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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Turkish kick-boxing star Gokhan Saki announces himself in style to MMA fans in action-packed UFC Japan card

Brazilian women wage all-out war in the co-main event at Saitama Super Arena

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 1:07pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 12:05am

Former world kick-boxing champion Gokhan “The Rebel” Saki’s huge left and right hands sent shock waves through the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division on Saturday morning in Japan, just as they did through the skull of opponent Henrique da Silva.

The Turkish star’s UFC debut left the veteran Brazilian (12-4) down and out on the canvas at 4.45 of the first round and Saki’s explosive style will have woken a division dismayed by former champion’s Jon Jones’ drug problems and pretty much in disarray.

“This is my house,” Saki declared on victory. “I’m here in the octagon.”

The UFC has returned to Asia in a huge way this year, following their card in Singapore in June, with this morning of mayhem.

Brazilians Jessica Andrade (17-6) and Claudia Gadelha (15-3) waged all out war in their strawweight co-main event which must go down as one of the fights of the year. It wasn’t pretty – deep cuts on the foreheads of both fighters had the claret flowing – but it was brilliant in terms of the battle witnessed Andrade got the referees’ nod.

But first to the Turk.

If the UFC needs a new hero, perhaps it’s found one. The crowd inside the Saitama Super Arena on the outskirts of Tokyo certainly let their feelings be known. Saki later said it felt like he had come “home” such was their wild support.

What made Saki’s UFC debut the more impressive, against a seasoned MMA warrior in the 28-year-old da Silva, was the fact it came after more than two years out of action of any sort, and only three months of serious MMA training.

“In kick-boxing I am used to fighting bigger guys,” said Saki, who gave four inches in height to his opponent.

“The only thing I learned is to train harder. If my condition is better and I train hard I will be much better. Whatever I have to learn, I will learn it.”

Saki was breathing heavy by the bout’s end, even though it didn’t last a round, and he dominated for most of time that it did go, pounding the Brazilian from inside and out.

This man packs some power – as his kick-boxing record of 83-12 with 59 knockouts shows – and will only improve with time, and with experience in the grappling and close-in skills he will no doubt throw himself into crafting.

“I didn’t fight for two and half years because no one would fight me in kick-boxing any more and there was no challenge for me,” said Saki.

“This was a big challenge for me. People told me, ‘You’re crazy. What are you doing?’ Sometimes I thought the same myself. But I’m pretty f***ing happy man. The feeling is back.”

The reward – if you like – for Andrade after handing Gadelha the third loss of her career might be a rematch with world champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-0), the only fighter the Brazilian has lost to at strawweight.

On the evidence shown on Saturday, courage certainly won’t stand in the way of her possibly turning the tables on the lady known as “Champion.” The two Brazilians threw every single thing they had at each other – and just kept on keeping on.

“I have to keep on improving,” said Andrade. “This is for my people and everyone who has supported me.”

The 10-fight card was packed with local fighters and the flamboyant featherweight Teruto Ishihara (10-4) got his act together after taking a few errant knees south of the border from the Philippines’ Rolando Dy (8-6).

The Japanese fighter took a unanimous decision and now looms the prospect of more time in the limelight that so obviously loves him.

The card was rounded out when American light heavyweight Ovince Saint Preux (21-10) made short work of Yushin Okamni (34-11), who’d stepped up two divisions to cover for the injured Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. A shoulder choke ended the matter at 1.15 of the first.

The start might have been an early one. But what a way to start the day.