Volkan Oezdemir’s story is a wild one.
At the end of 2016, the Swiss light heavyweight was a relative unknown, flying under the radar of all but the most hardcore MMA fans. In early February of 2017, he defeated recent interim title challenger Ovince St. Preux by split decision in a short notice fight, usurping the number-five spot in the UFC light heavyweight rankings as a result. His was an unprecedented leap from relative obscurity into UFC light heavyweight title contention.
“It’s crazy,” Oezdemir said of his rocket-fuelled rise into contention. “Things moved so fast for me. Now that I’m in the UFC, people see me differently. People sort of respect me more and stuff like that.”
Shortly after bursting into light heavyweight contention with his defeat of St. Preux, Oezdemir was pencilled in for a fight with streaking Latvian-Canadian contender Misha Cirkunov. The two will battle in the co-main event of the UFC’s May 28 trip to Stockholm, Sweden. Oezdemir views this fight as his chance to prove he truly belongs in the light heavyweight top-5.
“I think I need to prove [to the fans] that I deserve to be in the top-5,” he said of his upcoming fight. “The top-5 is different. It’s another world. It’s the strongest athletes in the world that I have to face.”
While proving himself as a top-5 light heavyweight is not going to be easy, Oezdemir says challenges like this are what get him fired up.
“I get my fuel from challenges,” he said. “I really enjoy it. [St. Preux] was the first challenge I ever had – I never had to face anybody that big before. He fought Jon Jones for the title, and I was there fighting the same guy that fought for the title a few fights ago. So, that was a big challenge for me. Now, Misha is riding an eight-fight win-streak, he’s 4-0 in the UFC, all finishes, so that’s also a big challenge for me. I’m just happy about it. That’s what gives me the fire, you know?”
Do you think Volkan Oezdemir can solidify his status as a genuine light heavyweight title contender with a win over Misha Cirkunov in Stockholm?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 5/18/2017.