EXCLUSIVE | BJ PENN: “I was honored to spend a week with Kid Yamamoto before he passed”

Kid Yamamoto

The mixed martial arts community is still grieving after losing legendary Japanese fighter Kid Yamamoto to cancer this past September.

Norifumi had announced that he was battling the disease back on August 26 via his official Instagram.

Prior to making his battle with cancer public, Kid Yamamoto had reached out to long time friend BJ Penn asking if he could come back out to Hawaii.

The Prodigy” shared the story in a recent interview with Chris Taylor.

“Yes, I knew for a while that he was battling the disease. Kid Yamamoto texted me and said ‘BJ I want to come back to Hawaii.’ I said of course, no problem come. He said he wanted to come for a few months, so I said for sure let’s do this. But then he never got back to me. Then one of the boys from Guam let me know that (Kid) was not doing to well, so then I just jumped on a plane to Guam the next day. I think he really wanted to come be in Hawaii, but it just proved to be to difficult. So he ended up going to Guam, which is like the Hawaii of that side of the world.”

BJ Penn continued:

“I was honored to go spend a week over there with Kid Yamamoto before he passed. He (Norifumi) was in great spirits and very happy during my entire visit. Just the same guy, enjoying life and doing his thing. You know, he was even coaching us and training us. He even helped with massaging me, as my shoulder had been giving me problems at the time. He was just the same beautiful man. Kid Yamamoto was always good to me since day one. He never had a bad bone in his body towards me and he would always come visit me in Hilo and come train. He would bring out his whole crew and we would have a great time. He was just such a great person who I have a lot of respect for, and I am just glad I was able to show him some respect by flying out to see him before he left us.”

BJ Penn brother Reagan Penn

Kid Yamamoto is widely considered to be one of the greatest fighters in history, especially in regards to the lighter weight divisions.

If you ask BJ Penn, Norifumi was nothing short of amazing, a Japanese warrior who epitomized the notion of ‘no fear’.

“Kid Yamamoto was the original ‘Mighty Mouse’. Well, he was the original ‘Mighty Mouse’ if Demetrious Johnson had went up and beat both T.J. Dillashaw and Max Holloway. That was Kid Yamamoto when he was in his prime. The guy had no fear. Even when he was sick, he wasn’t going to give in to the problem that he had. He was just a guy who was so mentally strong. I really don’t think that he believed that he would pass away. Because, when you are a champion at Kid’s level, you are more than just tough. There is different levels to how tough you truly are. You can be tough in a fight, tough enough to take a punch, or tough enough to sit there and die. Kid, while he was sitting there, he wasn’t going to waiver. He wasn’t going to quit. There was no such thing as the word fail. It was just amazing to see somebody that mentally strong. He truly was amazing.”

Kid Yamamoto defeated opponents Royler Gracie, Caol Uno and finally Genki Sudo, all via stoppage, on route to winning the 2005 Hero’s Lightweight Grand Prix.

BJ Penn believes Kid Yamamoto should be remembered not only for his accomplishments, but also for being a true ambassador of the sport of mixed martial arts.

“Chris, remember when he fought (Kazuyuki) Miyata and (Genki) Sudo? That’s who Kid Yamamoto was man. That is how he should be remembered. No fear. If Demetrious Johnson had gone up and fought T.J. Dillashaw and Max Holloway, then he would have been as great as Kid Yamamoto was in his prime. He was a true ambassador of the sport, we were lucky to have him.”

“When I was a champion over in North America and he (Yamamoto) was a champion in Japan, he was still always the nicest guy to me. He never wanted to compete against me… He just wanted to be my friend.” said an emotional BJ Penn. “I love Kid Yamamoto and his legend will live on forever.”

BJ Penn will return to the octagon at December’s UFC 232 event in a lightweight contest against Ryan Hall.