Illustration: Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com
UFC 226 is now available on Amazon Prime.
Former kickboxing world champion Gokhan Saki will step into the Octagon for the second time when he battles Khalil Rountree at UFC 226 this Saturday in Las Vegas. Saki was one of the most accomplished kickboxers of the 2000s -- a decade that is considered one of the best in the sport’s history. With contemporaries like Badr Hari, Ray Sefo, Peter Aerts and Semmy Schilt, he did not travel an easy path to success. Saki was the first Glory Kickboxing light heavyweight champion and has placed in five K-1 Grand Prixes, including first in 2008 and third in 2010.
This edition of The Film Room puts the 34-year-old Dutchman under the microscope.
The Dutch Rebel
In his kickboxing days, Saki was known for his aggressiveness and ability to punish opponents in the pocket. He was never much of a kicker and usually relied on classic inside boxing tactics to wear down opponents before finishing them off with an unexpected kick. Saki spent most of his kickboxing career at heavyweight, where he was always the smaller man. Due to his size disadvantage, he had to learn the inside game and use his speed and aggression to disrupt his opponents’ reach advantage.
Saki uses his pressure and speed to back down bigger men and pick them apart with a varied attack to the head and body. He utilizes a tremendous amount of lead-hand work and loves to throw a lead hook to the body to drop the opponent’s guard and then immediately throw a lead hook to the head. This was a go-to combo for boxing legend Mike Tyson.
Saki claims Fedor Emelianenko as one of his fighting heroes, and his tactics in MMA thus far have proven eerily similar to those of the former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder. The low guard, the slight bounce to his feet and even the left straight all resemble Emelianenko. Saki has been training strictly kickboxing for most of his life so his punches are much cleaner, but the similarities are undeniable.
A big conundrum in transitioning from kickboxing to MMA is the difference in the gloves. It is easy to rely on taking shots on the gloves for defense in kickboxing, but that is impossible with the smaller gloves in MMA. Saki seems to have had some trouble adjusting to the defensive changes in MMA; he lost his first fight by knockout and was caught clean a few times in his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut. However, like anything in life, the yin comes with the yang, and the smaller gloves have allowed Saki’s already-accurate and quick punches to come even faster and with more accuracy.
Saki clearly recognizes his defensive issues in MMA and has become a much more patient striker. Even with the finish near against Henrique da Silva at UFC Fight Night 117, Saki took his time and intelligently picked his strikes so not to overextend and open himself up for counters. In his kickboxing days, he would have swarmed for the finish and used his gloves to defend returning strikes.
Saki’s countering instincts have also transferred well to MMA. Against da Silva, Saki landed a back-skipping counter right straight early in the first round and later finished the fight with a counter lead hook. If you questioned Saki’s power before, the knockout with his feet square should erase the doubts. Being able to generate that amount of power without the room or stance to properly turn over your hips is astounding.
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