Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto trained in Canada ahead of UFC 144. | Photo: Taro Irei
Sergio Cunha worked with Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto during his most recent training camp at Mecha MMA in Toronto, and the Chute Boxe black belt believes the Japanese star has plenty left in the tank.
Winless in two Octagon appearances, Yamamoto (18-5, 0-2 UFC) will face Englishman Vaughan Lee at UFC 144 “Edgar vs. Henderson” on Feb. 26 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. The 34-year-old last fought at UFC on Fox 1 in November, when he dropped a unanimous decision to Darren Uenoyama.
“Kid Yamamoto will win and put on a great exhibition for his Japanese fans,” Cunha told Sherdog.com.
Yamamoto elected to train at the Canadian gym in advance of his bout with Lee, who came up short in his promotional debut against Chris Cariaso at UFC 138 in November. As part of a family of famous wrestlers in Japan, Yamamoto rose to MMA prominence under the K-1 Hero’s banner. His father, Ikuei, represented Japan at the 1972 Summer Olympics, and his sisters, Miyu and Seiko, have won world championships in wrestling. Miyu connected Yamamoto to Cunha.
“The partnership with Kid happened in a very cool way,” Cunha said. “His sister is a three-time world champion in wrestling and was training here with our wrestling coach. We started talking about MMA, and she knew my work because of the guys from Yoshida Dojo. Then she asked if I could train her brother for his fight; for the family, it’s the most important of his career because of the UFC’s return to Japan and because it’s a time of transition and recovery for MMA in the country.
“Yamamoto’s family has a tradition in the fighting world,” he added. “The father was a wrestler, and all of the kids are wrestlers. We agreed to all the details, and Kid came here to make his camp with me and our team.”
Now in the final stages of his training camp, Yamamoto aims to put an end to the second two-fight losing streak of his career. Cunha thinks a return home will benefit him.
“After three months of hard, intense training, we’re getting towards the end and just preparing for this fight, with a strategy that puts him in a position of advantage for a good win on home soil,” Cunha said. “That’s expected from an athlete who has been a world champion and made his mark in history.”
The Cunha-Yamamoto union was made all the more unlikely by the fact that the 2005 K-1 Hero’s lightweight grand prix winner enjoyed much of his success at the expense of Brazilians, including Royler Gracie, Bibiano Fernandes and Rani Yahya. Cunha has confidence in his new student.
“Kid is very dedicated to doing all the work with a lot of discipline,” he said. “He has worked to gain muscle mass. A food company that sponsors him sent him the meals he needed on a daily basis. We prepared physically and tactically, so, at the time of the fight, he can execute exactly what we trained.”
Alan Oliveira contributed to this report.