Gökhan Saki on His First Year in UFC, Exploring the US, and Badr Hari
Saki, who is scheduled to fight Khalil Rountree, Jr. at UFC 226 in July, spent some time with VICE Sports Nederland to talk about work, life after fighting, and his love of nature.
Photo by Dennis Wielders
Gökhan Saki entered the UFC with a bang last year, knocking out Henrique Da Silva in the first round. But afterwards, things did not go as planned for the Turkish Tyson. He injured his knee, had to undergo surgery, and started a long medical rehabilitation.
Now, Saki is on his way back. After the surgery and rehabilitation in the United States, he is currently training in Turkey. We spoke with Saki last year about his plans in the UFC. This time we speak with him about his first year in the UFC, with his fast KO, a nasty injury, and the journey he made throughout the United States afterwards.
VICE Sports: Hi Saki, how do you like your first year in the UFC so far?
Gökhan Saki: I really like it. The beginning was hard, because I took the first fight a bit too soon. Luckily I was ready just in time. I knew Henrique Da Silva was an opponent who doesn’t give up easily and has a good chin. I was also able to wrestle with him a bit and he went down, so the first fight was perfect.
What went wrong afterwards with your knee?
I started to have some troubles with an old injury I got from Glory 1. During training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu my knee started to swell up. In the beginning, I did not want to get surgery and just fight that way. But during my training camp in the US the ligament was torn off. I should have listened to the doctors and got the surgery before this happened, but sometimes you just don’t want to see what’s happening. I just wanted to fight.
So it’s more or less your own fault it got worse than necessary.
It definitely is, yes.
What were the initial reactions from the UFC after your first fight?
They were very excited. Dana White showed that on Instagram as well. The UFC knew what they brought in when they got me. I also got a lot of sponsorships offered after that first fight. The UFC is satisfied, but they wanted to get me long before I signed there. I just wasn’t ready yet.
Michael Bisping said that he expected the UFC to push your debut more, because of your track record in kickboxing. What do you think about that?
I agree with him one hundred percent. I had not fought in almost three years, so they gave me no promotion at all. But I made that event in Japan, because nobody gave a shit about that card. The stadium was full of K-1-fans, just for me. I was not the main event on the card, but I was the main event in the stadium.
I also think the UFC got a little bit scared because of what happened with Conor McGregor. If they push and promote someone like that again, he might become a problem again, you know? But I am going to be a problem for the UFC anyway, because they can not avoid you after two good fights. When you show you can back up what you talk, everybody is going to get behind you. Then the UFC will promote you.
You wanted to fight again shortly after knocking out Da Silva. How difficult was it for you when you heard you had to undergo surgery?
I don’t even want to think about it, man. That situation was fucked up. I felt like I was back, I was so motivated to fight. And then this shit happened, you know? But it is what it is. You have got to learn how to live with it, otherwise you just fall off. I got stronger psychologically. Usually I am twenty pounds heavier when I don’t fight for a month, but now I am still at the perfect weight. I just have to work on my stamina, but I have got plenty time for that.
Do you think fighters will focus on that knee in your upcoming fights?
Man, you know I am a smart fighter. I already came up with something in case that happens.
What did you come up with?
Are you working for the police or something? Haha, I am not going to tell you that. That’s a secret. But if they kick me on the knee, they are going to sleep. Immediately.
You said before that you have to work on you stamina. How is that going so far?
Look, my stamina was not bad in my last fight. But I had not fought in a while and had to find out how to distribute my strength in MMA. Therefore I did not make enough combinations, I had to rely on power and single punches. But I would have recovered good after that first round. I tested in training if my heart rate would have went down and that was fine.
But I want to push it to the maximum. I never really did that in the Netherlands, because I was stubborn. I only did what I thought was best and was not open to learn new things. Now I am open to new things, so I now know I never got everything out of myself. That is my challenge now. I want to know how I fight when I got a million percent out of myself.
What did you change in your way of working?
I changed my whole team. I don’t live in the Netherlands anymore. I asked my Dutch coach Mike Passenier to come over a couple of times, but he is always busy training Badr Hari, it’s always something. I need a coach who is always here with me, so I am currently working with a guy from Italy and I have a few good A-class kickboxers I can train with here. I also train with a black belt jiu-jitsu guy right now.
You stayed in the US for a while after your surgery. What where you up to in those weeks?
I made a road trip with my manager Ali Fardi. I never traveled through the United States before. I always came just to fight and leave. Now I visited some nature parks in California and near Las Vegas, plus some gyms in that area as well. I want to train in America about five weeks ahead of my fights from now on. I visited Jackson Wink and King MMA in California, Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas and Henri Hooft and American Top Team in Miami. I like America, man. I think I would like to live there as well.
How did you like road tripping through the US?
I love nature, man. That road trip through the desert was awesome. I really like to explore new things. I am like Marco Polo, I am everywhere. I have always lived for adventures. When I was younger, I used to travel to different countries on small budgets already. What else are you going to do? Sit on your money? Then you’ll be old one day, without having seen anything of the world.
Is there a place you haven’t been yet, but really want to travel?
Well, it’s impossible now because I am in the UFC, but I want to travel throughout Africa when I am done with fighting. I once had a girlfriend from Tanzania and went there. That was incredible, all those animals and nature. I love it. I lived in Dubai for a while and people thought I lived a perfect life there. But listen, I was actually doing nothing over there. I don’t like that luxury, the restaurants, clubs and all that shit. I liked to go clubbing way back in the Netherlands, when I was twenty years old. Now I like nature better.
Last time we spoke, you told us about your ambitions in the movie industry. Have you made moves in that world so far?
Fardi and I visited WME, an agency for big Hollywood stars like Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I have been in contact with Johnson for a while now. He is helping me and Fardi to find our way into this world. Johnson set up a meeting for us with his manager at WME. He would like to work with us and WME was satisfied with how we run our social media and promote ourselves. The manager said that he would like to work with me after I fight two or three more good fights in the UFC.
A lot happened at Glory since you left last year. Did you see the return of Badr Hari against Hesdy Gerges?
To be fair, it hurt my heart to see Badr like this, because I know how good and explosive he used to be. This time it was different. Maybe it was due to the fact that he was very light, about 102 kilo’s, and the fact that he did not fight for a while. I just hope he trains hard and comes back better. The sport of kickboxing needs him. Without him, you only have Rico Verhoeven in the heavyweight division. But nobody outside the Netherlands knows Rico Verhoeven. What I did like about Badr is that he showed he matured. That is really important in his career at this point.
Maybe Badr wanted to fight out the three rounds against Hesdy, to test his own stamina after his absence.
I think it was just new for him, fighting at this weight. Hesdy is also a weird fighter to be up against, he does not stop. They had some bad blood from their first fight as well and there were a lot of Moroccan fans surrounding the ring. A lot was going on, which is always the case when Badr fights. You have to be able to handle that pressure. I know I can. But I always love to see Badr fight. I lost to him. I would have loved to knock him out cold, but it is what it is.
Are you still in contact with Badr?
No, we never speak, but I am always honest about my opinions.
I believe so far it’s been a good decision for you to leave Glory.
Yeah man, I am done with Glory. They talk a lot, but can’t back it up. Glory is done for. I never talk about my exes. Glory is just an ex I hit a couple of times and then had to fuck off.