Volkan Oezdemir is known as a super-aggressive starter whose last two UFC fights didn’t even last a full 60 seconds. So RISING isn’t sure what to expect when we meet him for our interview in a swanky London hotel. As it turns out the Swiss striker is one of the friendliest, most thoughtful pugilists you could hope to meet – he even offers to make us a brew as we chat, about everything from training camps to Alexander The Great. But to step into the Octagon with this 93kg light heavyweight would be to face someone who took on his first UFC fight with just two weeks’ notice, and still won, adding to his impressive 15-1 record. He’s now the UFC’s number three in the world, but it’s not all down to brawn. A knockout strike looks simple but it’s one of the most technical things to land, combining strength, power, accuracy and split-second timing – how has Oezdemir built such a bomber punch?
RISING You’ve only had three UFC fights but you’ve got an ambition to be the first Swiss UFC champion – how far back in your career did you start setting those kind of goals?
VOLKAN OEZDEMIR, FIGHTER ‘Realistically, I’ve thought about it since the beginning. Maybe not that hard, but I knew I’d make it. Now I truly am believing it, so that's different – it’s not the same power, it’s not the same energy. All the victories, and all the stuff that happened in my life and through my career have just made it more stronger, more realistic, so now I know I'm that close – one or two fights away from the UFC title, and getting the [light heavyweight] belt.’
‘I don’t know if a knockout is art! It’s brutal for sure but it’s beautiful too, so it might be’
RISING Your last two fights have been first-round knockouts. Do you see yourself as a knockout artist?
VO ‘I don't know if it’s art! It’s brutal, for sure but it's beautiful too, so it might be art. Yes, definitely – I’ve had 12 wins in the first round, and eight wins in the first minute, so this is something I've been doing a lot, even before the UFC.’
RISING You’re also on a five-win streak with three of those in the UFC – tell us about your first UFC bout?
VO ‘My first UFC fight was only two weeks' notice, so I wasn't really ready, and at that time in my life I also wasn't training that hard. I got the call and I was: “OK, now I've got to go!” I just said yes on the phone like that, but I didn't even know what was my weight was. So I went on the scale, checked my weight and I was like: “Oh, now I need to take care of the diet!” After that, when I had the full camp and good training, I was unstoppable. My fight after that was 28 seconds, and the second one, against the number three in the world, was 42 seconds [to the knockout].’
RISING You have to start really aggressively to land a first-minute knockout – is it difficult to perform instantly like that?
VO ‘I just start my fight in that mode, that I'm going there for the finish. But I'm not really looking for the finish in terms of “this has to happen now,” but because I'm so pressuring, and I'm so also strong, you always start it happening, and then I'm going to capitalise on it. I'm also a smart fighter, so I'm trying to build the momentum, and that's also how it will happen.’
RISING Does having such a strong start help you to define the fight?
VO ‘Yes, I think the first minutes of the fight are the most important anyway, even if you don't want to finish the fight, you just want to fight. It sets the rhythm for the whole fight, or who has the winning position.’
RISING Can you tell when it's going to be a fight where you're able to use your knockout power and speed, or when you're going to have to be more tactical?
VO ‘It's all about how well will I be able to put my hands on somebody's chin, but the strategy has to be different for every fighter anyway, because when it's fight time, everybody comes with a baggage and a style, and capacities, abilities that make them strong. So maybe somebody is super-strong physically – do I want to force with him, and strike with him? No, that would be stupid. How can I capitalise on his weakness, or strength, or maybe try to move around, so it has to change? You have to be smart when you fight – MMA's so large, you have so many possibilities in the game.’
RISING In terms of strength and conditioning, is there something that you do in training to build the power behind those knockouts, and also the speed?
VO ‘Yes, I do. So in my first UFC fight I didn't lift; my second fight I didn’t, but I did start doing some footwork drills for speed and explosivity, with someone from the NFL. For the Manuwa fight, I started lifting again, and now I'm going to keep on lifting. I learned also how to deal with fight camp and now I'm starting to have better tools. I know my body and what I want to do to make it Training Camp 2.0 for my next fight.’
RISING Can you give us a specific example of an exercise in your Training Camp 2.0?
VO ‘Yes, I do a lot of footwork now, and I couple that with accelerations on a special treadmill that you push with your feet [Technogym’s SkillMill] for a really short distance. Then you have to keep your base, and your agility and speed, and keep your movements right with the footwork, because you have to be really precise and fast – even though you're getting tired, you need to keep it up. It’s also about throwing weighted balls and training your core.’
RISING People forget that a punch starts in your feet, right?
VO ‘Definitely, yes. I think you can see people when they punch, like they do shadow boxing: they punch with only the arms, or even shoulder, but that's also not enough! You have so much stuff to use, you’d better use it. Why would you want to use a half, or 25% of the capacity you have?’
RISING Do you always know, as soon as you throw a knockout blow, that it's going to be effective?
VO ‘No, but then I see when it really lands; I see, and I'm able to capitalise on it. So, if you see how Jimi Manuwa was [in UFC 214] when my first left hook lands, his legs start giving up – then I right away went for the upper-cut and cross and left, and left again, because I was running after him – I’m able to capitalise directly.’
‘I’m training three times a day and then sparring tired – that’s good because it’s survival mode’
RISING What’s the toughest training session that you do in training camp?
VO ‘Sparring is the toughest. I'm sometimes training three times a day, then I'm arriving to spar and I'm kind of tired, but all the people are fresh. They they just want to punch you, but that's good, because now it's survival mode, and that's also something that I like about my gym. We’re all friendly, but we all want to win. It's not like: “OK, I'm going to be nice with you today.” It's all about, “Hey, I'm better than you,” and I'm like, “No, you're not, and we're going to see that today.” It's good because they're pushing me, I'm pushing them, and we're all getting better.’
RISING That must prepare you for some fierce contests – what’s been your hardest fight so far?
VO ‘My toughest fight was my second pro fight. He was a big guy, he was strong, but I also thought that the fight would be easy. He was a warrior; my face got smashed, and his face was smashed and cut, but it was a three-rounds fight, and I think the best learning experience for me. I learned a lot during that fight about mental toughness and the pace. Having a higher pace than your opponent, and I think it's all about breaking the guy down, mentally. That's how you're winning your fight.’
RISING So how do you stay strong mentally, when a fight isn’t going to plan?
VO ‘You know it's going to be hard. It's sport, you know you're going to be fighting in front of thousands, or millions of viewers. You know, during the fight it's going to be: “Oh fuck! Why the fuck do I do this? Why I didn't stay home? Having a regular job is so much easier.” You know it's going to happen, these thoughts but that's also why you prepare for it, so you don't feel that and you just focus on your fight, and focus on winning. If it's becoming hard, just think about what's happening: “Left, right, I did that one more time. I'm going to go to the right now, I'm going to do this.” You have to think a lot, otherwise you're just going to be dumb and go for stuff and get caught all the time, so you need to be ahead of your opponent.’
‘Focus isn’t what makes a winner, but it’s definitely what makes a champion’
RISING Have you seen it in fights when fighters lack that determination to win?
VO ‘With determination, even though you're not going to succeed doing something because you don't have fitness, or physical capacity, you're never going to give up. But you do see people giving up during a fight, and the worst is when they give up and they have the physical capacities to get out of stuff, but they don't have the balls to do it. The mind stops, that's why your body stops. But if your mind is still there – unless you get knocked out – your body can follow.’
RISING Is having that total focus, and really sticking to it, the difference between winning or losing?
VO ‘The only thing I want to do in life is winning those 15 or 25 minutes – so I’ve just got to be smart and follow the game plan. Focus isn’t what makes a winner, but it’s what makes a champion, definitely. There is a difference between a winner and a champ, and you can also be a champ losing, definitely, because of what you've been putting into it, and how great you are, and how respectful you are towards other people. But this makes a difference between a champion and a regular, high-level fighter. It’s the secret ingredient.’
WHAT NEXT? Check out Volkan Oezdemir’s impressive 15-1 fight stats.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.