Colin Oyama Wants to Fight

The former trainer of legends Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson on the champions, his career and MMA's future

People, Jackson told him; people "piss me off."

Oyama brushed off the encounter as one of those odd meetings that happened late at night in gyms. That is, until he saw Jackson punch. "This guy couldn't lift a weight to save his life, but when he started hitting people," he says, "oh, my God, we found out what he could do."

Though Oyama's pairing with Ortiz is notable for the success they enjoyed, his association with Jackson is notable for how opposite the two seemed. Jackson was every bit as brash as Oyama was understated. But both men say there was no period of adjustment. They liked each other from the start and found much common ground between them.

John Gilhooley
“Shut up and fight!”
John Gilhooley
“Shut up and fight!”

"Colin is quiet around people he doesn't know," Jackson says. "But he is a pretty funny guy. We joke around at the gym a lot. So when you get to know him, you will find that he is a funny guy, and he is easy to get along with."

Likewise, Oyama found that beyond Jackson's bluster, "he has a humble side. And he's a lot of fun. We both had a sense of humor, and we spent a lot of time making fun of each other."

What followed was great success for both fighters, and great success brought with it money, and money brings, well, you know. Soon enough, Oyama noticed that less and less of what he taught was getting through. When Jackson was training for the Rua fight, he complained that his sparring mates were grabbing his neck because they were too tall. Oyama told him they were grabbing his neck because he was putting his head in the wrong position.

"What did Rua do? Grabbed his neck and beat him," Oyama says.

More and more, it became less and less about fighting. There were so many other things that demanded Ortiz's and Jackson's time. What was more, Oyama noticed, was he was spending an inordinate amount of time training Jackson and Ortiz while other fighters were ignored. Having been brought up in the Thai fighting tradition, in which champions are treated no different than workaday fighters, Oyama began to chafe at the arrangement.

"You go to Thailand, and you'll see some of the greatest kickboxers in the world always helping out," Oyama says. "My mentality is if these guys can help each other, why can't you? I mean, dude, you're a world champ, very nice, now go clean the mat because you're the guy who dirtied it. I mean, if you can't do that, that's cool, but you're probably better suited for someone who is going to cater to you. I think [Ortiz and Jackson] got so big that it bothered them. Tito liked being the center of attention, and that's cool, but there are other people who also want to get somewhere."

Currently, Team Oyama trains five professional MMA fighters including Ian "Uncle Creepy" McCall, the UFC's No. 3 ranked flyweight—the nickname was given to him by a nephew and refers to McCall's mustache which is equal parts handlebar, awesome and, yes, creepy—and heavyweight Shane Del Rosario who also competes in the UFC and holds titles in the WBC Muay Thai organization. There's Carla "The Cookie Monster" Esparza, current Invicta strawweight champ and Romie Adanza, a Muay Thai fighter who holds multiple titles and whose ability to endure punishment Oyama attributes to the fact he was shot in the head as a boy in a gang-related shooting.

Most of the fighters also teach classes at the gym. Muay Thai champion Ron Scolesdang not only teaches, but helps with the daily operations of the gym as well. Team Oyama also trains two professional kickboxers and 10 amateur aspirants.

"Work ethic determines whether we'll work with someone," Oyama says. "If they're willing to put the time in, I'm willing to put the time in."

Ortiz and Jackson soon went somewhere else and seemed to have mostly positive things to say about their time with Oyama.

"He really improved my cardio shape," Ortiz says. "I learned a lot from Colin."

Oh, he says, he didn't much care for it when he got wind that Oyama "was talking about me, telling people that Rampage would kick my ass if we ever fought."

And of course, that was the draw of the Bellator match between Jackson and Ortiz—the great what-if. Oyama says it would have been really quite simple to predict what would have happened. If Ortiz, a grappler, got Jackson to the ground, he'd win. If Jackson, a striker, could stay upright and land punches, "he'd knock Tito into next year." Would Oyama have been watching? Most likely, he says, you know, "out of curiosity."

He says he may have even journeyed to Long Beach to see the fight in person, though the match he was really interested in was on the undercard, the one between Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez.

"Tremendous fighters," Oyama says. "Two young guys in their prime."

*    *    *

When he was a kid, Oyama had the occasion to go to work with his father. Richard worked with the Navy, and one of his duties was to work with college interns, many of whom fancied themselves as something other than engineers.

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