YOKOHAMA (TR) – For a fighter set to defend his title next month in front of thousands of boisterous fans in the Philippines, Koji Oishi is surprisingly unimposing.
Seated alone behind the front desk of the P’s Lab gym in a long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans, the 36-year-old could be easily mistaken for an employee. That is, until he begins talking about his passion: mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting.
“Each match has its own flow,” says Oishi, sporting cropped hair as he speaks in a back room whose walls are covered with photographs of grapplers. “What I will do [in my next match] is determined by the moment, by the second. Right now, I can’t say what I’ll do. I do know that I’ll continue as usual, and I’ll try to be better than before.”
Such a strategy worked well in his last fight on May 31. After a shaky first round, the heavy underdog Oishi dropped then champion Honorio Banario with a quick right early in the second round. It would prove to be the clinching blow.
On December 6, the pair will once again battle for the featherweight title in the ONE FC (Fighting Championship) “Moment of Truth” at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City, Manila — an opportunity for Oishi to dispel claims by critics that he landed a “lucky punch” on the Filipino.
“Honestly, I don’t know if that punch was lucky or not,” says Oishi, whose puffy eyes have clearly been on the receiving end of a large number of blows over his 12-year career. “But the fact is not changed; that punch knocked him [to the ground]. So for me it doesn’t matter if it was lucky or my own ability.”
In that bout (“Rise to Power”), held at the same venue, Banario attacked from the opening bell, landing a number of quick punches, with a strong right hand eventually putting Oishi on his back. As the Filipino fans roared, Banario moved in for the finish but Oishi successfully covered up.
At the start of the next round, Banrio came at Oishi again but a perfectly placed right shot to his chin sent him to canvas. Oishi then pounced, landing another right that would end the match.
“At that moment in the fight I was stronger than him,” Oishi says. “It’s as simple as that.”
Oishi became interested in MMA through professional wrestling. He developed a special fondness for Keiji Mutoh, a Japanese wrestler who amassed tremendous popularity both in Japan and overseas in the 1990s.
“When I was a kid, I watched pro wrestling,” says Oishi. “That was my first interest in becoming a fighter. I wanted to make myself stronger — that was the trigger.”
Oishi wrestled in school. In 2001, he joined the Pancrase association, which is based in Tokyo. On October 30 of that year, he debuted at Korakuen Hall in the capital.
A two-time Ultimate Fighting Champion veteran, Oshi, who trains regularly at P’s Lab gym, has said that claiming the featherweight belt in May was the greatest achievement of his career.
Oishi will enter the rematch with Banario, his second fight for ONE FC, in an environment certain to be different from that in May: Earlier this month, Typhoon Haiyan devastated many parts of the Philippines — a grim reminder of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.
“It is very heartbreaking,” says Oishi of the disaster. “When I heard about the damage in the Philippines I became worried since it was similar to (that in Japan in) 2011.”
Over 43 bouts, Oishi has compiled a 24-9-10 record. The end of his career may be on the horizon but it is not a concern. He does, however, realize that his physical condition is not a constant.
“It is not a matter of it changing in a way that is good or bad, but it is something I have to manage,” he says. “As to my technique, of course I have to be better and better.”
And be prepared to take it one moment at a time.