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UFC 226 Fight Preview: Gokhan Saki vs. Khalil Rountree Jr.

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Ever since the inception of the UFC, fans have always had a fascination with the rarest of MMA birds — The Specialist. There is something about the question “Is someone so good at one thing that they can beat anybody,” that always gets fans excited. Whether it’s a Jiu Jitsu ace like Damien Maia, a karate fighter like Lyoto Machida or Stephen Thompson, or any of the incredible wrestlers that have come into MMA, we want to see what these people do against “complete MMA fighters.”

Of course, what specialty is most in vogue changes with the times and just as it was with Maurice Smith in 1997, once again it is kickboxing, with several elite fighters from that sport now looking to make their way into the UFC. Last night we saw one of the best, Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya score an impressive five round decision over the respected Brad Tavares. Another one of them makes their American and PPV debut in the Octagon tonight in Gokhan “The Rebel” Saki.

The Turkish Dutch kickboxing great brings an incredible kickboxing record into the cage with 83 wins against only 12 losses, with a crazy 59 wins coming by knockout. That’s even more impressive when we realize that Saki is a natural light heavyweight who has fought up at heavyweight many times in his career, going toe to toe with much bigger men and coming out on top many times. The first ever Glory Light Heavyweight Champion, Saki was near the top of his sport for over a decade, before taking a break from his career in 2015. He shocked his fans when he signed with the UFC in early 2017. Saki had only one pro MMA fight under dodgy circumstances in 2004, when he was just 21 years old, so his fight against Henrique de Silva last September in Japan was essentially his pro MMA debut.

Gokhan Saki (-155)

UFC Record: 1-0
MMA Record: 1-1

Noteable Kickboxing Wins:
Tyrone Spong x 2
Ray Sefo
Nathan Corbett

Also of Note:
59 Kickboxing victories via KO

Khalil Rountree Jr (+125)

UFC Record: 2-2
MMA Record: 6-2

Noteable Win:
Paul Craig

Also of Note:
83.3% Finishing Rate
Fan of The Village People

While he showed the rust and conditioning issues as someone who had fought in two years might, Saki went to war with the bigger and more experienced Brazilian, trading shots along the way and stuffing several takedown attempts. Just as it looked like Da Silva’s experience in the cage might be taking over, Saki unleashed a killer left hook, dropping de Silva and the ref stopped the fight immediately. It right won Saki his first UFC FOTN bonus.

Saki was quickly matched for next fight, which was supposed to happen at UFC 217 in December. The opponent — the formidable Khali Rountree Jr. — a huge striker and TUF 23 runner-up, Rountree was coming off two stoppage wins and the confrontation was much-anticipated, but Saki dropped out with an injury. Rountree was then matched with Polish newcomer Michal Oleksiejczuk. Rountree had a big first round, but then completely gassed out, losing the fight by decision. But the loss was later overturned when Oleksiejczuk got popped for a banned substance. With no harm and no foul, the UFC moved to make the match again, and who can blame them.

Rountree is a huge light heavyweight who has shown some serious power in his career. Whether it was the soccer kicks to the ribs that he finished Muhammad Deresse to get into the Ultimate Fighter House, the knee that put a dent in Daniel Jolly’s face, or the punch that flattened Paul Craig, Rountree can flat-out hit. But he carries a lot of muscle on his frame and seems to gas out quickly. Whatever the reason, cardio has been a big problem for Khalil if he doesn’t finish his man early.

With of all of these factors, there are so many questions going into this fight. First, does Khalil even bother with grappling in this fight, when it could compromise his ability to go three rounds. Is Rountree capable of taking Saki down, especially when Saki has to know that everyone he fights will be looking to put him on the mat. How will Saki’s gas tank hold, given his recent activity and switching from kickboxing conditioning to MMA conditioning? And this might be crazy, but hear me out — does Saki choose to grapple Rountree, knowing that Khalil’s problems have all come against good grapplers?

Ultimately, this comes to this — how does a great MMA striker do against a pure kickboxer. It’s such a fascinating matchup, especially considering both of these men have the ability to end it in instant. But at the end of the day, Saki’s deadly left hook, which has finished so many men before, is likely to be the deciding factor, especially given that Saki looks to be in much better shape than he was last September. No matter what happens, it’s bound to be worth the price of admission.

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