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UFC 144: Norifumi 'Kid' Yamamoto Vs. Vaughan Lee Dissection

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In the penultimate UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson match slated for the four-fight preliminary card, which kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET on the FX channel, Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto faces Vaughan Lee in a bantamweight bout.

How the mighty have fallen. At the turn of the millennium, when the acronym No Holds Barred (NHB) was giving way to MMA and Pride FC and the UFC were like warring mafia dons, there was a sharp contrast between American fights and those overseas. The Pride shows took place in a pristine white ring and were steeped in tradition, with a heavy emphasis on honor and "budo", and the way one "could hear a pin drop" was an oft-observed distinction of the respectfully silent audience. Here in the states, there was a greater focus on wrestling and the fighters snarled their way toward the ominous black cage amidst the raucous thumping of heavy metal while the "Just Bleed Guy" flexed in the background.

Kid Yamamoto (18-5) was Japanese MMA's first bad boy because he embodied the primal virility that was associated more with America's culture. Sporting a mohawk, sprinkled with tattoos and beaming a devilishly confident sneer, Kid was the incarnation of pure violence by any standards of combat. Yamamoto was unique in that he was a dominant wrestler, but even more so because he plied that ability as a means to savagely maul his opponents on the feet. Before his hiatus to pursue Olympic wrestling, Kid had firmly cemented a reputation as a cold-blooded killer and was a staple on the list of top pound-for-pound candidates. He'd lost one match due to a cut-stoppage and had one No Contest for a low blow against Josh Thomson, and the rest were highlight-reel-worthy beatdowns of epic proportions.

More UFC 144 Dissections

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His exorbitant knockout power was dealt in fan-friendly fashion that ranged from flying knees and soccer kicks to vicious boxing and ground-and-pound, resulting in fourteen stoppages (12 by TKO, 2 by sub) and three decisions in his first nineteen outings. He tore through the Shooto promotion and then graduated to K-1 Hero's, where he amplified his expanding body count with reputable names like Royler Gracie, Caol Uno, Genki Sudo, Kazuyuki Miyata (record four-second KO) and Rani Yahya, all of whom were ruthlessly throttled by Kid's kickboxing.

Yamamoto's killer instinct was unparalleled, he was a complete fighter and a bantamweight wreaking havoc against lightweights, so it was widely assumed that he'd thrive in the stateside environment. When Kid announced in 2007 that he was putting his MMA career on hold to follow in his father's footsteps and pursue Olympic wrestling, unbeknownst to him, the decision would trigger an unfortunate series of events. He dislocated his elbow in his second wrestling match at the Emperor's Cup, his Olympic dreams were dashed and he begrudgingly returned to MMA. Yamamoto dropped four of his next five, all by decision -- two in DREAM and two in the UFC -- with one measly win over Federico Lopez.

Gifs and analysis in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 144: Edgar vs. Henderson

At UFC 144, Yamamoto is on the brink of extinction against relative newcomer Vaughan Lee (11-7). Lee first made a splash at the TUF 14 tryouts for breaking the record for submissions, but didn't make the final cut. He's an English fighter out of the Ultimate Training Center team in Birmingham who's finished ten of his eleven wins with six submissions and four TKOs.

Lee's career began with three straight losses, but he rebounded with six in a row, five of which were first-round stoppages. He was then defeated in three of his next four, with two-time UFC fighter David Lee and WEC/UFC staple Brad Pickett accounting for two. Lee went on to notch first-round stoppages in four of his next five with one draw before emerging in the Octagon, where he was narrowly edged out by Chris Cariaso in a split-decision at UFC 138.

Kid-yamamoto-highlight_o_gifsoup The visual to the right is more of a mini-highlight of devastation from "the old Kid." Not only does this lend an accurate portrayal of his wicked animosity but, considering his precarious situation, it's the volatile, risk-taking, clobbering-machine I hope to see on Saturday.

Kid has been significantly more complacent and hesitant in his two UFC stints; given, he was tackling sharp opposition (Demetrious Johnson, Darren Uyenoyama) with treacherous footwork and wrestling prowess. At this pivotal point, it'd be better for Kid to throw caution to the wind and wow the hometown crowd with a nostalgic display of demolition.


Unfortunately, moments worth revisiting have been scarce in the Octagon. The style of fighter he was up against caused him to be a little gun-shy and reserved on the feet for fear of being taken down. While his steep wrestling is still intact, the drop in weight has evened out the monumental quickness advantage he enjoyed at lightweight and actualized as a crucial part of his downfall.

Compared to Johnson and Uyenoyama, Lee shouldn't be able to match their footwork and wrestling but is still a formidable submission threat.


Lee did show a serviceable sprawl and strong clinch work against Cariaso.

He peppered with strikes and was careful not to over-commit, which allowed him to dig underhooks or control the head from the front headlock position to avoid being put on his back.

The sequence below depicts some solid offensive wrestling from Lee, who nails a nice outside trip in the clinch with underhooks. For a sub-specialist, Lee is stubborn in fending off takedowns rather than playing guard.


On the feet, Lee has been pretty average; not necessarily threatening, but not really weak either. He would be a sitting duck for the relentlessly aggressive Yamamoto of old but even the increasingly hesitant version should have a handy striking advantage.

In fact, Kid should have the edge everywhere save offensive submission hunting, but this is an Olympic wrestling hopeful who was taken down consistently by Johnson and Uyenoyama and the latter passed his guard and took his back like clockwork, so it's tough to envision how things might unfold.

From both a logical and sentimental point of view, this should be Yamamoto's fight to win. In addition to the standing deficit, Kid has a bulletproof chin so Lee will have to frequently score takedowns and contain him on the floor, which should be a steep challenge. If he does succeed, his proficiency with position and guard passing could spell big trouble for the veteran.

My Prediction: Kid Yamamoto by TKO.

Yamamoto HL gif via

All others via Zombie Prophet of