EXCLUSIVE | Ozkilic to break new ground at UFC on Fox 9
Alp Ozkilic will have the pride of a nation behind him Saturday when he steps foot inside the UFC cage.
Not only is Ozkilic making his organizational debut at UFC on Fox 9 held in Sacramento but he will be the first Turkish-born fighter to compete in the Octagon.
Ozkilic, an 8-1, 27-year-old flyweight, was picked up by the UFC to face Darren Uyenoyama (8-4) on less than three weeks’ notice in place of injured former contender John Moraga.
“It’s not just any opportunity,” Ozkilic said. “They realize my potential that’s why I’m replacing a guy who was just a title challenger. Morago is still No. 4 and Uyenoyama is close to being in the top 10 and he just lost to (Joseph) Benavidez. It’s not like he lost to some chump. He’s beat Kid Yamamoto before. He has big wins over top guys. I understand how big this is. It’s not just any fight. An impressive win can put me out there.”
Ozkilic will be following on the heels of his close friend, and teammate, Josh Sampo. The pair have been training partners and friends since their college wrestling days and both call St. Charles MMA, located just outside St. Louis and the same gym that houses UFC welterweight Lance Benoist, home. Sampo made an impressive splash in his UFC debut in late November, submitting Ryan Benoit at the TUF 18 finale and earning Fight of the Night honors in doing so.
“It’s awesome,” Ozkilic said. “Sampo deserved this a long time ago. I see him on a daily basis and I know how much he struggles and how much he hustles. Before his full-time job, he was roofing and doing this and that and just hustling from job to job. I’m proud of him. It was emotional.”
Sampo couldn’t fully enjoy the fruits of his labor, missing weight in the Benoit fight and in doing so made him unable to collect his $50,000 bonus.
“Ever since he missed weight people were texting me, asking me questions about it like, ‘oh, he quit and blah, blah, blah,’” Alp said. “I was like, listen, 10-day notice, 25-pounds for a little guy is too much and you guys don’t understand shit.”
A former national Greco-Roman wrestling champion in Turkey, Ozkilic came to the U.S. to wrestle in college. He understands the importance of breaking the UFC ice for his countrymen. As one could imagine, his Twitter and Facebook have been blowing up from Turks all around the globe.
“There is way more pride than pressure,” he said. “So many people have been messaging me since I signed. Turkish MMA fans from Sweden, Germany, England, Australia, you name it. People have been messaging me all positive thoughts. The people around me know how prideful I am as a Turk. I’m excited to put my flag out there and my culture and my people and represent them.”
It was in March of 2012 when the 125-pound division debuted for the UFC and it has been a slow, steady process in building the division. Not only has the organization added Sergio Pettis, Benoit, Sampo, and Ozkilic but recent RFA champ Zach Makovsky has joined the roster and will make his debut this weekend.
“It’s getting packed,” Ozkilic said. “They’re finally investing more money and bringing in more people. A few impressive wins can bring someone into the title picture. I’ve been watching these guys and I know a handful of them ducked me before the UFC to get into the UFC because they knew they’d lose to me outside the UFC and they would never get signed. I’m really excited to go prove why the ducked me.”
Ozkilic has proven he’s not you’re stereotypical flyweight. His devastating knockout of Antonio Banuelos in 30 seconds under the Legacy banner in May proved that little guys can pack KO power.
“If you have knowledge about the sport you will appreciate what flyweights bring to the table,” Ozkilic said. “But if you just enjoy, let’s say violence and slugfests, then go watch the big guys. We bring in a lot of technique, a lot of speed. I’m always going to try and be exciting and put on a show for the fans. Sampo’s proved he can finish fights, I’ve proved I can finish fights, (Joseph) Benavidez can finish fights. It depends what you’re looking for in a fighter.”
Ozkilic signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC but he’s not seeing that as an end-all, be-all to his career.
“It doesn’t blow my mind because with the way things are going anybody can get cut at any time,” he said. “I’m a really marketable fighter, and not just because of my background, but I can actually fight. So a multi-fight (contract) doesn’t really mean that much too me. I’m going to prove that I belong there and that I’m there for a long run.”
Always one to hold his cards close to his vest, Ozkilic was pretty mum about what will be keys to knocking off Uyenoyama and making a huge splash in the division while doing so.
“I don’t really talk about a game plan but expect a lot of pressure from me and expect a lot of having fun from me,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. I’m going to enjoy throwing every single punch and I’m going to have a lot fun winning this fight.”