Volkan Oezdemir’s first loss inside the Octagon was certainly one to remember, for better or for worse.
After blowing through his last two opponents in a combined 70 seconds, “No Time” found himself face-to-face with light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in the co-main event of UFC 220 on Saturday at the TD Garden in Boston. But there would be no fast finish against Cormier on this night, as the sturdy wrestler avoided Oezdemir’s best shots before taking the fight to the ground in the second round, where he eventually trapped Oezdemir in an inescapable crucifix position before forcing the stoppage with ground-and-pound.
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Oezdemir talked about what went right and what went wrong in his first UFC title opportunity.
“I thought if I would have continued the same pace and the same style I was going [early on], the knockout would come definitely,” Oezdemir said. “I liked my first minutes in the Octagon, I felt really good. I wanted to throw some kicks also, but then I figured it wasn’t really in the gameplan, so let’s not do it.
“I felt good, I haven’t watched the fight yet, so I cannot really tell you how it was. I thought I was able to knock him out.”
The fight looked to be a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, with Oezdemir expected to do his best to keep the fight standing, but the 28-year-old kickboxer was pleased with his ability to hang with Cormier, an Olympic-level wrestler, in his world.
“I think I surprised myself because I know I have a good position in close range, so I felt pretty good,” Oezdemir said. “Upper body work, like Greco and stuff, I work a lot on that. So definitely it was good momentum for me, but then I got caught on the floor once and maybe a second time and then I got stuck. So I don’t really know.
“But I surprised myself. I realized that I really progressed in my wrestling. I took a lot of commitment into my wrestling training and improving on my defense and my offense and everything, so I’m also happy with what I did do in that fight.”
Cormier threatened Oezdemir near the end of round one with a rear-naked choke, although according to Oezdemir, he heard the clapper signalling that there were less than 10 seconds left in the period and he wasn’t in any real danger. Prior to that, he managed to successfully defend a takedown by Cormier, forcing the champ to engage in some heated boxing exchanges.
It was during these exchanges that Oezdemir got a better understanding of how well-rounded Cormier actually is.
“I don’t think he has bad striking at all,” Oezdemir said. “He has this dirty boxing style and it just suits his style, suits his body type. He just boxes really good for his style of fighting and definitely, he’s not going to be the Glory champion facing kickboxers in a kickboxing ring, but in MMA he’s able to stand with anybody. It was the case in all his fights. He takes people down and at the end of the day, he’s just going to go forward and punch them and kick them. So I know he has good boxing because this is to capitalize on his wrestling. I know he’s also dangerous in the standup.”
Regardless, it was Cormier’s grappling that would eventually decide the fight, as he was able to land close to two dozen unanswered punches from top position with Oezdemir’s arms trapped. Though it’s possible that none of the shots would have been enough to turn Oezdemir’s lights out, he had no issue with the stoppage given how the referee’s vantage point.
“It’s fighting, so you gotta go or you’re gonna get knocked out,” Oezdemir said. “Basically you just have to move, you have to get away from that position, but I got stuck and I was able to keep going, definitely. I mark really easily on my face, I get red super easily, but I wasn’t really rocked. Definitely, I would have taken a lot of damage so the referee stopped the fight.”
During his post-fight interview, Cormier was effusive in his praise for Oezdemir, saying that the Switzerland native did a “fantastic job.” Oezdemir is a decade younger than Cormier and he emphasized that he is determined to learn from his first UFC loss, shore up his weaknesses, and someday get championship gold around his waist.
“I will be champion, that’s for sure. I will be champion,” Oezdemir said. “It’s just a matter of time. Definitely, tonight wasn’t my night, Cormier’s definitely one of the best light heavyweights that ever existed. He’s ranked in the pound-for-pound division, so it’s already a great honor for me to fight this guy so early in my career. But my career, I have so many more years in front of me and I’m really gonna make the best out of it.”