At the front desk of Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City sits a near-empty box of authentic pistachio-filled Turkish delights.
The sugar-covered sweets were a fitting treat from the world travels of Alp Ozkilic, a Turkish mixed martial artist who has once again made Long Island home.
“Take one,” Ozkilic insisted. “Hey, it is my nickname — the Turkish Delight.”
Ozkilic is back in the U.S. after his mixed martial arts career took him overseas for the better part of two years. He became the first Turkish-born fighter to compete in the UFC when he won his promotional debut in 2013 but was released in 2015 after three straight losses.
Now, Ozkilic returns to Long Island looking to make another run at MMA’s top promotion.
“I always considered this place home, and I wanted to come home,” Ozkilic said.
Ozkilic first came here from Turkey in 2004 to wrestle at Nassau CC in Garden City, where he was a two-time NJCAA All-American. After transferring to Lindenwood University in Missouri to finish his collegiate career, Ozkilic stayed in the St. Louis area to become a professional fighter. He believes he had the skill to compete with the best in the UFC’s flyweight division and become a marketable star in his home country, but he said the circumstances of his time with the company kept him from succeeding.
After an 8-1 start on the regional circuit, he debuted in the UFC with a split decision win over Darren Uyenoyama. Ozkilic said he then was encouraged by his manangement to take a fight with contender Louis Smolka a month later. He ran out of energy early in the fight.
“Fighting twice in a month, cutting 20 pounds twice in a month, my body couldn’t handle it,” Ozkilic said.
After losing to Smolka, Ozkilic returned to Long Island — both to work with trainer Keith Trimble of Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and to get back to a life he could enjoy after a few too many years in the heartland. Ozkilic was living in North Bellmore at the time. He also trained with Ray Longo at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City.
“After college I got into fighting, the only reason that I stayed there was my coach and my team,” Ozkilic said. “My coach out there, he knew I never fit in the culture there, I always live in big cities. I’ve never been country.”
Ozkilic lost a “Fight of the Night” against top contender John Lineker, then suffered a first-round knockout against Ben Nguyen. All three losses came against currently ranked fighters.
Once cut, he considered options in the U.S. but instead took a payday to join Chinese promotion Kunlun Fight. Ozkilic spent about a year and half in China, working as a coach and fight commentator while training, receiving a regular salary, free housing and food. He was supposed to be able to fight as often as he wanted, but Ozkilic said the promotion had a hard time finding matchups all sides could agree on.
He eventually received a bantamweight title fight in a co-promoted event with Korean company Top FC, but lost to Kwan Ho Kwak in a unanimous decision last May. Ozkilic claims the judges and officials in Korea gave Kwak an unfair advantage throughout the fight.
“They did everything they could to make me lose. They would stop the fight to look at my cut, but they would give him water,” Ozkilic said. “It was very frustrating, but that’s how it was over there, that’s what I learned.”
Ozkilic took some time off and eventually decided to address a nagging injury by traveling to his native Turkey last December to have surgery on a torn hip flexor. After months of rehab, Ozkilic decided his time in China was up. He technically still is under contract with Kunlun, and he said he hasn’t informed his bosses he won’t be fighting again, but he doesn’t see himself heading back any time soon.
Now healthy, Ozkilic is hoping to revive his career by doing it the right way. He no longer has a manager, saying he’ll rely on Longo and other coaches to help him find fights when the time is right.
Since returning to the U.S. in early June, he’s been at the gym twice a day training and getting back to sparring. He also started a business flipping houses with a few friends, but he says his focus remains on a return to fighting this year and, eventually, the UFC.
“I know better this time, I’ve learned the business,” said Ozkilic, who now lives in Seaford. “Now I’m in a better place, better condition, everything’s in my favor this time, so why not?”
|ALPTEKIN OZKILIC’S UFC FIGHT HISTORY|
|Dec. 14, 2013||UFC on Fox 9||Darren Uyenoyama||Won by split decision|
|Jan. 15, 2014||UFC Duluth||Louis Smolka||Lost by unanimous decision|
|July 16, 2014||UFC Atlantic City||John Lineker||Lost by TKO, Round 3, 4:51|
|May 9, 2015||UFC Adelaide||Ben Nguyen||Lost by KO, Round 1, 4:59|