Alp Ozkilic punched out WEC veteran Antonio Banuelos in May. | Andy Hemingway/Sherdog.com
Alp Ozkilic is the first Turkish fighter to sign with the UFC, and the flyweight up-and-comer intends to make his mark for himself, his family and his home.
“My parents don’t really understand how big this is,” Ozkilic tells Sherdog.com. “I mean, I am the first and only Turkish fighter to fight under UFC banner. This is the biggest brand of the world now. They don’t really understand why I do this, after going to expensive schools and getting education all these years, but they support what I do now. I think it will sink in, once they see me fight for the UFC and how big it is.
“My siblings are very supportive; my brother is so excited and can’t wait. He always motivates me and boosts up my confidence. I have been also getting a lot of messages and tweets from Turkish fans, and it’s awesome to see them reach out to me like that. It definitely motivates me to a different level.”
Ozkilic, 27, was picked up by the UFC to face Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on Fox 9 on less than three weeks’ notice, in place of injured former contender John Moraga. Until he got that call, the two-time NJCAA All-American and Turkish Greco-Roman champion was slated to face another decorated wrestler, Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, at Legacy Fighting Championship 27 in January. While Ozkilic was looking forward to that fight, he was more than happy to receive his call to the Octagon.
“About a week ago, my manager called me and gave me the good news and said he finally got me the fight,” recalls Ozkilic. “I was so excited! He said it was a short-notice fight, but I didn’t care. I have been waiting for this moment, so there is no way I was going to turn it down. Honestly, I was expecting the call any day. I didn’t have much competition left outside of the UFC, so we were expecting it.”
Although expecting the higher call, Ozkilic credits Legacy for giving him the stage he needed to reach the UFC.
“Legacy definitely helped me get to this point. [Legacy President] Mick Maynard is a really nice guy, and he really cares about his fighters,” Ozkilic says. “My last fight for them, I was supposed to fight Jimmy Flick, a local from Texas, so it made sense to bring an out of town guy like me. When he pulled out, Mick didn’t have to keep me on the card, but he kept his promise and found me an even tougher fighter with a bigger name. I think my performance against Banuelos made everyone realize I was going to be in the UFC really soon, so I really appreciate what Mick has done for my career.”
Legacy is not the only spotlight that has shone on Ozkilic, who is also known for his role as wrestling coach for Dominick Cruz’s team on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15. In fact, Ozkilic is still affiliated with Cruz and continues to work with him at Alliance Training Center in California from time to time.
“I was actually scheduled to go and help with his camp, but I got the call so I will just be finishing up my camp in St. Louis. Maybe I’ll go after my fight. I’m also excited to see him come back,” Ozkilic says of Cruz’s upcoming UFC bantamweight title unification bout against Renan Barao.
Earlier this year, Ozkilic stated that he could “beat more than half the guys in the flyweight roster of the UFC right now.” Now he has his chance to prove that bold claim, starting with four-time Octagon veteran Uyenoyama.
“I think Uyenoyama is a very tough fighter with lot of experience and a jiu-jitsu black belt. I am honored to fight a guy like him, but I am also up for the challenge. I think I already proved that I don't back down from tough competition.
“I have seen some of his fights. I remember watching his [Joseph] Benavidez fight, and I think I am a bad match for Uyenoyama. I don’t want to talk about a game plan, but I’m going to use this opportunity the best way I can. I think the flyweight division is now getting even better in the UFC. There is a lot of talent, and I’m excited to take on some of those guys. I don’t think there is an easy fight in the division. I can’t wait to show my true potential and prove to myself first, that I belong there.”