When life presents you with an opportunity, you have to capitalize on that opportunity.
It's not Rimbaud, but it's good life advice nonetheless. And it had to be what Gokhan Saki was thinking. When the UFC hierarchy in your division of choice includes such illustrious names as Patrick Cummins and Tyson Pedro, well, that signals a pretty smooth runway. That's teeing up a title run on a silver platter for anyone with the proper carving tools.
Gokhan Saki has them.
Long known to fight fans the world over as one of the best strikers on the planet, the Turkish-Dutch "Rebel" signed Thursday with the UFC, where he will compete as a light heavyweight.
UFC Europe @UFCEurope
Former kickboxing star @gokhantherebel has signed with the UFC! #WelcomeGokhan 📰 https://t.co/n6FJbEuQJi https://t.co/gcRVkzWLZ22017-5-25 09:00:04
"I'm glad I finally can announce that I have signed an exclusive long-term contract with the UFC," a confident Saki wrote on this Facebook page. "[I am] the best investment the UFC has made since Conor McGregor."
A violent kickboxer with a belt rack to rival Macy's, Saki competed most recently under the Glory banner. But after his relations with Glory hit a melting point over its failure to grant Saki a title shot, he has now, at age 33, thrown his hat into MMA's most glamorous ring.
No debut has been set yet for Saki, although he has expressed a desire to debut later this summer in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. His lack of a firm start date hasn't stopped the MMA community from reacting in the meantime.
Joe Rogan @joerogan
I think a whole lot of UFC light heavyweights are going to double down on wrestling practice. @gokhantherebel is THE TRUTH. https://t.co/IRPPI9AWR32017-5-25 19:36:13
Jonathan Snowden @JESnowden
Elite Kickboxers have had mixed success in MMA. Gokhan Saki has the height and reach of your average welterweight. Not sure about this one.2017-5-25 14:18:53
I'm genuinely terrified for whoever has to step into that Octagon with @gokhantherebel2017-5-25 22:11:17
Michael J. Bautista @MikeJBknows
Wait, WHAAAAT?! Gokhan Saki?!?! @UFC https://t.co/8pilWpXIqT2017-5-11 10:09:58
Saki gained notoriety in kickboxing for his ferocity and, most importantly, his blazing hand speed. He's not exceptionally large for the division—Saki stands 6'0" and 228 pounds with a 73.5-inch reach—but moving that quickly covers a multitude of other deficiencies.
It will be interesting to see whether or to what extent his two-year layoff from competition affected that speed.
Saki has 59 knockouts on his 83-12 (1) pro kickboxing record and has bested names like Tyrone Spong, Ray Sefo, Daniel Ghita and Melvin Manhoef. He held the Glory light heavyweight title and has world championships in muay thai. Although he never won a K-1 Grand Prix, he has gone deep more often than not in one of kickboxing history's most prestigious tournaments.
Clearly, he'll be the best striker in the UFC light heavyweight division immediately upon arrival. Just as clearly, his ground game will be an area his opponents will work to exploit. But there's a pretty good chance UFC matchmakers won't throw him into the cage with Daniel Cormier right off the bat, either.
His UFC debut, however, won't double as his MMA debut. He has, count it, one big MMA fight on his resume: a loss in 2004 to Englishman James Zikic. There's a better-than-good chance he'll avenge that mark in his debut. If the UFC is smart, it'll give him some showcase opportunities to begin his run toward the light heavyweight title.
At an absolute minimum, Saki provides a white-hot spark to a division desperately in need of a jump start. There is certainly opportunity on both sides. We will soon see how capable Saki is of capitalizing.