This weekend, Kid Yamamoto will take the stage against Darren Uyenoyama for the UFC on FOX. And MMA fans will likely wonder "what happened to Kid?"
It's a fair question. Yamamoto just might be the most hyped up Japanese prospect to ever live. A lot of fans mock Kid's hype, but for a time, it was well deserved. For one, he had all the chops to be considered a prospect.
With his father having represented Japan in the 72' Olympics, Kid would look to duplicate his father's efforts when he took part in the 2007 Emperor's Cup to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. An arm injury against a former Bronze Medalist forced him out of the tournament, and essentially back into MMA. But before Kid tried his hand at Olympic level wrestling, he tried his hand at K-1 level kickboxing.
That last sentence reads like a punchline now. But it would be unfair to mock K-1 in the context Kid competed in. The MAX tournaments contained the world's elite, and unlike at HW, there was no room for the neophytes. Certainly not against the K-1 star, and legend, Masato.
I'm not the right person to make proper comparisons, or help you understand what a big deal Masato was. But if I were to make any kind of approximation, I would compare him to De La Hoya. Imagine B.J. Penn against Oscar with only one professional boxing match to his name, and that's what you had when Kid fought Masato in 2004 at K-1 Premium Dynamite. It should have been a massacre, right?
The fight started out interestingly enough. Kid wasn't reluctant and got right in Masato's face. In fact, he scored a knockdown early in the first round off a brilliant straight left between Masato's guard.The crowd went nuts. Speaking of nuts, when the action resumed, Yamamoto took one of the hardest kicks to the balls you'll ever see.
To give you an idea, when Kid Yamamoto dislocated his elbow at the Emperor's Cup, he merely grimaced. This was the same injury that had Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua crying in agony when Mark Coleman toppled over him. But when Masato kicked him in his spermatic wheelhouse, destroying hundreds of tadpole shaped future Einsteins, 'Kid' was reduced to tears. Fanboys of the Sherdog and Underground forums, of which Kid had many at the time, would argue the kick altered the fight. It's a stretch, and Kid's K-1 record of 1-3 would reveal as much, but to say it didn't have an effect on Kid would be mistaken.
Yamamoto fought valiantly. But the fight would also reveal Kid's underrated chin, as he took a hard right high kick directly to the kisser, and merely crumpled to the canvas instead of violently flatlining like a normal person (he would make up for this against Zambidis).
Time hasn't been kind to Yamamoto. Now a symbol of what's wrong with Japanese MMA, it's difficult to understand who Kid was. Most fans know K-1 as a dying organization, and therefore can't imagine a time when K-1 level meant K-1 level.
Nor can they imagine a time when Kid was considered one of the world's best. For my part, I never considered Kid a part of any P4P list. His competition was lacking even back then. People make a big deal of his Hero's tournament win, and while the tournament was respectable, it was a far cry from the brilliance of Pride's Bushido series.
However, it's unfortunate that Kid is on the wrong side of 34 (still fighting above his weight class no less). He was never the best, no matter what his fans tell you, no matter what context they're speaking in. But his performances were savage, and at times magical. It would be unfair to think of him as a failed Japanese import when time has simply passed him by. People will use the narrative, but Kid is not a symbol for the death of JMMA. He's a symbol for the death of youth, and the inability to adapt to the ever evolving landscape of MMA.