Miyuu Yamamoto heads into the biggest fight of her career with the words of her legendary brother still fresh in her mind.
Yamamoto (6-4) will challenge for the vacant Rizin FF super atomweight title when she takes on former champion Ayaka Hamasaki (20-3) at Rizin FF 26 on Dec. 31 in Saitama, Japan. It’s the opportunity she has been hoping for ever since she transitioned from freestyle wrestling to MMA in 2016, and, at the age of 46, she says she’s never felt better.
Yamamoto’s title tilt comes exactly one year after her last appearance, when she outpointed Thailand’s Suwanan Boonsorn at Rizin FF 20. Since then, she’s been in Guam, sharpening her skills while the island has remained largely locked down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Guam is more strict than Japan and is currently under lockdown,” she explained during Rizin’s pre-fight YouTube series, “Rizin Confessions.” “There are limits for gatherings (and) my kids are still attending online classes.”
But that isolation, out of the competitive cycle and left to work on her skills, has proved to be a blessing for Yamamoto, who has used the time to sharpen her skills ahead of her return.
“Because there was no fight lined up, I didn’t have to think about my opponent,” she said. “I was able to focus on what I needed to work on. So it worked out well.”
The extra time to work on her game has proved invaluable, as Yamamoto looks to fulfill the potential she brought to the sport after capturing four freestyle wrestling world championships earlier in her career.
As she explained, her start to life in MMA was a tough one, as she struggled to fully adapt to the sport. But, after suffering some early setbacks, she was boosted by the confidence of her brother, the late Japanese MMA legend Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto.
“I started off with back-to-back losses,” she recalled. “‘Kid’ told me, ‘Your physical strengths, your natural instincts, your speed and gifts, nobody can match that. So believe in yourself.’”
The advice clearly worked. After starting out 1-3 with Rizin, Yamamoto hit form and heads into the New Year’s Eve title clash with Hamasaki having won five of her last six outings.
“I started winning and finally started to climb the ladder,” she said. “I have come this far (and feel) the strongest in my life at 46 years old. … Now I need to start finishing things.”
Rizin FF 26 takes place on Thursday, Dec. 31 at Saitama Super Arena and streams via pay-per-view on LIVENow.