5K Exclusive: Mostapha Al Turk: "I don't duck or dive anyone"

Gavin VincentCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2010

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It's not been an easy path so far for Mostapha Al Turk in the UFC. Handed dangerous French striker Cheick Kongo for his debut, the Lebanon-born British heavyweight was defeated inside the first round. Not one to complain, Al Turk handily took a fight with a resurgent Mirko ‘Cro Cop' Filipovic, an undetected eye-poke later, and Al Turk was 0-2 in the UFC.

With two defeats and a career on the line you would expect the 36-year-old to look for an easy victory, but instead he was booked to take on a member of the legendary Gracie family, in what would be Rolles Gracie's Octagon debut.

However, in what would be another cruel twist to Al Turk's career, visa issues dashed the former Cage Rage heavyweight champion's hopes of facing Gracie, and it was Joey Beltran who profited from Al Turk's bad luck, impressively beating Gracie.

One of the most genuine and articulate fighters you will ever meet, Al Turk recently spoke to FiveKnuckles.com and revealed that he believes his UFC career is not over just yet.

5K: Firstly, what problems did you have prior to the Rolles Gracie fight?

Al Turk: Yeah I just had a problem with my visa. For some reason they granted me the visa on the Friday, which was the day before, so I couldn't get there or fly on the Saturday. It was just a breakdown of communication on both parties behalf, it's not like I have a criminal record!

5K: How disappointed were you that you didn't get to fight Gracie, especially after Joey Beltran took the fight and won?

Al Turk: I was obviously disappointed, but I believe everything happens for a reason and when one door closes another opens. I now have an opportunity to fight in Abu Dhabi.

5K: What changes have you made to your training now you are set to face Jon Madsen?

Al Turk: It's quite different now, a lot more wrestling, a lot more takedown defense. He is obviously a good wrestler so we have been working on that. It's quite hard on the old body though, I have been through one 12 week training camp and now another!

5K: How will you try and deal with a strong wrestler like him, will you look to stand?

Al Turk: I don't mind, whatever happens, happens and I'll just look to take advantage.

5K: Is your UFC career on the line?

Al Turk: Obviously it could be if you get beat, but I'm not concerned. I mean look, in my last fight I got poked in the eye, but I shook his hand and I didn't kick up a stink. I have kind of resigned myself to that now and I'm not going to dwell.

5K: Do you feel that you have been given a very difficult first few fights in the UFC?

Al Turk: Yeah maybe. I would have preferred to work my way up slowly. But those were the guys they put in front of me and I had to fight.

5K: Did you ask for those ‘name guys' and did you see a benefit to fighting them? Or do you feel you had to do it the hard way?

Al Turk: There is a benefit, if I was to beat one of those guys then that would have been great. However, you're only as good as your last opponent and those guys are some of the best.

5K: What do you make of the heavyweight division now? With guys like Brock (Lesnar) and (Shane) Carwin getting bigger and bigger does that make it harder to compete? Would you consider dropping weight?

Al Turk: I couldn't really cut weight. I'm one of those heavyweights who is kind of middle of the road. I'm not one of the heavier ones and I'm not one of the lighter ones. I walk around at around 112 (kgs) or 224-pounds, so for me to cut weight would be difficult. But yeah, it is tough with all these giants.

5K: How do you feel now about the eye poke? I heard that you contested the decision?

Al Turk: Yeah my management contested it you know. But that was at the time. My eye is still not completely right. I went to see a specialist and he said my pupil won't constrict properly so it is still a little blurry. When it happened I panicked, because it's your eye. I kind of felt it pop, so I panicked and turned and I shouldn't have done that. I wouldn't ever turn in training so that was a mistake. I lost that fight but I panicked and at the time the fight wasn't more important than potentially losing an eye.

5K: What do you make of the British heavyweight division? We have a lot of guys coming through at lower weight classes in the UFC, is there anyone we should look out for in the heavyweight division?

Al Turk: Well Karlos Vermola is doing really well, he's a tough kid and he's improving all the time. Then there's (James) Thompson, he's no joke man, that guy is serious.

5K: Can you tell us a little about your background, about how you got into MMA?

Al Turk: It's actually very strange really. I come from a real middle-class background. My father was a doctor and I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I was working and training, I have always trained, and you only regret what you never do, so I thought I'd give it a go.

5K: I hear you had an accomplished grappling career?

Al Turk: Yeah I used to do about three or four tournaments a year. I kept winning so I went to Abu Dhabi, but I lost on points to Gabriel Gonzaga in the final. It was only three points and it was a real eye opener.

5K: It is not something we have seen a lot of in your fights, could that be a tactic against Madsen, to put him on his back?

Al Turk: Like I said, whatever comes, comes. You have to be open minded in this sport. If I am given the opportunity then you can't rule anything out.

5K: Did you have many amateur fights? If so how did they prepare you for a professional career in MMA?

Al Turk: Yeah, I had a couple of amateur fights. I also had a few amateur boxing and submission wrestling. They were very good preparation, but I have always seemed to go in at the deep end.

5K: You started your professional career with two defeats, how did you cope with that at the time?

Al Turk: Well the first one was extremely hard, I don't mind if you put in one hundred percent and get caught. But I wasn't mentally ready. I didn't have my family or my work on my side, they didn't agree with what I was doing. MMA was really still in it's infancy and I was doing it kind of hush-hush, so I wasn't quite ready.

5K: Tell us a little about your camp, London Shootfighters.

Al Turk: It's great you know. I have a lot of good people around me. I work with quite a few pro boxers and I have quite a selection of people. I think variety is very important, especially in my division, and I have that there.

5K: Who have been the main influences on your career?

Al Turk: Paul (Ivens) and Alexis (Demetriades) my coaches at London Shootfighters.

5K: What improvements has British MMA made over the past few years?

Al Turk: You can see the skill level is becoming much more apparent. Younger guys are coming through more rounded, they start a lot younger and so they absorb things much better. The trainers have increased and you see a better balance of disciplines.

5K: You were the Cage Rage heavyweight champion, how much of an impact did they have on British MMA?

AL Turk: Cage Rage was, at the time, the number one show over here. It was really well organized and ran by good people. I'd say it really helped put MMA on the map here in the UK.

5K: Give us your take on Dan Hardy's chances of becoming the first British UFC champion, and what will it mean for the sport over here?

Al Turk: It would be amazing; it would give it so much publicity. Everyone's behind him here and will be cheering him on. He has a real good chance, he is a very talented guy and I wish him the best of luck.

5K: Finally, I can't not ask you this, James Toney, what do you make of his signing and would you step forward to fight him?

Al Turk: Well, I wish him the best of luck and we will see what's going to happen. I don't duck or dive anyone, and I will fight anyone they put in front of me. But right now I won't be looking past my opponent. I have one opponent and that is Jon Madsen.


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