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Japanese MMA star Norifumi 'Kid' Yamamoto dies at 41

© GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File | MMA fighter Norifumi 'Kid' Yamamoto built up a huge fan base in Japan

TOKYO (AFP) - 

Tributes flowed Wednesday for charismatic Japanese mixed martial artist Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, who died at age 41, three weeks after announcing a battle with cancer.

Born to a family of wrestlers and martial artists, the wiry, tattoo-covered Yamamoto took on larger opponents in a wide range of MMA events, including the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

He won fans with a beaming, confident smile -- a rarity in Japan where many fighters tend to display stoicism rather than showmanship.

Yamamoto started wrestling at a young age under his father, who represented Japan at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Two of his sisters were also successful wrestlers.

He turned professional after failing to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

On August 26, Yamamoto announced via Instagram that he was going through cancer treatments.

His gym Krazy Bee tweeted news of his death on Tuesday.

UFC.com called him "one of Japan's greatest and most exciting mixed martial artists".

Fans and peers mourned the fighter's sudden death.

"A true legend of the sport has left us, Kid Yamamoto," tweeted UFC hall of famer Ken Shamrock.

"My thoughts are with his family and fans worldwide as we reflect on an amazing person and athlete," the American said.

"Absolutely devastated by this news," tweeted BJ Penn, another UFC hall of famer. "MMA has lost a true legend."

© 2018 AFP