Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who at one time was the biggest star on the Japanese MMA scene, has signed for a comeback fight after what will end up as three years out of action.
The 37-year-old Yamamoto (18-6, 1 no contest) will face Roman Salazar (9-3) in a match announced by UFC's Japan office on Wednesday, Japanese time, at UFC 184. The show takes place on Feb. 28 show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Yamamoto hasn't fought since UFC 144 on February 26, 2012, at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan,where he was submitted in the first round by journeyman fighter Vaughan Lee. It was his third UFC loss in a row. His career has been injury plagued for the last seven years, and he hasn't picked up a meaningful win since 2007.
From the start of his career in 2001, until 2006, Yamamoto, even though he was a natural bantamweight, was considered one of the best lightweight fighters in the world. At the time in Japan, the major companies, similar to UFC at the time, only went as low as the lightweight division.
Since the loss to Lee, Yamamoto's has been plagued by a series of injuries. He was announced as returning for fights in both September 2013, and again this past September for UFC's most recent journey to Japan. He pulled out of both shows.
Yamamoto was a mainstream celebrity in Japan, coming from a famous fighting family. His father wrestled in the 1972 Olympics and was later a well known coach in Japan. His two older sisters were world champions in freestyle wrestling. One of his sisters, Miyu, married MMA star Enson Inoue, and Yamamoto, against the wishes of his father, left wrestling to start in the sport.
Yamamoto competed as a lightweight in Japan, even though his walking weight was 141 pounds. Because of his family name, he became a national superstar, best known for his December 31, 2004, kickboxing match with Masato, the country's most popular fighter at the time. More than 30 million viewers saw that fight. While he lost the decision, he knocked down his much larger foe, and was competitive, even though kickboxing wasn't his sport.
In 2005, he captured the Hero's championship in the lightweight division with wins over Royler Gracie, Caol Uno and Genki Sudo. He later scored a four second knockout win over former Olympic wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata with a flying knee. He followed that by knocking out Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Istvan Majoros.
But he never regained form after knee and elbow injuries.
In 2007, he announced he was retiring from MMA to follow his father's dream of winning an Olympic medal in wrestling. But he had been out of the sport since college, nine years earlier . His return put amateur wrestling into the spotlight. But he failed to make the Japanese team in 2008, trying out at 60 kilograms (132 pounds). He suffered a dislocated elbow in a match against Kenji Inoue, who had won the bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics, in the Olympic qualifying tournament. He later needed reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL.
He was never the same returning to the sport in 2009. He went 1-5 since that point, with an 0-3 record in UFC competition.
Salazar debuted in UFC on Oct. 4 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, losing in the first round via submission to Mitch Gagnon.