It's been well over a year since Gokhan Saki defeated Tyrone Spong in the GLORY 15 tournament final to win the GLORY light heavyweight title at Ulker Sports Arena in Istanbul, Turkey.
During this time, Saki, 31, failed to come to agreement with GLORY brass on a new contract, and due to GLORY rules stating a champion must defend his strap within one year, he was forced to vacate his title without ever attempting to defend it.
GLORY held out past the one-year deadline in hopes of coming to terms with Saki in time for him to defend the title on the Bellator 142: "Dynamite" hybrid card featuring GLORY kickboxing matches, but they were unable to do so. GLORY 18 tournament winner Saulo Cavalari and Zack Mwekassa will now fight for the vacant light heavyweight belt.
The obvious reason for the impasse between Saki and GLORY is money. It's often been rumored that Saki was making $200,000 or more in his previous fights with GLORY and since Jon J. Franklin has taken over the reigns as CEO last August, all costs have been cut significantly, from fighter salaries through the production budget.
GLORY simply can't afford to pay Saki or any fighter that kind of money any longer, and "The Rebel" doesn't want to budge on his bottom line.
"We keep our entire fight budgets in that range," said Franklin when asked about the $200,000 or more that Saki is said to have been making. "I won't give you exact numbers because they obviously vary from fight to fight. Heavyweight title fights, of course, cost more than some of the fights on the Superfight Series with trying to bring guys coming up. I'm not going to confirm or deny any numbers, but numbers such as that are big numbers. If you look at GLORY 4, with a 16 man heavyweight tournament with all the top heavyweights in the world, that budget is obviously not a budget we could hope to run a sustainable business off of."
The kickboxing icon released an official statement on Kickboxingplanet.com (via Liverkick.com) last Wednesday (July 29, 2015) expressing his disappointment in being stripped of his title and also to voice his displeasure for GLORY.
"The title that I have trained hard for, fought hard for, and earned with my blood, sweat, and tears is now taken away from me," Saki said. "The respect that people have for me, it is not given, it is EARNED! I have always been humble and polite, but maybe now it is the time to change that a bit, no more mister nice guy!"
Saki then ripped other fighters in the division, specifically Mwekassa, Cavalari, and Danyo Ilunga, saying, "No one knows them." He brought up his popularity on social media, and knocked GLORY's talent level saying the promotion puts on "B-shows with B-fighters" and "Bellator fans and the people in the USA are not going to see top quality kickboxing and this is bad for the sport."
Franklin gave some perspective on the situation with the disgruntled former champion saying, "I mean, when it comes to stuff like that, I am basically un-insultable. I don't know how the other fighters feel about it. I know that we are on the right path to making this a sustainable business with the goal of longterm value for our owners, and a place where the best kickboxers in the world can show their skill to the biggest audiences in the world. We have to do what need to do to get there and Mr. Saki needs to do what he needs to do to try and maintain his brand. Hopefully along the way, he will recognize the exposure and the publicity we can give to him and ultimately as the level of the water rises for everyone, we can all do well together."
Saki recently fought for the Global Fighting Championship (GFC) promotion in Dubai and won a unanimous decision over Sebastian Ciobanu on April 17, 2015, and he was apparently paid well for his efforts. But fighting for a promotion based in Dubai, pales in comparison to the exposure Saki could have fighting for GLORY and having his fights shown on Spike TV.
"He went out and fought in GFC and I think they paid him a lot of money," Franklin said. "I don't know what their future is over there in Dubai. Maybe he is going to have some opportunities with them in the short term. I hope he comes back to us for the long term. Or even the short term. Ultimately, I still open the door to coming up with a plan that works to bring him back in the GLORY fold."
The GLORY CEO said that since he's taken over the world's leading kickboxing promotion, he has renegotiated contracts with "basically every athlete on the list except for Saki," and that the situation is "a little more complicated" than just the amount that "The Rebel" was getting paid. There was also an issue with him dropping down from heavyweight to light heavyweight, which Franklin explained could be a significant difference in value.
"He is, of course, welcome to fight at whatever weight class he wants, but some weight classes are worth more than other weight classes," said Franklin. "Heavyweight champion of the world might mean a little bit more than light heavyweight champion of the world. So, there were financial issues along those lines, too. We offered him fights and tried to come to terms with him and we kept at it up all the way through to a year now. In fact, I went and spent the afternoon with him when we went to Dubai (GLORY 20) to try and come up with some ideas that were doable for both Mr. Saki and ourselves including some big fights in Turkey. He would sell tickets in Turkey for sure.
"When I saw him in Dubai we sat down together and we had a nice lunch and we had a long chat," he continued. "I think there is definitely some common ground. I enjoyed my time with him and I thought we were getting pretty close and like I said, I hope we can come up with a plan in the future that works. But, at some point you have to keep the business going and that is what we decided to do. It's not fair for the other guys in the division, either. They've got to have some goals to fight for and if the title is being held up for over a year, you have to appreciate that there are other athletes in there that deserve a chance to hold that belt."
Franklin understands Saki's point of view, but in the end, he is out for GLORY's best interest. He said he's exhausted the avenues of ideas on how to try to get the kickboxing legend back into the fold and will continue to leave the door open for the possibility of his return. Those discussions included offering Saki a percentage of the gate, as well as other incentives.
If the 16-year veteran was losing out on his old salary number, he could have the opportunity to make up for it in other ways.
"A lot of different ideas went back and forth and that's why it took a year," Franklin explained. "We came up with all kinds of ideas. TV rights fees and things like you just mentioned. Just some creative ideas to try and get him where he wanted to be that were win-win for all of us. Share the risk, sort of things. If fighters can help to drive revenue for GLORY, we want to help drive revenue for them.
"Like I said, there are some incentives in there. My goal in talking to Gokhan Saki was to come up with a win-win for both of us. Whether that's based on some percentage of some money he could bring in from Turkey, or ultimately, if he is bringing revenue to GLORY he should share in some of that revenue. Basically we tried to be very flexible with him. He was our light heavyweight champion.
"We were also trying to be flexible in a way that keeps us in business and ultimately come up with some ways to make him some money, as well. We are hoping that ultimately, some of the ideas that he has come up with and some of the ideas that we came up with will play out and we will bring him back to GLORY, but for now we will move on without him."
At the end of the day, Franklin is a fan of Saki and has the utmost respect for what he has done for the promotion over the nine fights and three tournaments that he's taken part in. The door will remain open despite the ill will the Netherlands native has shown toward the promotion and Franklin hopes he can one day bring the fighter known as "Turkish Tyson" back into the fold.
"Ultimately he is part of GLORY's short history and we want to see him part of GLORY's long history. But he has to understand that there has to be history to be made in the future and part of that includes a little bit of sacrifice from everybody."