The best striker in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division is set to appear at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena on Saturday (September 23) in what will be his first ever UFC bout and only his second as a mixed martial artist. Sound weird? It should. Just as this is no ordinary journey, Gökhan Saki is no ordinary fighter.
What makes this claim even weirder, on the face of it, is that Saki’s one and only MMA contest to date took place some 13 years ago in Liverpool, England, and resulted in a first round TKO loss (to Englishman James Zikic), making him officially 0-1 as a mixed martial artist.
So, why the hype? Well, balancing out a less than stellar MMA record is a professional kickboxing record of 83-12, including 59 knockouts; added to that are wins over kickboxing names like Tyrone Spong, Ray Sefo, Melvin Manhoef and Daniel Ghita, as well as a Glory light-heavyweight title and some eye-catching displays in K-1.
Saki’s credentials, therefore, at least in kickboxing, are about as good as it gets; certainly good enough to earmark him as the most decorated kicker and puncher in the UFC’s currently shallow 205lb division. Where’s he’s short on MMA experience, Saki, a crowdpleaser, is rich in other areas. He brings excitement. He looks for the knockout. He gives his audience the kind of fight they want to see. He is, according to UFC co-commentator Joe Rogan, THE TRUTH.
— Joe Rogan (@joerogan) May 25, 2017
Saki believes all this, too. Not short on confidence, the Turkish-Dutch KO artist took to Facebook upon signing with the UFC to write, “I’m glad I finally can announce that I have signed an exclusive long-term contract with the UFC. [I am] the best investment the UFC has made since Conor McGregor.”
That remains to be seen. What we do know is this: Saki, 33 (34 next month), has a couple of nicknames, both of which offer an insight into his character. ‘The Rebel’ goes some way to explaining his personality, while ‘The Turkish Tyson’ speaks his fighting style. He is, like Tyson, accustomed to looking up at and fighting taller opponents, and he also has a fondness for tight combinations, comprising hooks, uppercuts and body shots, all thrown with ferocity and purpose.
Some say he will be undersized as a six-foot light-heavyweight and that he will likely be kept at bay by taller, if not quite so accomplished, strikers. But Saki, it should be noted, is no stranger to working his way inside. Nor does he have any aversion to exchanging punches and kicks with men – like Alistair Overeem, for example – who enjoy a weight advantage and who are, for all intents and purposes, fully-fledged heavyweights.
If we’re talking calibre and toughness, then, Saki should be okay. The other stuff – the MMA stuff – is a sizeable obstacle he must overcome and, at 33, may have left it too late for this to be a realistic expectation, but let’s keep it light for now. Better yet, let’s enjoy some Saki highlights, as good as any kickboxing highlight reel you’re likely to find, and imagine an MMA world in which every Gökhan Saki opponent decides to shun the temptation to shoot for an immediate takedown and instead looks to test their mettle against one of the best and most exciting strikers in combat sports.