In essentially all sports, it’s incredibly rare to see athletes competing at the age of 40 or older. It’s even more rare to see said athletes being able to stay relevant and competitive at their respective highest levels.
Regarding the world of MMA, the likes of Randy Couture and Yoel Romero may come immediately to mind when thinking of fighters that had their best success later on in their lives. While Couture is now comfortably retired and Romero is still an elite middleweight contender, the latter isn’t the only ageless wonder still making waves.
RIZIN Fighting Federation’s 108-pound super atomweight division houses several of the world’s top talents in that class. Among them, however, is the eldest of the elite fighters in the world today. And as evidenced by her still-developing career to this point, age is truly just a number.
45-year old Miyuu Yamamoto began her athletic journey by wrestling as a young teenager as early as age nine. Earning championship victories in her home country of Japan at 17, Yamamoto was seemingly destined to be a phenomenal grappler. That was only further displayed when she continued to dominate her way through the Japanese wrestling scene during the ’90s.
Wrestling is in the blood of the Yamamoto family as Miyuu’s father, Ikuei, was a former Olympian in his own right. And like her father, she too aspired to compete on the grandest sporting stage. Although it would never come to fruition as Miyuu aimed to get to the Olympics on three different occasions, she still found success on and off in the wrestling world throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. Come 2016 and it was time to try her hand in a new venture.
“No, everything is perfect for me,” Yamamoto replied to The Scrap in response to if she wishes she would have gotten into MMA sooner. “Trainings are the same [compared to wrestling], train hard as much as I can. But mentally I need to prepare for fights. It’s more intense because I get in the ring to hurt people. I need to be strong inside too.”
As the big sister to the late Japanese MMA legend, Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Miyuu follow in the footsteps of her brother and idol, as she did with her father. If there was a surprise though, it could surely be the level of success she has found despite having already been an athlete for her entire life prior.
“The Fighting Queen Bee” currently rides a very impressive four-fight winning streak that has her positioned one fight away from her first title opportunity. But things didn’t start out as smoothly as Yamamoto would have hoped. Even with all of her experience and wrestling background, there was still a lot of learning that needed to be done in her full-time transition into fighting.
Especially considering that she was thrown right into the depths of a rapidly blooming division like atomweight, it was never going to be simple. She would start her MMA career by going 1-3 before gaining her current momentum.
“I’m still new and a rookie,” Yamamoto self-analyzed. “Almost everything is new to me. I just don’t panic [no matter] what comes up. I met my amazing coach, Kyle Aguon, and training partners in Guam. Since I started trying with them and [my son] Erson, I started winning. My brother brought me to this beautiful island and gave me an amazing training place and people.”
There are various different reasons that professional athletes are often looked up to. And it’s safe to say that some resonate better than others.
As an athlete who started so young, Yamamoto has been inspiring many for nearly three full decades now based on just her drive and passion alone. Accompany that with her longevity and the fact that she’s a mother of three and it makes her one of the most incredibly unique individuals currently competing at the peak of their endeavor.
“Fighting can be a very bad influence to people but I’m so happy when I hear something good about what I love and do,” Yamamoto expressed. “All those messages from fans inspire me too! They make me train harder. They make me think everything is possible.”
While Yamamoto surges onward in her own career, she hasn’t been the only one in her family.
Honored to be on the great stage that RIZIN has presented her with, Miyuu has also gotten multiple opportunities to do things that many athletes can only dream of… and that’s competing alongside their children.
The Kawasaki, Kanagawa native’s firstborn son is Erson Yamamoto, a 23-year old bantamweight. Just like his mother, Erson has fought majorly inside the RIZIN ring in his short career to this point.
Right out the gate for Miyuu, she made MMA history in her professional debut as she and Erson fought on the same card at the RIZIN 2016 Grand Prix first round. Thus making them the first-ever mother-son duo to compete together in MMA.
Unfortunately for the Yamamotos, in their first three times competing together, they wouldn’t be able to both pick up victories. That all changed at RIZIN 16 in June.
For the 135-pound prospect, he would deliver a devasting elbow strike to Tim Eschtruth to score a knockout in the opening round of the bout. Later in the night, his mother would capture the biggest win of her career by dominating the perennial top-five atomweight, Kanna Asakura, en route to a unanimous decision.
“No!” Yamamoto exclaimed with a laugh when asked if she ever anticipated competing alongside one of her kids. “I actually didn’t want my son to become a fighter at the beginning. I told him ‘don’t do it’ many times. But now it has changed completely opposite of what I was hoping. It’s great! He is not only my son, he is my teammate, coach, best friend… I’m the luckiest mom in the world. We are teaching the same goal together.
“As for Kanna, no it didn’t go as expected, but when I was wrestling [her], I felt like, ‘Man, I’m way stronger than her,’ then I started moving around better.”
When you keep winning in MMA, eventually the trajectory goes from one big fight to the next. And for Miyuu Yamamoto, that couldn’t be any more true for her ongoing rise to prominence.
In her bout with Asakura, it was a bit of a case of new school vs old school… but not in your traditional sense.
With Yamamoto, she has the overall lifetime experience and wisdom on her side but is self admittedly still new to the game of MMA. For Asakura, 21, it was and is backward. Beginning her pro career at 16, she’s already racked up 19 fights having gone 15-4. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be enough for the seasoned Krazy Bee fight team staple.
The next assignment for Yamamoto will be as difficult of one that she could ask for. This Saturday at RIZIN 19 on October 12, she’ll look to take out the consensus No. 2 best atomweight in the world today, Seo Hee Ham (pictured above).
Since departing from the UFC and returning to the lightest weight division in the sport, Ham has also won four consecutive bouts. Three of which have come via knockout against all top 15 ranked opponents.
If Yamamoto can surpass the equally red-hot Ham, then she will have more than proved that she is indeed ready to challenge the RIZIN titleholder and greatest atomweight that MMA has ever seen, Ayaka Hamasaki.
“Yes, this one is gonna be the toughest for sure, but it’s gonna be harder every time, right?” she laughed. “So I just need to train harder and be ready steady every time! Then I’ll be good. Yes, I think [Ayaka will come after], and it’s gonna be a very exciting match, very honored to get to fight the champion! It’s gonna be great! Be RIZIN champion first, then I’ll start seeing bigger things.”
No matter what unfolds with this current chapter of the Miyuu Yamamoto story, she’s already done so much and touched so many. A world title would, of course, just act as the cherry on top of things. Not only for her but the Yamamoto name.
In the end, awards, accolades, and all those accomplishments are nice. They don’t match the ultimate prize of happiness though. And for this experienced MMA rookie, that’s all she needs.
“I don’t know, never know,” Yamamoto said when asked how much longer she plans to compete for. “I don’t even know what am I doing next year, that’s the story of my life. I’ve been through so many things that I wasn’t expecting. It’s been like a roller coaster. But I know one thing and that’s I always do what makes me smile.”
Make sure to follow The Scrap News (@thescrapnews) on Twitter.
The Scrap’s Drake Riggs is an MMA writer and YouTuber based out of Brush Prairie, Washington who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. Riggs has been a passionate MMA fan since 2009 and has written for various news sources. You can follow him on Twitter (@Dre_Kriggs).