Sherdog.com’s 2017 Breakthrough Fighter of the Year

By Edward Carbajal Dec 23, 2017


Under the radar in the same calendar year he made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, Volkan Oezdemir has managed to fight his way into a title bout against Daniel Cormier. He did so by coming into the UFC on short notice in a bout with a man who went the distance Jon Jones and would set the pace for breaking through to a championship bid by the end of the same year he made his very own Octagon debut.

Oezdemir made his big show debut in February, when he filled in on short notice as an opponent for the No. 6 ranked Ovince St. Preux at UFC Fight Night 104. Before coming to the UFC, Oezdemir had fought in Bellator MMA and overseas as a professional mixed martial artist. He also touts a 5-0 kickboxing record and was in preparation for a fight at Titan Fighting Championships before getting the call to face St. Preux. History has shown more times than not, a short-notice replacement usually does not come out on the winning side of things.

That was not the case for Oezdemir. In the three round clash, Oezdemir traded shots with OSP, often keeping the light heavyweight contender on his heels. Oezdemir continued to press forward against a man that is not only known for his Von Flue chokes, but for dropping opponents when he’s moving backwards. The fight was close, but Oezdemir made the best out of his late-notice opportunity and earned a split decision in his debut, putting him in the contender race from the onset.

In May at UFC Fight Night 109, Oezdemir made short work of Misha Cirkunov, who was ranked No. 7 in the UFC light heavyweight rankings. A short right hook behind the ear as Cirkunov charged in shot Oezdemir up the ranks (No. 5) in just 28 seconds.

Oddly enough, two months later at UFC 214, which featured the much-anticipated title fight between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, Oezdemir would face Jimi Manuwa, who had begun calling out Cormier for a title fight of his own since he was ranked No. 3. Oezdemir would spoil Manuwa’s plans in just 42 seconds with a knockout that put him in a position to call out the winner of the main event.

“I want the winner,” Oezdemir said after his win over Manuwa. And while the victor was Jones that night, everything that happened afterwards would see the title returned to Cormier.

After fighting three fights in a year’s time and earning a shot at the title, it should be no surprise that Oezdemir is the breakthrough fighter of 2017.

Sherdog’s year-end awards were voted upon by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Jordan Breen, Tristen Critchfield, Chris Nelson, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Todd Martin, Jordan Colbert, Josh Stillman, Jesse Denis, Edward Carbajal and Anthony Walker.

Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu Karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since UFC 1. You can follow Edward on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website, TheBlogBoardJungle.com.

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