Gokhan Saki is kickboxing’s new Light-Heavyweight champion of the world.
‘The Rebel’ clinched the honor with two wins in one night at GLORY 15 ISTANBUL, stopping Nathan ‘Carnage’ Corbett (57-5, 45 KO’s) and Tyrone ‘King of the Ring’ Spong (91-6, 60 KO’s)
in back-to-back fights.
The belt – and winners prize of $200,000 – was presented to him by Pierre Andurand, GLORY Chairman, and Cor Hemmers, Head of Talent Operations.
Saki (81-16, 58 KO’s) faced Corbett in the semi-finals. The arena erupted when he made his entrance, the entire crowd in attendance there to support their chosen one as he came out draped in a Turkish flag and ready to do battle.
Things got moving quickly. Saki and Corbett made their way to the middle of the ring and went straight at it, flinging fast, heavy combinations at each other. Saki quickly gained the upper hand, barraging Corbett with lightning-fast combinations and backing him up around the ring.
Head-kick KO attempts were launched but went wide, much to the disappointment of the gasping crowd. But suddenly a long left hook on the end of a combination landed clean on Corbett’s cauliflowered right ear and split it wide open.
The referee called the ringside doctor in to look at the injury as it poured blood down Corbett‘s right side. The doctor took one glance and declared the fight over, passing Saki through to the grand final.
Spong had a harder route to his own place in the tournament final. He faced the surging Brazilian knockout artist Saulo Cavalari (28-3, 18 KO’s) in a fight which turned out to be as much about willpower as physical skill.
Cavalari had earned his tournament spot with a big knockout win over Mourad Bouzidi at GLORY 12 NEW YORK. His power was proven in that fight, now his toughness would be proven in this encounter with Spong.
He went right at the world-ranked #1 from the opening bell, determined to show Spong that he wasn’t impressed by records or reputation. Spong weathered the early storm then took the fight into a pace he wanted it at.
Cavalari gave as good as he got but more than once he took clean right hands from Spong. Incredibly he managed to stay up and stay in the fight; we have seen those same right hands take out other world-class kickboxers in one. Cavalari simply didn’t allow himself to go down.
The fight went the distance. All three judges saw it for Spong, though it must be said that Cavalari was very impressive and won hearts and minds with his performance. Nobody who saw the fight was in any doubt that they had witnessed the emergence of a serious contender for the top spot.
And so to the final, one which the bookmakers had predicted we would see. Spong emerged first, booed by a crowd which sensed a threat to their hero, while Saki brought the whole arena to its feet for a full five minutes, walking to the ring amidst the flashes of ten thousand camera-phones.
The two had first met in 2009, going into an overtime extra round which Saki won by way of a counter-right hand to Spong’s own right-hand attempt to KO him. They have both been through a lot of changes since then, as people and as fighters, so this rematch was keenly anticipated.
As it turned out, the rematch would be a short one. There were some exchanges back and forth but nothing decisive until Spong unadvisedly threw a hard outside low-kick to Saki’s lead left leg. Saki read it perfectly, raising his shin in defense and forcing Spong to meet a wall of bone instead of his intended target.
Spong’s shin collided full-force with Saki’s raised knee. Saki’s knee won. Spong rebounded from the kick, staggered backwards and fell down, looking at his outstretched right leg with a mixture of shock and confusion.
A slow-motion replay showed the full horror of what had just been inflicted on him. Spong’s shin had folded around Saki’s upraised knee like a piece of rubber, completely incapacitating that leg and ending the fight for him there and then.
The shin-check is a staple defensive move in Muay Thai and kickboxing, designed to at least deter a kicking attacker and at best disable his ability to do so. Shin-to-shin is painful; done full-force it is often severely damaging.
After the event, Cor Hemmers made sure to point out that the victory should not in any way be considered a fluke for Saki.
“He used the perfect defensive technique and what happened was exactly what that technique is intended to do,” he said. “Saki’s defense was timed perfectly and it was in exactly the right place, so it was Saki’s skill, not luck, which produced this victory.”
As for Saki, he already knew what his first act as light-heavyweight champion was going to be.
“Man, it was so hard for me to diet down to this weight. I had to be so careful with my diet and with the amounts I could eat. So I think now I am going to go to McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC – I am going to have them all on one plate!”
And long after that, when it is time to fight again? “I don’t care who it is. I am the champion, I will fight anybody they put in front of me. I am the number one now so I must face anyone.”
In the tournament reserve match, former world=ranked #1 Danyo Ilunga staked his claim to being one of those challengers by starching Romania’s #1 Andrei Stoica with an overhand right late in the first round of their contest.
And in the evening’s main event, Robin Van Roosmalen edged out Marat Grigorian to take a split-decision win (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) after a very fast-paced and hard-fought contest characterized by lightning-fast combinations from both.