Gokhan Saki will make his surprising — albeit much-anticipated — Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut this weekend (Fri., Sept. 22, 2017) when he faces off against Henrique da Silva at UFC Fight Night 117 inside Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
So why after years in the kickboxing arena did the former GLORY champion decide it was time to focus full-time on mixed marital arts (MMA), and more important, make his UFC debut? It was simply time.
“If you asked me 10 years ago why not MMA, it wasn’t the time,” Saki told MMA Junkie. “I was still hungry to beat people up in kickboxing. That time, there were still big challenges in kickboxing, which I didn’t have for two years. I decided to stop kickboxing because I wasn’t hungry any more to train and to fight, because there was nobody like in the old times with K-1. So I stopped for 2.5 years,” he admitted.
In 2015, Saki was stripped of his GLORY world title for lack of fighting. To hear him tell it, though, he was waiting for a rematch against Rico Verhoeven that never came, which prompted his move to MMA. Plus, fighting the best in the world on the biggest stage was something he knew would fill a void.
“One year ago, there was an empty place in my heart. Like, I fought for 20 years and I won the title, and I stopped,” he said. “(It was) in my prime. It was not the right time to stop, because I was 30 years old, and I won the title, but didn’t defend it, and also because of a couple of issues with the organization.
I stopped for two years, and I felt an emptiness (in my heart), and I came back on a bigger stage, the biggest martial arts organization in the world, UFC, with a lot of challenge for me,” he continued. “I am hungry again, and it’s time to open a new book and finish my career in the right way.”
With only one MMA fight to his credit -- a loss to James Zikic in 2004 — Gokhan says he feels like a young boy learning all the tricks and trades of MMA at a rapid pace.
“In my mind, it’s like I’m 11 or 12 years old again, learning things very fast again,” he said. “I’m ready to fight for four or five years more.”
It’s no secret Saki prefers to bang it out on the feet, so fight fans -- as well as his opponents -- can expect a heavy dosage of striking once the cage door slams shut.
“I am a striker, and they try to be a striker,” he said. “I’m 100 percent sure I’m going to bring new things to MMA. My style is kickboxing, but my style is special. Why? I can fight everybody. I can fight Thai style. I can fight with a lot of footwork. I can fight big guys.
“So for every fight, I have a different gameplan,” he continued. “I train 20 different systems. Because of that, my style became special. Explosive. Hard. This is what people want to see. I’m sure, they’re not used to this — they’re going to be in shock.”
Question is: Will Henrique da Silva be the first to get KTFO?