Volkan Oezdemir: Race against the clock

Volkan Oezdemir doesn’t hang around. In six short months, he beat three top 10 UFC light-heavyweights – including the last two by knockout in a combined 70 seconds. He’s now got a legitimate case for getting a shot at the title. He must be in some kind of a hurry.

Always! You know, I’ve got no time,” he tells Fighters Only. “I’ve got to make the best out of my time. I love to finish fights fast and get things done fast, definitely.”

This rapid rise was an unlikely one. The Swiss are famous for many things – chocolate, cheese and watches come to mind – but fighting isn’t one of them. This son of the small town of Fribourg is the first man to represent his country in the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion.

I’m the first one to really make it. We’ve had some good fighters already. The only good fighter of all-time to emerge from Switzerland was Andy Hug, but that was K-1. After that, nobody was really there and the sport’s not really that big there. Kickboxing, Thai boxing, even boxing – MMA is even worse.

It’s really amazing for me to be the first one to represent outside of the country on the international scene but that was a long road. I had to go through everything I had to go through all the problems and not knowing who to trust, what to do and how to make the best out of a contract – things like that. It was a learning experience and now I’m going to also teach and hope to bring other people.”

Despite the lack of world-class training in his homeland, Oezdemir received a first-class education in fighting by traveling to the Netherlands, where he linked up with the Golden Glory stable. That team has produced some of the best strikers to ever live, as well as some notable MMA athletes like Alistair Overeem and Marloes Coenen.

That spell in the Netherlands took care of his striking development, but his introduction to grappling was hardly one you’d expect from one of the best light-heavyweights in the world. It’s remarkable the 28-year-old was adequately prepared at all to compete professionally based on the lack of structure.

I was watching YouTube videos of fights, messing around with my friends trying to learn to do triangles, kimuras and stuff,” he explains. “I was home-made. I wasn’t technical. It was working but it’s not like somebody taught me the right way to do it or gave me strategies or all the details. It just happened over time training with other people.”

Despite the lack of elite ground-game guidance, Oezdemir had no problems when he started life as an MMA pro. He let his hands do the bulk of the work and ran through his first nine opponents to earn a spot in Bellator. But after winning one and losing one in the Viacom-owned organization, his career stalled.

The promotion was running fewer shows under the leadership of Scott Coker, and didn’t have any bouts to offer the Swiss fighter. It allowed him to break from his contract, but without the high-profile fights offered by the biggest promotions in North America and the paychecks that come with them, he questioned whether he wanted to continue fighting.

You don’t get paid that much, especially outside of the big organizations,” he says. “You also have a lot of expense and then you also need to leave your life – paying for your family, your kids, your wife – whatever you have going on in your life. But it’s all about sacrifices and I think I did a lot of sacrifices…

I asked if [Bellator] had anything and they said no. They said they weren’t there to hold me back, so if I could stay busy maybe the best way was to break the contract. If they had nothing for me, I said yes. I fought four times in K-1 and one in MMA in three months and still didn’t have enough money to do stuff so I stopped everything. I was going to focus on work.”

Luckily, a friend saw the talent he had and didn’t want to let it go to waste.

I had this period where I didn’t really train or fight any more. Before giving up, because It was a tough situation for me, my friend told me we should go to America and give it a last try. I didn’t know, because I didn’t really have money for that. I was already having problems, so I didn’t want to spend more money, and if nothing happened… I’d been training for a while and money was always a problem.

I went there and it was a life-changing experience because Blackzilians wanted to sign me right away. They were taking care of my housing. It wasn’t the best housing, we were stuck with a bunch of fighters in the same house and everyone was sleeping on each other, but it was still a huge opportunity in a good team with good structure and high-level fighters and coaches.”

 

 

Now with an elite team behind him, in the best place to kick-start an MMA career, Oezdemir was all set. He just had to bide his time a little longer before he got the opportunities he wanted.

He was signed first by Legacy Fighting Championship, then Titan Fighting Championship, but did not step into the cage to compete under either banner after a string of last-minute cancellations. Everything seemed to conspire against him to rob him of opponents – from staph infections to fight-day injuries.

But being in America meant he was perfectly placed to jump onto the UFC Fight Night event in Houston on two weeks’ notice. Even though it was against a highly-ranked opponent with more experience than anyone he’s ever fought, Oezdemir had no hesitation in jumping in at the deep end to face Ovince Saint Preux. After that, he took that plunge again, and again

I tried to fight four times but it never happened. Finally, I got the UFC call and everything happened that fast. At that time, I was like, ‘I gotta fight!’ That’s why I fought three times in six months. I didn’t spend time, I was always pro-active finding a top-ranked guy. Now I’m here.”

His first Octagon assignment was one of those rare things for the Swiss striker: a decision win. Since then, ‘No Time’, as he has now been dubbed, made short work of opponents – as he has done since he began his career in 2010.

However, opponents, analysts and oddsmakers seem to have been sleeping on the explosive power in his fists. He’s taken every Octagon assignment as an underdog and despite winning, he’s continued to be counted out.

OSP’ was supposed to be a veteran with way too much for a short-notice opponent. Oezdemir won by unanimous decision. Misha Cirkunov had the submission skills to stop the hype train of an overrated novice. He was knocked out in 28 seconds. Jimi Manuwa was a more polished power puncher. The Brit fell in 42 seconds.

 

 

They all say the same,” says Oezdemir. “‘The fight was too fast so we don’t really know what he was worth.’ No, that’s my worth. You saw that. You’re going to get knocked out in one minute, or two, or three. I’ve got eight wins in the first minute and 12 wins in the first round. This is going to happen.

Maybe if you don’t move in the right way, if you don’t do the right stuff, that’s what going to happen because that’s how my game is. That’s my strength. That’s what you’re going to see.”

And that’s what’s put him into the number three spot in the light-heavyweight rankings. Only Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones – pending a hearing regarding a positive drug test – are above him. It’s not out of the question that he could fight for a title before the end of the year.

The issue right now is the confusion surrounding the state of the division following Jones’ brush with USADA. Will he be suspended? If so, what will happen with the belt? While those questions get answered, Oezdemir wants to fight. He’s got no time, remember?

While everyone is figuring the situation, I’ve got time to fight somebody who’s not in the situation right now which is Gustafsson,” he says. “I think Gustafsson is not part of the current situation with Jon Jones and the USADA violation, so, in the meantime, me and Alex have all the time in the world to get ready for a fight.”

He adds that an interim belt would be the perfect addition to that matchup, but he’s not sure whether that will be an option once the ‘Bones’ Jones disciplinary circus is complete. One thing he is sure of, however, is his method of victory, whoever he fights: a knockout.

Oh yeah, definitely. First round, because that’s how I roll.”


*** This feature originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Fighters Only ***

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