I’m ready. Are you? #ufc @ufc @UFCEurope pic.twitter.com/y6RnttJkE9
— Gokhan Saki (@gokhantherebel) September 19, 2017
Please allow Gokhan Saki to introduce himself…
“The difference (between me and other MMA strikers) is that they try to strike, and me, I am a striker,” he explained. “Whatever I touch, it falls like leaves on a tree in autumn.”
For most fighters, that would be the mic drop moment, the signal that everything has been said. Most would also be exaggerating a little (or a lot, depending on the fighter). But when UFC newcomer Saki says it, a quick glance at his 83-12, 1 NC pro kickboxing record verifies that his resume in the ring is one that could be put in the “nothing left to prove” file.
“Whatever I touch, it falls like leaves on a tree in autumn.”
But here he is, days away from his Octagon debut against Henrique da Silva in Japan, 33 years old and looking to climb a new mountain. He dabbled in MMA once, losing a 2004 bout to UFC vet James Zikic, and now, there is a sense of some unfinished business for “The Rebel.”
“The first time I did MMA was in 2004,” Saki recalls. “I just came out of a nightclub and I got a call from my kickboxing trainer. ‘Do you want to fight in the UK?’ I said that I was tired and just came out of the club, but he convinced me to fight the same day. So a few hours later, I took a flight to the UK. When I arrived, I heard it was MMA. I never heard of MMA, this was 13 years ago, I thought it was an insurance company.”
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He laughs, and while no one likes to lose, it wasn’t like the Zikic fight defined Saki’s career. But there was always something in the back of his head about giving MMA another go.
“I wasn’t prepared the first time, I just took a shot at it,” he said. “Now, I’m prepared. I won almost every prize there is in kickboxing. I was a world champion, I fought in different weight classes and there were no more challenges for me in kickboxing. The competition is lacking and weak. UFC is a new challenge for me and I want to take that belt home and be the most complete fighter in the world. I’m always curious – how would I do in boxing, how would I do in MMA. So sometimes, you just have to stop asking yourself these questions and just find out the answer.”
The answer Brazil’s da Silva wants to give him is that it was better for the Netherlands native to stay in the ring. Saki has other opinions, though he does know that every fighter he is likely to meet with four-ounce gloves on is going to be looking to take him to the mat.
“That’s a huge compliment,” he said. “That means that they are admitting they can’t win standing up against me; they know they will lose. So, with that in their mind, I’m 1-0 ahead of them. I really don’t expect anybody in my division to fight me standing up, you really need big balls to do that, so I have been working on my takedown defense. But for everything there is a game plan. If someone will shoot, there will be repercussions. The first thing they will see after that is the UFC doctor and their coach when they open their eyes.”
If Saki already sounds like your favorite new UFC fighter, that’s no surprise, but it does pay to go back and look at his kickboxing bouts with the likes of Badr Hadi, Alexey Ignashov, Ray Sefo, Remy Bojansky, Tyrone Spong, Peter Aerts, Melvin Manhoef, Alistair Overeem, Semmy Schilt and Rico Verhoeven to see that his boasts are based in reality, not myth. Saki is a real deal striker of the highest order, and he will likely put on a show on the feet in his first bout since 2015. If he stays on his feet. But Saki has been putting in the time to make sure he’s ready for MMA rules on Friday.
“I haven’t fought in years, so it’s normal to have a bit of ring rust,” he admits. “The training was hard and there is a different range in MMA than the range in kickboxing, so there were a lot of adjustments and lots of new stuff to learn. But mostly I’m just me, being me and I will let my opponents adjust to my style. I don’t adjust to theirs.”
That doesn’t just go for da Silva but for the entire light heavyweight division. Saki’s not naming names, though, he’s just looking to chop down some trees.
“I’m not here to win fights, I’m here to knock people out,” he said. “I want to entertain my fans and give them what they want. They only thing I can think of is the belt and I really don’t think a lot about others. I’m focusing on myself. I want to show the people the best version of myself and I’m still improving each day. Can you even imagine what kind of monster they are creating? It’s like a Marvel movie.”