la crème of the division, the frosty-haired, tanned showman must first repel Demetrious Johnson (12-1), his opponent at UFC 126 in Las Vegas. Matt Hume, Johnson’s coach and a former pro fighter who has trained, fought and judged in Japan, has followed Yamamoto’s entire career and probably knows the athlete’s tendencies as well as any American coach. Hume believes Yamamoto vs. Johnson pits the two fastest fighters in the world against each other. And he might be right.

 

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