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Obscure fighter of the week: Koji Oishi

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Koji Oishi wasn’t much competition for Nick Diaz at UFC 53, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t much at all.

Koji Oishi, years removed from fighting Nick and Nate Diaz, shows his opponent at OneFC that he still has it.
Koji Oishi, years removed from fighting Nick and Nate Diaz, shows his opponent at OneFC that he still has it.
Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Since Nick Diaz will be making his return soon after a five year hiatus, I thought it’d be fun to talk about a fighter who has been fun for the whole Diaz family: Koji Oishi. If you don’t remember his name, then you probably remember the image. Oishi was the undersized Japanese welterweight who fought Nick in yellow spandex at UFC 53.

Joe Rogan couldn’t stop crapping on Koji’s technique. Rogan claimed Oishi was trying to block Nick’s punches with his own punches after watching Oishi backstage. When the two met at the center of the octagon to start, Rogan described Oishi as “lackadaisical” and a dude “just wandering” the arena before the fight. To the extent that casual fans might remember Oishi, it’s probably connected to the description of this bout as something ‘strange’ in the Nick Diaz catalog.

I’m not here to play reddit detective about what Oishi was taught that night. Given Rogan’s opinions on vaccines, and the transgender community, my first instinct is to question whether what Rogan said was even true. All of Rogan’s descriptions might have added up in his head to something as ethereal as the smoke he’s routinely surrounded by, but broken down I hear two things: Oishi was a foreign fighter in a foreign land, and his punch blocks sound like classic Kyokushin defense techniques.

I hate getting distracted by a discussion about Rogan’s questionable commentary, but it’s hard to separate the two given who Oishi is to the casual fan. Despite that night, Oishi wasn’t a bad fighter. He retired in 2014 with a record of 25-10 (oh and a whopping 10 draws). He was ONE FC’s former featherweight champion. He was a very good mixed martial artist.

He didn’t look like a good martial artist that night, granted. His bladed, flamingo-like stance resulted in a quick, one-sided beatdown for Nick, who used his reach to his advantage. You’d be forgiven if you just assumed Oishi went back to Japan, “where the competition’s easier.” Technically he did. The UFC didn’t bring him back, and so Oishi went back to his old stomping grounds in Pancrase. His first fight in Japan? None other than Nick’s brother, Nate.

This fight happened only two months after fighting Nick. The early portions of this fight look a like Oishi’s fight with Nick. Oishi’s stance left him open for various punches, which he took well (and often slipped). The rest of the fight less so. Oishi knocked Nate down on multiple occasions, controlling him on the ground when the fight went there. It was only Nate’s second pro fight, but it was Oishi’s 18th at welterweight.

It’s tough to dig up much information on Oishi. His base was wrestling, which he began in high school and continued at the university level. I have to suspect his open stance came from some heavy Kyokushin influence, which might also explain the lack of head movement, and awkward posture. His style, with his wrestling background and karate output, might be best described as ‘wrestle-chop.’ Asia’s answer to the wrestle-boxers of North America.

His counterstriking style brought him wins over Satoru Kitaoka and Chris Lytle before fighting Nick. He’d go on to fight Daizo Ishige and Carlos Condit the following year. And he did it all two weight classes above where he should have been. The obscure fighter series is not about exalting lesser fighters for something more, but for respecting how fighters should be remembered: making sure their career obituaries have the right bibliography attached.

Oishi will never be remembered for being a great fighter. He’ll be remembered for getting destroyed by a Diaz brother as Rogan could communicate nothing but confusion over an assumed tactic. That’s unfortunate, but also telling. It says more about the sport than it does about Oishi — how a good featherweight had to fight half his career as a welterweight. That’s MMA’ shame. Not Oishi’s.