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UFC Fight Night 117: Can Gokhan Saki emerge victorious in his UFC debut?

Making his debut at UFC Fight Night 117 in Japan, can Gokhan Saki transfer his world championship winning kickboxing skills to MMA?

With multiple kickboxing world championships in different organizations such as K-1 and Glory, Gokhan Saki is no newcomer to combat sports and with an incredible kickboxing record of 83-16, Saki is definitely a dangerous opponent. But as we know, it doesn’t always translate into MMA. Saki has previously fought in MMA suffering a loss, but that fight was 13 years ago, so not only has his kickboxing game evolved since then but there’s no doubt he’s improved in all aspects of the sport.

With 59 of his victories coming by way of knockout Gokhan Saki has been giving the unofficial nickname “The Turkish Tyson of Kickboxing”. Saki started training kickboxing when he was just ten years old, which has given him 23 years to perfect his craft and it shows. Being a multiple time world champion with notable victories over fighters such as Tyrone Spong, Melvin Manhoef, Nathan Corbett, Daniel Ghiță and Ray Sefo there’s no doubt Saki is going to go down as one of the best kickboxers to ever compete in the sport.

“The Rebel” hasn’t fought since 2015, so one can only assume during this past two-year break he has been preparing for his next venture into MMA. But is two years enough for an elite athlete to pick up on the other elements required to build a future UFC champion? It seems unlikely, but Saki is adamant he will demolish the competition and hold the light heavyweight title by the end of 2018. In an interview with Ariel Helwani on “The MMA Hour” Saki went on to say:

I know if I want something, I will work hard for it and I will make it. I’m thinking this time next year I’m fighting for the title. I’m ready, man.

With that being said, many other fighters have transitioned from kickboxing to MMA successfully, including former Bantamweight Champion Holly Holm, and #1 ranked Heavyweight Alistair Overeem who has previously faced off against Saki in the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix. Overeem came away with the win when the referee stopped the fight after Saki suffered a broken arm during an exchange.

Goodbye Glory

Saki left Glory Kickboxing on a bad note marking the end of his kickboxing career, releasing a lengthy statement on his Facebook page which can be found here. In summary, Saki voiced how he was frustrated with Glory for not organizing a rematch between himself and Rico Verhoeven, and even accused them of protecting Verhoeven from him, which is why Saki signed his retirement contract.

I’m STOPPING with GLORY. For my fans hereby the explanation the facts about Glory and Rico Verhoeven.

I left Glory Kickboxing on 3 May. All the owners/co-owners etc of Glory have discussed this and they signed my Retirement Contract and I received it back on 3 MAY.

After 5 months being kept on a line, for me it was done, i had a lot of other deals but i kept waiting to fight Rico or for Glory. The waiting is over, tired of it. Glory Kickboxing is playing politics to keep their ‘champion’ Rico Verhoeven safe for his renewal contract that had to take place end May or begin June. If he would lose against me, his position towards Glory would have been weakened. Rico Verhoeven and his team and also Glory did not want to expose their Champ to such risks.

Keys to victory

Now in Dubai, Saki is doing everything he can to prepare himself for his UFC debut and make the transition to MMA as easy as possible. Telling VICE Sports he is training with world champion wrestlers and high-level jiu-jitsu practitioners.

There a lot of Russians, Iranians and Brazilians here in Dubai. The Russians and Iranians are good at wrestling, some of the guys I train with are world champions. The Brazilians are good at jiu jitsu.

Saki's opponent Henrique Da Silva may be on a three-loss streak, but before that had an impressive 12-0 record with all 12 victories coming off of finishes. With Da Silvas most recent loss coming by way of knockout in June of this year there's probably not much of a chance he will risk striking with an elite level kickboxer like Saki, and with a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, Da Silva is likely to be looking to take the fight to the ground. So there lies the question everybody cannot wait to see answered, has Gokhan Saki been able to incorporate wrestling and jiu-jitsu into his game successfully? 

If Saki has made the correct adjustments, can control the range and be able to keep the fight standing up, then there's an excellent chance of making his UFC debut a successful one, while putting on a show for the fans by displaying his overqualified kickboxing skills. If Henrique Da Silva takes Saki to the ground it will be interesting to see what happens as it will more than likely go one of two ways: either Da Silva wearing down Saki with some ground and pound then pulling off the submission win, or Saki being able to maintain a level head, get back to his feet and continue striking. Even though there are no doubts that Gokhan Saki has been relentlessly training in grappling, I doubt he will have enough experience to out grapple Da Silva.

Prediction: Gokhan Saki to walk away with the victory by KO/TKO within the first two rounds

 Let us know your prediction in the comments below.

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Brendan Allen

MMA watching, podcast listening, video game playing guy who probably enjoys hip hop music a bit too much. I'm trying to make a healthier version of myself and so far I'm 12 kilos down, I work out a few times a week and eat healthy(ish) but it doesn't always go to plan since it's hard to say no to a good time.

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UFC Fight Night 117: Can Gokhan Saki emerge victorious in his UFC debut?

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