Some say it’s unlikely he’ll ever fight for a UFC light-heavyweight title, let alone win one, but Gökhan Saki’s spectacular UFC debut in Japan on Friday night (September 22) did at least give the 205-pound division some much-needed positivity and the rest of us something to smile about.
For those who had previously seen Saki in action – during his lengthy tenure as a world-class kickboxer – the manner in which he demolished Henrique da Silva came as no surprise. For the rest, however, Saki’s first round dismissal of the Brazilian would have heralded the arrival of the light-heavyweight division’s most exciting fighter. Certainly, the division’s best pure striker.
Most knew this going in. Most know that once Saki landed punches, especially his concussive left hand, as well as kicks and knees, there isn’t much hope of any light-heavyweight soaking it up and coming back with their own; even da Silva, his first opponent, knew of the danger. But that didn’t stop Saki doing what we all knew he was going to do, nor diminish the thrill of actually seeing him do it in a UFC Octagon.
From the first bell there were razor sharp left hands piercing the guard of da Silva and rocking his head back. One dropped him. Another buckled his legs. Best of all, though, was the appearance of the Saki takedown defence, which he used to good effect not once but twice in the opening round, stuffing Henrique’s desperate attempt to drag the fight to the ground and avoid any further punishment. This, more than his own punches and kicks, suggested Saki could be more than just the UFC’s latest novelty act. It showed he cared, that he wanted to do well, that he wanted to be known as something other than a one-dimensional, albeit heavy-handed, brawler.
It also told da Silva his fate would soon be sealed. (If an opponent can’t drag Gökhan Saki south, what hope is there?) The anxiety, in an instant, was evident on his face. But then, with a minute left to run in the round, things started to get weird. Saki took a deep breath as he dropped his hands by his sides, and then remained a sitting duck for da Silva, who took the opportunity to grab hold of the Turk and land some hurtful knees in a clinch, followed by some punches, one of which sagged the legs of Saki. All of a sudden the tables had turned and Saki’s future looked bleak. Tank empty, he seemed on the verge of being outlasted and stopped.
The problem for da Silva, though, was that Saki remained on his feet. And it’s from this position he is liable to end a fight at any moment; with the flick of a wrist, with the turn of his hips. He did so on Saturday night, trading with da Silva when tired and hurt and landing a huge left hook that switched out the lights of ‘Frankenstein’ and left him flat on his back in the middle of the Octagon.
Four minutes and forty-five seconds was all it took. Saki, he of 96 kickboxing matches and 59 knockouts, now had his first MMA victory and knockout.
Reality check: as great as Saki looked, this was da Silva’s fourth straight UFC loss and his second straight first-round knockout defeat (Ion Cuțelaba was the last to do the honours). Therefore, it’s worth keeping our Saki expectations and hype in check and reminding ourselves of the fact there are many levels and opponents, many of whom will possess better takedowns than da Silva, still to come. Saki also turns 34 next month, so hardly has time on his side.
But none of that should stop us looking ahead and getting excited about the havoc Saki will potentially wreak on the heads and bodies of light-heavyweights up and down the UFC roster. Stand with the guy and they’re all in the firing line, all susceptible to being knocked out, even those in the upper echelons. Even the champ. We know that much now. We know Saki’s striking, if nothing else, is every bit as good as advertised. We also know his future fights will be fights of the can’t-miss variety. Likely short, they’ll promise explosive action, drama and presumably a knockout, especially if Gökhan has his way.
Ultimately, you know you’re doing something right when UFC President Dana White takes notice.
Gökhan Saki’s left hook wasn’t the only wow-worthy left hook on offer this past weekend in MMA. In fact, believe it or not, there were arguably better ones; ones thrown cleaner, with more accuracy, with even more impact.
At Bellator 183 on Saturday (September 23), Aaron Pico rebounded from a shocking MMA debut in June – a defeat to Zach Freeman – with a stunning left hook knockout of Justin Linn in the first round. Technically perfect, the shot, thrown in a whipping motion, with the knuckle turned over the way a boxer is taught, Pico short-circuited his poor opponent and sent him flying back to the fence as if stood too near an explosion.
Also on that card in California, Paul Daley, a notorious left-hooker with 30 knockouts to his name, rallied back from a shaky first round against Lorenz Larkin to scramble the American’s senses in round two with his pet punch. The shot, thrown following a wayward spinning back-fist attempt, caught Larkin high on the head and immediately discombobulated him and stiffened his posture. This allowed ‘Semtex’ Daley the chance to follow up, force him to the floor, and finish the fight with ground-and-pound, after which the Englishman vaulted the Bellator cage and celebrated with a joyous Forum crowd.
One more. This one occurred on Friday (September 22) in a lower key event, LFA 23 in Louisiana, but was a beautifully brutal left hook nonetheless. Thrown by Peter Stanonik in round two, and soaked up by Kendrik Williams, the shot left Williams out cold with his face kissing the canvas.
So there you have it. Four left hooks, four big wins. We’ll leave it up to you to decide who did it best.