UFC flyweight Alptekin Ozkilic’s parents finally know he’s fighting — and winning
ST. LOUIS — When UFC flyweight Alptekin Ozkilic fights Wednesday night in the Gwinnett (Ga.) Center, his parents back in Istanbul will be watching.
That hasn’t always been the case.
When the 27-year-old Ozkilic was starting his MMA career, his folks didn’t watch him. Of course, it would have been difficult to watch when they didn’t know he was fighting.
"I didn’t tell them for the longest time," says Ozkilic, who trains out of Mike Rogers’ gym in St. Peters. "I don’t think they would have let me."
A top wrestler as a youth, Ozkilic came to America in 2005 to further his education and to wrestle. That’s how his dad saw it, anyway.
"My parents paid a lot of money on my education. I always went to private school," Ozkilic says. "But I always took my sports career first, then school. Wrestling was something I always loved. My dad was like, ‘Listen, we’re paying all this money and all you want to do is wrestle.’ I understand where he’s coming from, absolutely. If I was a dad, I’d feel the same."
He’s not a parent. He’s an up-and-coming fighter hoping to make a career in the UFC as the "Turkish Delight." Ozkilic, 9-1 professionally, turned to MMA not long after he finished his wrestling career at Lindenwood University and his studies at Missouri Baptist. As his career progressed — and his degree in business administration went unused — he found talking to his dad became awkward.
"Every time he’s on the phone, he’d say, ‘OK, you’ve finished school, you have these degrees, what are you doing?’" Ozkilic said. "I’d tell my mom, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’"
Ozkilic didn’t tell his mom about his fighting in the beginning, either, but she found out soon enough. In the Internet age, word spreads quickly across the globe. For his mom, there was more to worry about than not putting an education to use. MMA is not exactly the safest profession around, either.
"When my mom first found out, she called me and said, ‘I heard you are fighting to death in some kind of cage,’" Ozkilic says. "’Mom, it’s not like that,’ I tell her. I had to explain."
While UFC never will be for anyone who is leery of blood and bruises, the sport has come a long way in its 20 years. UFC is considered one of the fastest-growing professional sports organizations in the world. The sport’s barroom-brawl image no longer holds. Ozkilic, in fact, makes a case that his sport is safer than boxing — or even wrestling — because the chance of sustaining concussions is less in MMA.
"It looks dangerous, yes, because of cuts and broken bones, but they heal," Ozkilic says. "You get cut, you get stitches, and it’s gone in a week. It’s not really a big deal. But the concussions you can get in boxing, these are a big deal."
Ozkilic might be reaching a bit to rationalize his career choice because he knows the dangers of climbing into the octagon. He saw Anderson Silva’s shin snapped by Chris Weidman during last month’s middleweight championship fight.
"I know the risks. I understand the consequences of what can happen," Ozkilic says. "That’s why this is not everybody’s thing. A lot of people can talk about it but can’t do it. You have to have (guts) to do this. You have to have heart. This is the life I chose. If I get hurt, it’s my fault."
Ozkilic could be putting himself at an even greater risk than usual in his three-round bout against Hawaiian Louis Smolka. In a sport where three or four fights a year is considered a normal workload, Ozkilic is returning to action only one month after winning his UFC debut with a split decision against veteran Darren Uyenoyama. Ozkilic’s showing was impressive enough that the UFC called just days after he had returned to St. Louis when a spot opened up on the UFC Fight Night 35 card.
The way he sees it, the UFC wouldn’t call if it didn’t see his potential.
"They want to build me up," he says. "I appreciate that. I’m a team player. I’m sure they’re going to take care of me in return."
If he keeps fighting like he has, the UFC will want to look after him. Ozkilic will be going for his fifth straight win as an MMA pro against Smolka (6-0), a 22-year-old who is making his UFC debut. The fight is on the preliminary card for the Luke Rockhold-Costas Philippou middleweight main event and is scheduled to be the first bout aired on FOX Sports 1 (4 p.m. Central/midnight in Istanbul).
Ozkilic hopes to give his parents as much to cheer about this time as he did last month. When he called home after beating Uyenoyama, he could tell they were happy even though his mom told him that she didn’t like seeing his nose being bloodied. She also said something that Ozkilic will remember: Dad was in tears after his son was announced the victor.
"He was proud," Ozkilic says. "Positive feedback from my dad means more than anything. Now it’s like he realizes how big this stage is and that I can do something with this."
Perhaps even more than he could do with a college degree.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.