Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight strikers Gokhan Saki and Henrique da Silva will battle this Friday (Sept. 22, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 117 inside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Weird rumors circle UFC fairly often, but rarely do they come to fruition. In the case of kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki, however, it all worked out. Despite not having fought in mixed martial arts (MMA) since a single bout in 2004 -- a loss no less — Saki was signed to UFC. And now it’s time to see if he can make an impact. In the interest of keeping this article actually interesting, Saki’s record and key wins/losses in the following section will be his kickboxing record.
Meanwhile, da Silva dropped from promising prospect to potentially washing out of UFC in less than a year. After a 12-0 start with 12 finishes, da Silva has lost three straight and will be fighting for his UFC career.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Tyrone Spong (Glory 15), Daniel Ghita (Glory 6), Anderson Silva (Glory 4), Ray Sefo (K-1 World Grand Prix 2008)
Key Losses: Rico Verhoeven (Glory 11), Semmy Schilt (Glory 4: Tokyo), Badr Hari (It’s Showtime 2012)
Keys to Victory: A Dutch and European Muay Thai champion with a Glory title under his belt, Saki is one of the nastiest strikers on the planet. He’s not the largest man in the division, but Saki’s speed has long separated him from the pack.
In this bout, Saki faces a perfectly reasonable first opponent. Da Silva hits hard enough that Saki cannot afford to be defensively sloppy — defense is definitely different in MMA compared to kickboxing — but is not an overwhelming kickboxer. Simlarly, da Silva can wrestle and has some submissions on his record, but he’s not Daniel Cormier either.
It’s a great first test.
Ultimately, the safest path for Saki would be to wear down his opponent. If he seeks to maintain range and punish his opponent with kicks, he should be able to stay away from the majority of power punches and takedown attempts. Da Silva tends to fade after the first, and that’s when Saki can really let loose and hunt for the finish.
Henrique da Silva
Key Wins: Joachim Christensen (UFC Fight Night 96), Jonothan Wilson (UFC 199), Ildemar Alcantara (KJC 2)
Key Losses: Ion Cutelaba (UFC Fight Night 110), Paul Craig (UFC on FOX 22), Jordan Johnson (UFC on FOX 23)
Keys to Victory: Da Silva is a bruiser. He walks down opponents with combinations of power shots to the head and body. Occasionally, he’ll move into the clinch and hunt for takedowns as well, looking to employ his Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt.
Professional kickboxers have found mixed success inside the cage. Even on the feet, they’re not untouchable, as MMA gloves are smaller and the distance is different. Men like Joe Schilling, Melvin Manhoef, and even Alistair Overeem have been knockout out by men who wouldn’t be able to touch them in the ring. A big part of those losses was confidence. The men who defeated those kickboxers showed them little respect, and that generally pays off. Luckily, the Brazilian “Frankenstein” rarely shows concern for any of his opponent’s punches, and that could pay off here.
To give himself to best chance at victory, da Silva has to go after Saki. If he can push the kickboxer into the fence, his chances at landing a fight-changing punch or takedown shoot up tremendously.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to say.
At the very least, Saki in UFC is a fascinating prospect. If his kickboxing translates well and he can develop some type of takedown defense, he’s an instant contender in a weak division. Those are two very big “ifs,” but Saki is still reasonably young at 33 years old and could potentially make the necessary adjustments to find success.
If not, it was an interesting experiment, and perhaps there’s still room for Saki as an action fighter.
On the other side of the equation, da Silva should be extremely motivated to win this bout. His recent performances have been uninspired at best, and the only reason he’s still on the roster is Light Heavyweight’s desperate need for prospects. A win here would gain “Frankenstein” some interest back and ensure his continued employment, while a loss very likely sends him back to Brazilian regional shows.
At UFC Fight Night 117, Gokhan Saki and Henrique da Silva will throw down. Which man will have his hand raised?