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Gokhan Saki explains UFC departure: ‘My body was just not used to this’

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Kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki’s time in the UFC was cut short by a litany of injuries that followed his move from the ring to the cage.

It wasn’t that Saki didn’t want to keep fighting in MMA, he said Monday on The MMA Hour. His body just wouldn’t allow him.

“After the first fight, I got too many injuries,” said Saki, who on Saturday returns the GLORY ring to face UFC vet James McSweeney.

Saki signed with the UFC in 2017 after a two-year layoff from competition and picked up a quick win over Luis Henrique in his octagon debut. But his follow-up against Khalil Rountree at UFC 226 met with disaster after The Ultimate Fighter vet caught him with a punch and knocked him out in the first round.

Leading up to that fight, Saki said he twice injured his knee and then injured his elbow. The transition from the training of kickboxing to MMA after more than a decade in combat sports was a shock to his system.

“My body was just not used to this,” he said. “Then I talked with [UFC matchmaker] Mick [Maynard] that I’m not going to make it any more. I was at the point I was scared to go to a wrestling training that I was going to get injured again. So mentally, I was finished.

“I talked to Mick and told him the situation, and he understood, and the door was open to go to kickboxing.”

“It was very difficult for me, because they gave me so many opportunities, and for my feeling, I needed to give them something back,” he added later. “But I couldn’t. So it was very difficult to call them and explain this, because I know what fighter I am, and I know my own mentality, and for me, it’s hard to call the promoter and matchmaker and tell him. But there was no other option for me.”

Saki didn’t leave MMA with nothing. He took with him “a different way of standup fighting that I’m going to use on Saturday” and was thankful for the experience of working toward a different goal. That said, his love for kickboxing never waned, and when an opportunity arose earlier this year, he jumped.

Were it not for the injury withdrawal of UFC vet Alistair Overeem from a headliner against GLORY champ Rico Verhoeven, Saki said he wouldn’t have fought in the GLORY ring this year. He expected to make his comeback in January or February of 2022. Timing is everything, however, and when the kickboxing promotion called, he said, “I was in a good mood.”

“I was like, f*ck it, I’ve been training for a couple of months, my weight is back to the old school, bn [231 and 238 pounds], and I feel strong again,” he said. “I was like, why not? Sometimes, these kinds of fights are better than the fights you train three or four months for. I need to make my comeback, so this is the moment. Let’s do it.”

Like many legends, Saki’s goal is to win a title and retire from combat sports at the top of the food chain. He wishes things had gone a little differently to get him to this point, but he doesn’t dwell on things that might have been.

Saki wants fans to know he was never cut by the UFC – he was simply released from his contract to pursue another passion.

“I wanted to thank Dana White and Mick for the opportunities they gave me,” he said. “I wish I could show much more, but it is what it is. I hope I’m going to make my comeback this Saturday the right way and give you guys a couple of more good fights and make good of my career.”

Saki vs. McSweeney co-headlines GLORY: Collision 3, which takes place Saturday at GelreDome in Arnheim, Netherlands, and airs via the promotion’s online pay-per-view platform.