The Rebel, or Turkish Tyson as he is also called, had gotten tired of fighting three years ago. He had then competed for 15 years with more than 80 wins and a knockout frequency of above 70%. By defeating Tyron Spong in 2014, Gökhan Saki became Glory World Champion, but he was no longer motivated to continue, and didn't fight for several years. It was not until the thought of a transition to MMA popped up, that Saki returned to fighting. But this time, to unknown territory. The former world champion talks with us about the UFC debut, the conflict with Glory, the key to his knockouts, the relationship with his father, why he prepares for his fights in Sweden of all places, and much more!
It's been almost exactly eight months since Gökhan Saki won his UFC debut against Henrique da Silva by knockout in the end of the first round. He is now preparing for his second bout, and the training camp takes place at Allstars Gym in Stockholm. The Swedish summer heat has arrived even though it's only May, and in the cage at Allstars we find Gökhan Saki soaked in sweat. He is sparring his young cousin Serkan, a very skilled and promising kickboxer, who is helping with Gökhan's preperations. Even if the gloves are thick, they throw punches with scary power and we are just waiting for someone to be knocked out. But eventually the bell rings and both Gökhan and his cousin survived the training. We sit down with The Rebel, who seems tired but content with the training, to start the interview.
A Dutch Turk in Sweden
We start by talking about why Gökhan ended up in Stockholm of all places, and it turns out that Ilir Latifi's head coach Selman "Putte" Berisha is the reason. "Yes, Selman is my main guy here. I got to know him through a former training partner and I knew he was in to MMA. As soon as I decided to start training, I contacted him straight away. I could have gone anywhere in the world, the door is open everywhere, which I'm very thankful for. When I'm in the US, I train at American Top Team and with Henri Hooft."
”IF ALL TOP 5 ARE FROM ALLSTARS, I MIGHT AS WELL MOVE TO HEAVYWEIGHT, IT DOESN'T MATTER TO ME!"
Something that has been discussed a lot lately is the "Allstars dilemma" in the UFC light heavyweight division. Gustafsson, Latifi and Manuwa are now all three in the top 10 and they are understandably not open to fight each other. Gökhan is also a light heavyweight and many predict him to become a top contender in the division. "It's a part of the game. It's not easy to fight someone you train with, which I had to do when I fought Alastair Overeem. But we'll see what happens. I'm also open to move up to heavyweight! I've fought big heavyweight my whole career, and I only care about big fights. So if all top 5 are from Allstars, I might as well move to heavyweight, it doesn't matter to me!"
”MY POWER IS BACK AND I CAN PROMISE MORE KNOCKOUTS!”
Even though Gökhan won his UFC debut by knockout, some were critical of his performance and especially his cardio. But a poor cardio was nothing but expected, according to himself. "If I would have faced the same guy today, I'd knock him out within a minute. I hit him many times but my power wasn't there. I had lost a lot during the two-three years I was away, but now I'm back. People who criticize my cardio forget the kind of tempo I have. There is probably nobody who fights in my tempo the first five minutes. And sure, I was tired by the end of the round, but I would have got one minute rest before round two, and would have recovered completely. The next fight will be very different though. I will fight more controlled. My power is back and I can promise more knockouts!"
The young Mr. Saki
It was the 19th of October 1983 that Gökhan Saki was born, in the Dutch town of Schiedam, close to Rotterdam. He lived in the Netherlands his whole life, up until a few years ago. He now lives in his parents' home country, Turkey. "I'm born and raised in Holland, but I'm Turkish. My parents are Turkish, we spoke Turkish at home and I'm raised in a Turkish way. But Holland has done so much for me. I love Holland and the Dutch people. I miss it sometimes, but at the same time Holland is not what it used to be. It's completely dead now, the shops and the streets are empty. Besides, I've traveled a lot and seen many countries, and I'm pretty sure I will never live there again."
When Gökhan was about 10 years old he found kickboxing. At the same time he was a promising football player, but his love for kickboxing was stronger. He didn't like school, but he still considers his teenage years to be the best period of his life. "I didn't go to school much. It was on the streets I was raised to be a fighter. I couldn't concentrate on my studies because all I could think about was kickboxing. I dropped out of school when I was 15. But I remember my amateur years as amazing, from age 11 to 16-17. It was a wonderful time!"
”I'VE DONE SO MUCH FOR THE SPORT THAT THEY SHOULD TREAT ME WITH MORE RESPECT”
However, everyone were not happy about Gökhan's strong feelings for martial arts. "My father didn't like it at all. He wanted me to go with football instead. But when I was about 17, I was fighting for my first world title. My sisters brought dad to the arena, without telling him were they were going. When he saw me enter the main event and win, he realized what I had become. Since that day he's my biggest fan! He has watched every single one of my fights since then. When I fought in the K-1 finals 2010 I broke both my hand and my arm in the first fight, but my father pushed me in the locker room to go out and fight the next fight anyway, haha! Unfortunately he couldn't come to see my UFC debut live. He suffers from multiple sclerosis and can't walk well anymore. But we'll see, I hope I can bring him to Las Vegas sometime for one of my fights!"
A career full of knockouts
Showtime, K-1 and Glory. The biggest kickboxing promotions in the world, and all are previous employers of Gökhan Saki. However, everything did not work optimally, according to Gökhan. "When I came to the UFC, it was an incredible difference. They were a hundred times more professional, and everything was perfectly organized. My previous contract was with Glory, but they were difficult to work with. They had too many captains on the same ship. If they needed to talk to me, everybody called me to say the same thing. I got tired of it. They can treat new fighters like that maybe, but I've done so much for the sport that they should treat me with more respect."
”THERE ARE SO MANY MEMORIES, AND EVERY FIGHT HAS ITS OWN STORY”
With around 60 knockout wins throughout his career, it's no secret that Gökhan Saki hits extremely hard and that he can floor anybody. He says the secret is all about having a sharp vision. "God gave me the ability to see every punch that's coming against me, and that creates a possibility to counter effectively. At the same time I have very explosive attacks. It's all about fighting smart, especially for me who always fought big, heavy opponents. I've also learnt a lot from watching others fight. I've watched Mark Hunt, Ray Sefo, Ernesto Hoost, Ramon Dekkers, Rayen Simson and many more. And I don't mean that I watched one fight, I studied them for hours and hours, and I still do!"
There has to be a ton of exciting memories from Gökhan's career, but when we try to get him to talk about them, his reply is that we have to wait. "There are so many memories, and every fight has its own story. A loss, for example, could be caused by family problems, an injury or too much partying. But you will get to know everything when my book comes out. It will contain every little story, the life as a sportsman, the guy from the streets, the parties, the training, the fights, everything behind the scenes. I'm working on it now, but I can't say when it will be finished. It feels important to take my time with it, because I really want to include everything. It will be a great book!"
We finish, like always, by asking who we should interview next. "Someone new, a young talented fighter. All focus is always on the old legends. Why not Serkan [Ozcaglayan], my cousin, who's helping me in my preperations? He's exactly me, but a younger version. He won fights thanks to his talent, but he didn't take the training serious. Now we have talked and he listened to me, so he's going all in now!"
Gökhan Saki with his cousin Serkan Ozcaglayan.
Thank you Gökhan Saki, for the interview and good luck with your future endeavors!
Text: Pelle Axelsson
Photo: Benjamin Bayard