Respect. Respect is what Gokhan Saki earned at GLORY 15 Istanbul.
Going into Saturday’s GLORY 15 Istanbul I found myself concerned. Not concerned over how Spike TV’s ratings would be or that any fighter was in any danger, but I was concerned that the Gokhan Saki that we saw in Chicago at GLORY 11 would resurface again. I was concerned that the local fans in Istanbul would not only give him a pass, but cheer him on. The Saki that I’m referring to is one that found it prudent to shove a referee and let his emotions get the better of him. The Gokhan Saki that had lost his way.
The months following GLORY 11 were a bit frustrating for long-time fans of Gokhan Saki. Saki was angry, very angry, because he lost a fight that he felt that he should have easily won and that he was wronged by the official. All fighters have tough nights and that night Saki had one. The problem was that Saki, whom had endeared himself to fans for years for not only being a scrappy, talented fighter, but a guy who loved his fans and wouldn’t let them down, was letting people down. I know that he let me down with the talk about lawsuits, being robbed and even potentially leaving GLORY for another organization because of a referee’s missed call. We’ve seen referees make the wrong call in the past before and know that the organization has no control over it and that referees have a very tough job.
What was tough to stomach was that Rico Verhoeven worked very hard for his tournament victory and that night that helped to define his career. That night was forever tainted and in a way, taken away from him, due to Saki’s words and actions post-fight. Now legions of fans would view Verhoeven’s big night as “tainted,” something that a guy like Saki should understand all-too-well from all of his battles. Saki has had nights with controversy in them before, just like he’s had disappointment and heartbreak before.
This is why at GLORY 15 Gokhan Saki was able to not only prove himself to be the great fighter that he is, but the great sportsman that we all knew that he always was. Saki found himself against two of the best fighters in the world, with both fights ending via stoppage due to injury. Those injuries, without a doubt, came from Saki’s work. In the case of Nathan Corbett, Corbett took a left hand to the ear that almost tore his ear off, requiring him to have plastic surgery to repair it. Saki was graceful in his victory and was legitimately concerned and supportive of Corbett after the fact.
Then came the main event against Tyrone Spong. This was the fight that we were all waiting for and that we all wanted to see something that we didn’t end up getting. We wanted a war, we wanted a classic, we wanted the rematch. Instead, Saki went to check a leg kick and Tyrone’s kick was a bit high, connecting on his knee and instantly snapping his shin. Saki didn’t run around celebrating, even though he had just won $200,000 and the GLORY Light Heavyweight Championship. Saki didn’t cut an interview saying how he meant to do that, or that he knew he could have broken Tyrone’s leg. No. Saki immediately ran to check on Tyrone and remained humble throughout the rest of the night.
Gokhan Saki wanted the win and will remain proud of his victory, but he didn’t want to win in that way. He knows that an injury like that isn’t common and that the fans wanted to see Saki pick up a clear-cut victory over Spong. Saki also knows that his fellow competitors are human beings just like him, especially after he moved from the Netherlands to Abu Dhabi due to personal reasons and needing to clear his head. What we saw from Gokhan Saki at GLORY 15 was enough to remind us that Gokhan Saki is not only a skilled, powerful and talented guy, but that he’s a fighter that fans can be proud to be a fan of.
Kickboxing and GLORY didn’t need an angry, resentful Gokhan Saki, they needed this Gokhan Saki. This Gokhan Saki as one of their champions can only help GLORY and the sport of Kickboxing in the long run. This Gokhan Saki is the guy that I’m a fan of and will always be excited to watch step into the ring. I'm proud to consider myself a fan of Gokhan Saki.