There’s not a ton of top-line UFC talent fighting this fall. Mighty Mouse and Tony Ferguson are both fighting for titles (sort of) in October, but David Branch just co-headlined a card, and there’s not really that many fights that grab your attention until November’s bonkers Madison Square Garden card. Consider this weekend’s UFC Fight Night event, which features Ovince Saint Preux as the biggest star on the card. It’s cool that the fight will be in Japan and that Dong Hyun Kim will be back in the octagon, but his clash with fellow old guy Yushin Okami is not exactly appointment viewing.
However, there’s one very intriguing debutante who might be worth staying up for on Friday night. Gökhan Saki is a Dutch-Turkish kickboxer who has amassed an 83-12 record with 59 knockouts and one no contest over a 17-year career that he started when he was just 16. Saki has been nicknamed “the Turkish Tyson,” and MMA Fighting referred to him as a “kickboxing legend.” He’s fought at both heavyweight and light heavyweight, winning kickboxing titles and Muay Thai prizes, and in 2004, he took an MMA fight on one day’s notice against UFC vet James Zikic. He lost that one, to nobody’s surprise, but he recently signed a multi-fight contract with the UFC and he’ll make his proper debut tomorrow in Japan against Henrique da Silva.
Saki is shaped like a coffee pot, standing just six feet off the ground, which makes him pretty small for a heavyweight. In fact, most of his losses came against bigger men, and the UFC’s bevy of weight class options should mean he’ll be fighting at his ideal weight, where he’s undefeated since 2009. As a kickboxer, Saki will rely on his striking, which is tremendous. His 59 knockouts speak for themselves, and he punches in fierce little combinations. He’s the sort of fighter who will get in and eat a punch or two in order to land five of six on his opponent, a tendency which makes for very entertaining fights.
Watch how he destroyed Daniel Ghita with relentless punching.
Please enjoy this long highlight reel of his knockouts.
The worry with any striker making the move to MMA will always be how they adjust to wrestling, and thankfully for Saki, the UFC set him up with a fighter who also seems content to fight standing up. The Brazilian da Silva won his first 11 MMA fights by knockout, although he’s since lost three straight in the UFC. Saki is not really a good bounce-back opponent, but his plan is to knock him out too. Here’s what da Silva said ahead of the bout:
I like to strike. I will strike with him.
I’ll walk straight forward and see what happens in the fight.
Go for it, dude. Saki should be able to land that left hook to the body over and over again, and if it does go to the mat, Saki will be ready. He said he’s been training with contenders like Ilir Latifi and Alexander Gustafsson, as well as the Turkish national wrestling team. Every striker with suspect takedown defense boasts about how they’ve learned wrestling, but Saki is enough of a badass that he gets a pass here. His shit-talking game is also good, too, as he’s promised to fight for a belt in 2018 and “knock the fuck out of” anyone who stands in his way.
Saki is 33 and has almost 100 fights under his belt, so even if he is the shit and can walk through da Silva with a highlight-reel knockout, the odds that he’ll become the guy to save the light heavyweight division, or, better yet, the whole UFC aren’t exactly stacked in his favor. That’s fine, he’s untested and could very well turn into a superstar still. But if all Saki is is a world-class kickboxer who livens up any card he’s on with balls-out striking, that will be enough to make him worth watching every time he steps into the octagon.