ISTANBUL -- The largest city in Turkey will play host to GLORY 15 later today. Once the capital of four empires, it's only fitting that on Saturday night (April 12, 2014), the city will serve as the backdrop to the four fighters vying to become the GLORY light heavyweight champion.
The pride of Turkey, Gokhan Saki, will be facing Nathan Corbett in the opening round of the GLORY 15 light heavyweight tournament on Saturday night inside Ulker Arena, with full support of the city, let alone the crowd. The last time he fought in a GLORY tournament, he was at heavyweight and was upset by eventual tournament winner Rico Verhoeven in the semifinals. The knockdown in the first round was a very controversial one, and it still doesn't sit well with "The Rebel."
"After this eight count I get, I was not myself anymore and this was October, it's the past and I don't want to talk about it" the Turkish fighter told MMAmania.com after Thursday's press conference at The Hotel Suadiye. "People who understand kickboxing, a referee who understands how to be a referee, they see that there was something wrong. That's it. Rico won and I am happy for him."
Saki has a noticeable chip on his shoulder, a fierce brooding presence and is very direct when he talks. There is no beating around the bush with him. It is clear that loss still pisses him off, which is not exactly surprising among combat sport athletes. The No. 2-ranked GLORY light heavyweight has undergone some changes since that loss in October at GLORY 11. For starters, he moved to Dubai to seek a change and also, he dropped down to a weight class he hasn't fought at in almost 10 years.
Now sporting a record of 79-16-0 with 56 career knockouts, the 30-year-old fighter gave his reasons behind the move.
"The decision was for me to prove myself at 95 kilos," he explained, brimming with confidence. "Heavyweights, I'm fighting 10 years for the heavyweight and always difference like 15, 20 Kilos. At 95 kilos, I know and I feel that I can show so much more what kickboxing is. That's why I chose 95 kilos and I'm going to show people there is more inside me to show about kickboxing."
Saki has more than held his own against the crème de la crème of the heavyweights in the kickboxing world throughout his career. He has faced all the greats: Badr Hari, Remy Bonjasky, Daniel Ghita, Semmy Schilt and Peter Aerts, among others.
Does he feel he will have an advantage by bringing that experience down to a lighter weight division?
"You will see on Saturday," Saki stated with his usual intense expression. "I don't fight for 10 years at this weight and I feel strong and I am faster than when I am 105. You will just have to wait two days and after two days you can tell by yourself."
Many fighters may have taken a lesser challenge after dropping down to a new division, but not Saki. Being one of kickboxing's elite competitors, he only wishes to face the very best each time out, and all the fighters in the GLORY 15 tournament are ranked in the top 10 of the division.
"I'm at a level where you only need to fight big fighters," he said. "For me, I don't like to fight someone who doesn't have a name, who doesn't have experience. I want a challenge. That keeps me sharp."
While the Mike's Gym fighter wants to test himself against the elite in the GLORY lightweight division and could potentially face the No. 1-ranked GLORY light heavyweight, Tyrone Spong, in the final to decide who will be the GLORY light heavyweight champion and become $200,000 dollars richer, he made it clear at the presser that all his focus is on Corbett.
"The biggest mistake fighters usually make is to think about the final too early," Saki said. "We are professional sportsmen and we should proceed one match at a time, so the main threat for me is with Nathan. As for the others, we will see when it comes on Saturday."
The last time "The Rebel" fought in front of a raucous Turkish crowd was a little over a year ago at GLORY 6. He came out draped in the Turkish flag and defeated Daniel Ghita via technical knockout in the second round. Saki admitted he has "missed" the feeling of the crowd behind him and revealed that he considers that GLORY 6 victory the "best event in my life."
"That shows me why I do kickboxing," Saki said, his eyes widening. "That's what I need. That's what we fighters need. The respect that we get and here you get it. That gives me the will power. In the U.S., it is also like this, but this is my own people. For me, more power."
Saki easily garnered the most attention and was asked the most questions out of all the fighters on the dais. In fact, GLORY announcer Tim Hughes had to remind those attending the presser that there were other fighters available for questioning. For the Turkish media in attendance, Saki was their only interest. It is his week, his native country and all his fans are expecting him to come out strong at GLORY 15.
Will that add any pressure on him leading up to Saturday's fight against Corbett in the opening round?
"No," he answers, shaking his head. "I feel good. This is my place. This is my house. People talk: pressure this, pressure that. I feel nothing. I feel the good pressure. The pressure that a fighter needs to have, but no more than that."