How Gokhan Saki Prepares in Dubai to Conquer the UFC
The Turkish Tyson talks about his split with Glory, and his return to MMA.
Photos by Omar Al Jaddou
This interview first appeared on VICE Sports Nederland.
Gokhan Saki left Glory with a bang last month. The Turkish Tyson had enough. He wanted to fight Glory heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven for years, but in Saki's opinion both Glory and Verhoeven dodged him. Now Saki will return to fighting in the UFC.
If everything goes according to plan, Saki will make his UFC debut on September 2 nd in his hometown of Rotterdam. He is currently preparing for this fight in Dubai, with coaches such as Mike Passenier and Hans Kroon and his management team lead by Ali Fardi. After an absence of two years, Gokhan is looking for a big comeback.
But even though he has not fought in a while, Saki kept busy. He helped Dutch soccer legend Wesley Sneijder and other soccer players to get in shape, while also making his first moves as an investor in Turkish construction. We spoke with Saki about his first MMA training session, his beef with Glory and his ambitions outside the world of fighting.
FIGHTLAND: Hi Saki, how is life treating you these days?
Gokhan Saki: I'm good man, thanks. I'm working hard. It's Ramadan now and the sun just went down, so I just had a good meal, which feels good after training.
How do you feel about the MMA training?
I am doing a lot of wrestling and jiu jitsu at the moment. It is all new to me, but I like it. I would never say this about myself, but it doesn't matter which sport you give me. I will deliver. There are regular athletes and elite athletes. I am the latter.
Who are you training with?
There are 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.
You posted a long statement on Facebook about leaving Glory. What kind of reactions did you receive?
I got tons of reactions. Everybody was very impressed. But I did not hear anything from Glory. They probably feel terrible about the way we brought out that statement. They gave no face. They kept their best fighter away from their champion for three years. When they needed me in the end, they offered me insane amounts of money, but by that time I was done with them.
So Glory offered you a lot of money to stay?
Man, I had the best position to get the most money in kickboxing history from them. But I told them: "I am done with you guys and quitting kickboxing. Send me my retirement contract, I am off to something new." Not everything is about money. Sometimes, when you give someone a hand, they try to take your entire body. I ended that. I was done.
Cor Hemmers used to be your coach and is now a matchmaker at Glory. How is your bond after all this?
Glory tried to use Cor against me, to talk into my feelings, because he was my coach for ten years. But I told Cor: "It is better we don't talk about money. We should keep our bond strong. Let them fuck themselves." A lot happened, but it is what it is. Cor supported me when I told him I wanted to do MMA.
You fought and lost an MMA fight once before, in 2004. What was that like?
Well, I got the call for the fight the night before the fight, while I was walking out of a nightclub in Rotterdam. Cor asked me if I could come to Liverpool to replace a fighter. I was young, hungry and wanted to fight at all times. When I arrived in Liverpool the next day, they told me it was an MMA fight. I did not know what MMA was and asked them what it was. At first I thought it was an insurance company or something. I never trained for MMA and partied the night before, but I endured the fight for seven minute nonetheless.
So, this time it will be different for UFC?
Guaranteed man, it will go down. We are going to conquer the UFC. It is not a done deal yet that I will debut in Ahoy, but I want it and the UFC wants it as well. We only have to see who the opponent will be. We are going to put the Netherlands, Turkey and Dubai on the map.
What does Turkey mean to you?
A lot. My parents come from Turkey and raised me both the Turkish and the Dutch way. I am not into politics, but I think it's a shame that there is a political fight between Turkey and the Netherlands now. Turkey and the Netherlands have always been family. The Turkish people who are born in the Netherlands are Dutch as well. Turkey grew a lot economically in a short period of time, but not the mentality—[it] did not grow as hard.
Why are you not into politics?
When you don't know everything about something, you are just talking about what you hear from others or newsflashes from Facebook and television. Sometimes I hear people discussing politics and I think: Man, you people are really sad, you are wasting your time. People go out to protest, when they don't even know what it's about. They just go along with the mass. You see it all the time on the Internet. When someone likes something, the rest follows. When Kim Kardashian likes something, all the women follow. The world is going crazy.
Yeah, life moves fast these days. There is a new hype every day.
Man, I would be so happy of I woke up tomorrow and there would be no more cell phones, if there would be only phone booths on the streets again. That would be insane. Everything would be cool again. Nothing is fun anymore. When you're having dinner with ten people, everyone is on their phones. Me too. I even have three phones at the moment, one for work, one private phone and one just for Internet.
Do you miss real contact?
There is not a lot of real contact in the modern world. I am single now and everything is too easy. I don't even feel like meeting new women. I already know everything before I meet them, I saw the pictures on Instagram. You can already see what they look like in bikini. Back in the day you had to put in work for that. Now it's nothing.
I can imagine that is even more the case for you as a famous fighter.
Yeah man, that is something I really want to point out as well. When you're out of the game, things are different. When I didn't fight for two years, I immediately saw the difference. Now I am back in the media and a UFC fighter, I get a lot more attention again. Women flock to me again, life is a party now.
What is your life like besides fighting?
When I was mad at Glory, I started to move into the world of investment. I started a construction company in Turkey. I knew a lot of people through the world of fighting, like the owner of the Capital Group, the biggest real estate company in Moscow. This guy used to hangout with stars like Naomi Campbell. I try to get people together for business opportunities and get some commissions that way.
Is this the way you prepare for a life after your career as a fighter?
Sure, I would like to continue that way after I retire. But I also want to help other professional fighters along the way. I would like to fly a couple of talents over to Dubai for training camps. They could then stay here, I would invest money in their careers and do their management.
Are there specific fighters at UFC who you really want to take on?
I don't care, to be honest. I am only interested in myself. It's about me. I fought everyone, from the tallest to the heaviest. Which fighter can give me a hard on at this point? I go there to become a UFC champions. I will take the belt this time next year. After that, I will move on to the next level. I might even do some movies. I already got some offers.
What kind of offers did you get?
I recently got an offer for an American fight movie, with some awesome actors, like Michael Jay White. I trained with him and Ali Fardi a couple of weeks ago. But I would have to travel for that movie and my focus is on fighting now. I want to conquer the UFC now. And if they sell me right, I could become a star in the United States.