The Return of Gokhan Saki

By Blaine Henry Oct 21, 2021

One of the most intriguing stories associated with Glory “Collision 3” involves the return of Gokhan Saki, who marches back into the kickboxing world after his stint in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Saki takes on James McSweeney in the co-main event this Saturday at the GelreDome in Arnhem, Netherlands, where he looks to make a big splash for his longtime fans.

Saki has received a warm welcome, as he prepares for his first kickboxing match since 2015. The Turkish legend grew in popularity during his run in K-1 and fought for Glory in its formative years. Once the opportunity arose, Saki jumped at the chance to fight sooner than he had anticipated.

“I’m just happy I can come back,” he said. “It was three years ago [that] I had my last fight [in the UFC]. I was talking with Glory after I stopped. We were planning on fighting next year and then they came with this offer, and I was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ I’m very excited about it. I feel very good, and I feel happy for the warm welcome. I’m happy that the fans are happy that I’m back.”

Saki was a seasoned and accomplished kickboxer when he transitioned to MMA. He admits he longed to return to the sport of his youth.

“I missed kickboxing,” Saki said. “It’s a part of my life for 30 years now. I started kickboxing when I was 10 years old. I stopped like five years ago, but in my mind, I never stopped. That was the situation and there was no kickboxing for me, but I was always like, ‘I have to finish it the right way. I have to fight kickboxing a couple more times and give my fans what they expect from me.’ I’m happy that I have this chance again and to show them what they missed.”

Saki was torn between kickboxing and soccer during his childhood. He recalls his struggle with the team aspect of the latter and how that played into his decision to go into kickboxing.

“I was very good playing football, but one on one was more of my thing, because if they don’t give me the ball, I was waiting for them after the game; and next time if you don’t give me the ball, I will beat you up,” Saki said with a chuckle. “I think one on one was more of a thing for me. My love for football was over because of kickboxing. That was at a young age. I was watching ‘Rocky’ movies, and I was watching Prince Naseem [Hamed]. He was one of my favorites. I was just done with football, and kickboxing was more my thing.”

The decision to return to Glory was rooted in the depth of its heavyweight division. While there are some competing kickboxing promotions, none offer what Glory does in terms of competition.

“Glory is the biggest kickboxing organization,” Saki said. “You have other big organizations, but heavyweight is in Glory. Glory is also after K-1, where everything starts again. I was part of the game from the start, but I was out for a couple years and I come back again to make Glory big again. Glory is the UFC of kickboxing.”

Kickboxing is currently experiencing something of an exodus to mixed martial arts. Alex Pereira and Cedric Doumbe have both chosen to pursue MMA careers, and current interim Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder Ciryl Gane once elected to sign with the UFC instead of Glory.

Glory “Collision 3” is exclusively available on pay-per-view and can only be purchased online at www.gloryfights.com. You can purchase and stream the pay-per-view for €19.99, £17.99 or US$24.99 from anywhere in the world.

“If you win everything in kickboxing and there is an opportunity to fight MMA for a big organization like the UFC, then why not?” he said. “It’s always good to test yourself, and if you win all the fights and there is no challenge anymore for you in your eyes, then you have to prove to yourself.”

As someone who crossed over to MMA, Saki issued a warning to those who choose to follow in his footsteps.

“It’s not that easy, but I think Cedric Doumbe and Alex Pereira have the X factor to start to do MMA,” he said. “They have good footwork, [and] they have good eyes, which is very important in MMA. These guys are next level. There is potential. They have the reaction [and] the footwork, like I told you. These things are most important if you want to go to MMA. It’s standup and at the same time it’s wrestling, and you need to have good eyes for that. These guys have that. They only need to work a lot. They need to work a lot on their defense when they have a fight, but when they don’t have a fight, they need to learn to attack, because when you learn to attack, you learn defense automatically.”

While Saki competed in MMA for a short time, he always felt the tug of kickboxing.

“For me, MMA is hard for to get adapted to,” he said. “You have wrestling. You have kickboxing. Because of MMA, [you have] wrestling, weights, running, you have all this training all the time. What I felt like was, I’m leaving my standup behind too much. It was a race for me. I was in a rollercoaster, then I got injured. If you’re coming from kickboxing, you have to be very smart with training MMA. Don’t train too long, and do what is needed. Don’t go for crazy things. That’s what I can give from my experience.”

Now, Saki comes back to what he does best. Glory “Collision 3” serves as a launching pad.

“If they want to see action, that’s the reason you’re going to watch,” he said. “There’s a lot of good fights. Me, as a fighter, I would not miss it. For the fans in Holland, it’s so big. Normally only kickboxing fans come to the event, but the last time I was at the Badr Hari fight and I saw people I never see at kickboxing events. The sport is growing, and this upcoming event is one of the events to watch and for new people to love kickboxing.”
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