2009 has not been kind to the Japanese MMA icon, Norifumi Yamamoto.
"Kid" was inactive throughout 2008 due to a knee injury. Upon return to competition after a 17-month hiatus, he suffered an upset loss against the former Greco-Roman World Champion and MMA upstart, Joe Warren, in the quarterfinal match of DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix at DREAM 9.
To add insult to injury, his return to the winning column was derailed two months later when he got knocked out in a K-1 bout by an unheralded Korean kickboxer, Jae hee Cheon.
Facing the first major slump of his illustrious career, Yamamoto is ready for a little change of scenery: Last week, he announced at a press conference held in his gym that he plans to travel abroad for training.
DREAM event producer, Keiichi Sasahara, who was in attendance, said that DREAM has been planning to book Yamamoto for either DREAM 11 or DREAM 12 in the coming months; however, upon hearing Yamamoto's wish to "regain his hunger," DREAM executives have approved his training sabbatical.
In addition to reinvigorating himself as a fighter, he is also looking to shore up his techniques and overall skill set through training at various gyms.
While Yamamoto has not finalized the destination or the dates of departure and return, he is planning on leaving for either the US or Thailand in the fall and returning to Japan before the New Year's Eve. He expressed his wish to travel to the "hotbed of MMA," particularly the West Coast of the US.
Reflecting on his training trip to Thailand in 2004 prior to his K-1 bout with Japanese kickboxing icon, Masato, he said that Thailand, as well as "countries he has never been to" are also on his itinerary.
At the moment, though, the itinerary, as well as the finance for the trip, remains open-ended. While DREAM officials have agreed to provide basic accommodations, Yamamoto wants to rely on others as little as possible.
Apparently, he plans on going DIY with the accompaniment of one of his training partners: "Even though I don't plan on hitchhiking, I will basically look at a map and decide on the fly, 'well, we should travel there next (laughs).'"
Furthermore, with regard to fighting abroad during the trip, he remains undecided, but open-minded: "Yes, that will be an interesting opportunity, since I need to earn money for travel -- however, since I am signed with DREAM, I will talk with them before I sign up for a fight."
To conclude the press conference, Yamamoto said that he wants to fight for DREAM on the New Year's Eve. In a message to the fans, he promised that, come New Year's Eve, he will have restored his fighting instinct and be ready to once again bear the torch for DREAM.