Welcome to the UFC: Gokhan Saki

When the UFC returns to Japan on Friday night, they will be welcoming one of the most anticipated debuting fighters in years into the…

By: Fraser Coffeen | 6 years ago
Welcome to the UFC: Gokhan Saki
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

When the UFC returns to Japan on Friday night, they will be welcoming one of the most anticipated debuting fighters in years into the Octagon. Gokhan Saki enters the Light Heavyweight division Friday night, taking on the 12-3 Henrique da Silva. Why is this such a big deal? Let’s find out with “Welcome to the UFC.”

Who is Gokhan Saki?

Known as “The Rebel”, Saki is a 33 year old Dutch-Turkish kickboxer. The official record you will see on the screen Saturday night is 0-1, as he has a lone MMA loss way back in 2004. But the record that really matters is 83-12. That’s Saki’s kickboxing record, and it’s an excellent one. For years, Saki has been one of the top 5 Heavyweights in kickboxing. His list of credentials is impressive: he’s the 2008 K-1 World GP in Hawaii champion (think of that as sort of a regional play-off tournament leading to the main Grand Prix), a 2 time K-1 GP semi-finalist, a Glory Grand Slam semi-finalist, and the former Glory Light Heavyweight champion. He holds wins over Tyrone Spong (twice), Daniel Ghita, Ruslan Karaev, Ray Sefo, and many, many more.

For the majority of his career, Saki has been fighting outside of his ideal weight class. Kickboxing as a sport has been very slow to adopt weight divisions, as for years there was basically only Heavyweight and Lightweight, forcing the natural Light Heavyweight Saki up a division. He did well there, but the size was an issue, with recent losses coming solely against the true physical giants of the division – men like Semmy Schilt, Alistair Overeem at the height of his Ubereem days, and Badr Hari. Since 2009, he is undefeated when not giving up a huge size advantage. He began focusing on Light Heavyweight in 2014 and went 3-0 before contract issues with Glory led him to be sidelined for the past two and a half years.

What should you expect?

Clearly, Saki’s striking is going to be exceptional. He trained for years at the famed Golden Glory gym in The Netherlands, and more recently at Mike’s Gym – two of the top kickboxing gyms on the planet today. Like all fighters coming up through the Dutch system, Saki will be virtually perfect from a technical standpoint. As a kickboxer, he favors punches more than kicks, though his leg kicks are brutal. He’s known for sustained and violent multi-punch combos, mixing in a wide variety of perfectly timed and executed shots. He also has a great hook to the body. Saki does like to get in and throw down, so is willing to leave himself open defensively, but it rarely causes him trouble, as his opponents are too busy trying to survive the onslaught. Here’s his 2013 win over Ghita – probably the best win of his career, and one that shows his offensive game nicely:

What this means for his debut?

As long as the fight remains on its feet, there are few (or perhaps, with Jones presumably gone again, none) in the division who will be able to hang with Saki. The question mark for him will of course be what happens when someone does not want to stand and trade. What kind of work has Saki put into the other aspects of MMA – his ability to fight in the clinch, to stuff a takedown, to get back to his feet, to survive a submission attempt? These are questions he will need to answer. Friday night, he’s not in there against an opponent likely to ask them – da Silva does have some grappling to his game, but he’s most recently been outgunned in striking battles. This has the potential to be a true highlight reel debut for The Rebel.

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Fraser Coffeen
Fraser Coffeen

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