December 2, 2016: Volkan Oezdemir entered The Watsco Center in Coral Gables, Florida dying to return to the cage following a ten month layoff.
“I signed with Titan in April and they wanted me to fight Derrick Mehmen for the Heavyweight title, but Mehmen lost to DJ Lindermen so they canceled that fight,” Volkan spoke to Bloody Elbow and explained the reason for the extended period of inactivity. “Also at this time I was competing in a tournament in Akhmat FC, but after I won my first bout, they offered me three times less than what I was supposed to make, so I did not continue in that tournament.”
Fueled by the extended down time, Volkan was going in to his Titan FC Heavyweight title fight with veteran Jack May hungrier than ever and ready to announce his presence in the North American fight scene. But as fight time drew closer, Volkan received word that his title fight was not to be.
“I arrived to the arena and after I checked in, the boss pulled me aside and said Jack May had fractured his foot and the commission was not going to let him fight. This was my fourth fight canceled in the year, it was very disappointing and it felt like I would never fight again.”
Volkan’s disappointment would be short lived, as Titan re-booked him in January to fight for the Heavyweight belt against undefeated prospect Mo De’Reese. Shrugging the setbacks of 2016 off, Volkan got back to training and again prepared to make his Titan FC debut.
In the midst of his fifth camp without a fight, Volkan received a call that De’Reese has developed a severe staph infection and the fight was off.
“After the Mo fight was canceled I was basically like f—k this shit, it’s never going to happen. I was working a lot, not really training and basically I just lost motivation.”
Frustrated beyond belief and on the verge of an early retirement, Volkan received a unexpected call from his manager.
“I was at home and my manager called, I was hoping for news about my Titan fight, but my manger said the UFC was in search of a short notice opponent for OSP,” he explained. “They saw my previous fights in Bellator and Europe and decided to offer me the fight. I said yes immediately; it was amazing!”
After the initial euphoria subsided, the Heavyweight Volkan shuttered at the thought of fighting at 205 in a mere two weeks, “I verbally accepted the fight without really knowing how much I was weighing, because I was fighting at heavyweight. But then I stepped on the scale and I was like, ‘Oh shit!’”
The sturdy Swiss was tipping the scale at 240 pounds. For the next two weeks, Oezdemir’s entire training regiment was focused on dropping 35 pounds in 14 days and still being able to compete against the number six ranked fighter in the world.
Volkan nailed the weight cut, but believes the effects of the cut were apparent in his performance.
“The training was not like a real fight camp. I trained everyday but the intensity was very low. That in combination with the weight cut made for a tougher night than it should have been.”
The abbreviated fight camp was a difficult hurdle to overcome, but Volkan pulled off the improbable by picking up a decision victory over a guy that took Jon Jones the distance a few months prior.
After the upset victory over OSP, one might think the UFC would give Oezdemir a few fights to establish him as a light heavyweight contender. One would be wrong in that assumption. The UFC matched Volkan up with the number five contender Misha Cirkunov, who had had flawless victories in his first four UFC performances.
“I knew it was a step up in competition. Misha was the man at the time,” he said. “He hadn't lost in five years and all of his fights were finishes. I felt like it was a tougher fight than OSP, but OSP had a bigger name. I could see the UFC wanted to give me strong opponents, which makes me think they either want to get rid of me, or they believe in me. But you sometimes have to just grab the opportunity and I just did it.”
And grab it Volkan did, it only took him 0:28 to knockout the UFC’s next big thing. He used calculated angles and pinpoint clinch strikes to derail the Latvian born, Canadian's hype train as it was just leaving the station.
“I like to play from positions against the cage because I can work my angles and head movement,” Volkan recalls the technique that brought him the quick stoppage. “In MMA, not a lot of people like to work close distance boxing. As soon as they are in close range they just hold. So I just have two or three seconds to play and then it’s all about wrestling.
“The combination of my quickness, power and the fact that he was overextending with his attacks was the keys to that victory. It’s all about capitalizing on mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, I make mistakes too, I guess, but can you capitalize during the fight?”
It was now clear to the UFC they were not dealing with a fluke. This Swiss trailblazer was forging an unprecedented path and the next obstacle on that path came to light after a chance encounter at a UFC press function.
“I was at the hotel in Sweden before the Misha fight and I was good with everybody,” Volkan explains. “I said hi to Gustafsson; I said hi to Ilir (Latifi); I say hi to everybody, but I see Manuawa and I don’t know why, but he sorta stared at me strangely and I did not like this because he is a cocky, arrogant guy.”
Volkan voiced his desire to fight Manuwa in his post fight comments and within a few weeks, the fight was set.
At this time, Jimi Manuwa was believed to be the next in line for a crack at the 205 strap. His devastating knockouts of Ovince St. Preux and Corey Anderson set him up to fill the massive void that Anthony Johnson left when he opted for a early retirement.
The brash Brit’s blistering power did not worry Volkan in the slightest. He explained how his younger days in Holland prepared him to go to war with any man alive.
“I trained for many years in Holland with guys like Alistair Overeem, Gokhan Saki, Errol Zimmerman, Stefan Leko and Semmy Schilt. Plus, I was training for the last year and a half with “Rumble” and no one in that division could hit as hard as him.”
Part of the mystique that is Volkan Oezdemir is his stoic, calculated approach to every obstacle laid in front of him and his ability to live in the present at each moment. The ascent from relative unknown to number one title contender in five months, might give a less centered man the proverbial bends.
“I do not think of the fights before or any potential fights after,” Volkan said about what was going through his mind backstage as he prepared to fight Manuwa. “I only know I am there to do a job and I am going to do it.”
Once again, Volkan completed the job tasked to him and he did it in spectacular fashion. Manuwa followed Cirkunov’s game plan of clinching Oezdemir up against the fence, and much like Cirkunov, Manuwa quickly paid the price for his mistake.
“I hit him with an uppercut and I could tell he was hurt,” he said. “And then I threw him down and his head bounced off the mat and I could see in his eyes he was almost done. I hit him with a little bit of ground and pound and he was defiantly gone, for sure.”
After the fight, Volkan used the spotlight to call out the winner of that night’s main event between Daniel Cormier and Jon Jones.
In the brief history of the UFC, it’s been pretty rare that one man ascended a division in five months and earned the right to compete for a title. But after defeating an unholy trinity of contenders, the title fight was an obvious move for the UFC’s newest budding superstar.
Apparently, the champ could not agree more. DC tweeted out a comparison of his two potential challengers that made it clear who he thought deserved the next shot at his title.
You decide.....— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) September 22, 2017
Gus - 2 in a row (Blachowitz, Texeira)
Volkan - 3 in row (OSP, Circunov, Manuwa) who should I fight next? @ufc
On November 30th 2017 it was officially announced that Volkan Oezdemir would be competing for the Light Heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier.
In less than a year, Volkan went from the brink of retirement to the largest stage in the sport. When I asked if he thinks the title opportunity has come too quick, Volkan responded.
“I’m just grabbing every opportunity that is presented to me, and each one is going to be sweeter. Taking advantage of these opportunities has been the reason for my quick rise to the belt,” he said. “I think a lot of guys would say ‘Wait, I want to take my time and go slow so I’m strong and ready.’ But I say ‘f—k it, lets do it.’ I’ve got ‘No Time’ to go slow.”