Long Islander Alptekin Ozkilic set to face John Lineker on Wednesday
Born and raised in Istanbul, Alptekin Ozkilic calls Long Island home now.
Ozkilic, nicknamed "The Turkish Delight,'' has been working at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy with trainer Keith Trimble since last winter. His first fight under Trimble is scheduled for Wednesday in Atlantic City at UFC Fight Night 45 against seventh-ranked flyweight John Lineker.
"It was extremely exciting to become a part of history [as] the first Turkish UFC fighter,'' said Ozkilic, 28, who now lives in Hicksville. "It is a big honor for me [and a] dream come true, but it's not over yet. It's just the first step.''
He moved to the United States from Turkey in 2004 to wrestle in college, where he was a two-time NJCAA All-American at Nassau CC before transferring to Lindenwood University in Missouri. Ozkilic said the opportunity appealed to him because it offered him the chance to pursue both his athletic dreams and an education.
"Wrestling in Turkey is like a job. You can't also go to college,'' he said, adding that the United States offered the chance to do both "instead of choosing one.''
Ozkilic began his pro MMA career in 2010, winning eight of his first nine fights. His biggest victory came against Antonio Banuelos in May 2013. Ozkilic won via technical knockout in 30 seconds.
"It was awesome,'' he said.
He made his UFC debut in December, defeating Darren Uyenoyama in Sacramento before falling to Louis Smolka in January.
At the start of his UFC career, Ozkilic (9-2, 1-1 UFC) was living in Missouri, but he said he "needed a change'' and began eyeing a move back to New York. He met Trimble after both of his UFC fights, and the opportunity to work with the trainer -- who coaches such UFC fighters as Ryan LaFlare and Dennis Bermudez -- factored into his decision to move back to Long Island.
"He's a genuine kid,'' Trimble said. "Very respectful. He just listens. Sometimes you get guys who have been doing it for a while and sometimes they'll be like 'I do it this way' or 'I do it that way.' Sometimes it doesn't mesh. He was never like that. He was just a kid who kept his mouth shut and just does whatever you tell him. He's a hard worker. It makes for an easy person to train.''
The cultural diversity of the area also attracted Ozkilic back to Long Island. "It's where my best friends are,'' he said, adding "I can grab Turkish food anytime I want,'' which is significant for someone who takes so much pride in his heritage.
Ozkilic calls it an honor to "represent the flag'' and be a symbol for Turks everywhere. "Being Turkish [yourself] is the only way to understand being Turkish,'' he said. "Whatever we do, we're very passionate about it. I get a lot of messages from all around the world. People are so excited.''
He now can count his family back home, including his mother, father, brother and two sisters, among the excited Turkish fans. Upon hearing of his new career, they initially were hesitant, but Ozkilic says he now "absolutely'' has their support.
Even his father, who Ozkilic said originally did not want him to wrestle so he could focus on his education, now calls him every day to check on his training sessions.
Ozkilic says he is aware of the importance and potential impact the Lineker fight will have on his broader career goals.
"This is my biggest fight yet, fighting a top-10 guy,'' he said, adding "a win over him will put me in the top 10.''
It puts him on a path he hopes will lead to a flyweight title shot in 2015. That's not an unrealistic goal. Champion Demetrious Johnson already has beaten the top six ranked flyweights in the past two years.
"This," Ozkilic said, "is the start.''