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Ranking the best Turkish fighters of all time


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Now, this is a tricky one, because so many of the best fighters of Turkish heritage were born and lived in Germany, however, I am forced to include all those guys, because they constitute the majority of their best fighters ever. So far, the only boxer of Turkish ethnicity to win a major world title is Firat Arslan, whom I have written about already. There was also the now deceased Sinan Samil Sam, who won the WBC International heavy title. Selcuk Aydin and Avni Yildirim are the last of the notable Turkish fighters so far, while another heavyweight called Erkan Teper turned out to be a cheater. Aydin and Yildirim were both also born in Turkey and belong to that minority. Here we go.


1. Firat Arslan (Fee-rat Ar-slaan)


I think you just have to rank him at no.1, for reasons stated above-the only Turk to win the world title. Arslan was a rather short cruiser at 5'11, but physically strong, tough, durable and a good counter-puncher. After winning the European Union and WBO Inter-Continental titles, his first true success came when he stopped the promising and strong Russian Grigory Drozd in 5 rounds in 2006, to win the WBA-eliminator. That would also remain Drozd's only pro loss. In 2007, he first beat Valery Brudov by SD to win the interim WBA title and then won the full title in November that year against the legendary veteran Virgil Hill, clearly outpointing the aging Hill, who then retired. He made one successful defense of that title when he decisioned the tough Darnell Wilson in May 2008, before losing the title against the much bigger Guillermo Jones in October that year, by TKO 10. After getting stopped by Steve Herelius by corner retirement in 11 in his next fight, everybody thought Arslan was finished as he was already 40 years old. However, he defied expectations by taking on the much younger WBO-champion Marco Huck in November 2012 and giving him a very close and tough fight, only to lose controversially by UD. In the rematch in January 2014, however, he got stopped by TKO 6. His last hoorah was when he gave the IBF-champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez a run for his money and lost by SD in August same year. Despite again getting stopped by a TKO 6 against Kevin Lerena in 2020, Arslan is STILL active! He has a fight coming up in July. His record is so far 51(36)-9-3.


2. Sinan Samil Sam (See-nan Sha-mil Saam)


The best Turkish heavyweight, or of Turkish ethnicity, since he was born and raised in Frankfurt and lived most of his life in Hamburg, Germany. At some point, he must have moved to Turkey, since he won 9 Turkish amateur championships. He also won the 1992 Junior World Championships at 175 in Montreal, after first winning the silver at the Junior European Championships in Edinburg, as a middleweight. He also won the 1999 World Championships in Houston at heavyweight and a bronze medal at the 1995 WC in Berlin, as well as a silver at the 1993 EC in Bursa, at light heavyweight. The pudgy 6'3 Sam was a hard hitter with an iron chin, but lacked the speed and finesse after becoming a heavyweight and a pro. He also barely had a defense, because of his chin. Turning pro in 2000, he won 15 fights before fighting Przemyslaw Saleta for the European title on 12 October 2002. He impressively beat Saleta by a TKO 7 after knocking him down four times. However, his most impressive win came in the next fight, his first defense-he was fighting Danny Williams, back then 27-1 and a promising fighter, but in Neukoelln in Germany. In round 6, he put Williams down three times to win by TKO, which was the first time Williams got stopped. After also stopping another Briton, Julius Francis, by TKO 7 in his second defense, he lost for the first time against the 36-0 Juan Carlos Gomez, who put him down once in the first round, before winning by a wide UD 10 in Buffalo, USA. He also lost his Euro title in his third defense to Luan Krasniqi by majority decision in a hotly contested fight. He rebounded by winning the WBC International title by stopping Denis Bakhtov by TKO 10 in November 2004. He then beat the solid American Lawrence Clay Bey by UD in his first defense. After making one more successful defense by UD against Peter Okello, he lost the title against Oleg Maskaev by UD, getting a beating. He however reclaimed the title after Maskaev vacated it to fight for the big version, when he beat George Arias by UD in April 2006. Once again, after defending it twice, he lost it to Oliver McCall in June 2007, fighting in Ankara, Turkey. In his last fight on 4 July 2008, he controversially recaptured the European title against Paolo Vidoz, who actually outboxed him for most of the fight, while Sam landed some heavy punches in the later rounds. At first, it was judged a draw, but then a day later, the decision was changed into a majority decision. Being a heavy drinker for years after retiring, Sam died of kidney and liver failure at only 41, 30 October 2015 in Istanbul. His record is 31(16)-4-0.


3. Oktay Urkal (Ohk-taay Oor-kahl)


Probably the best technical boxer in this lot, Urkal was the 1996 Olympic silver medalist, 1993 WC silver medalist, 1995 WC bronze medalist and 1996 EC gold medalist, all at 140. He also fought all of his pro career at that weight. His amateur record is 184-27-5. Berlin-born Hamburg-resident Urkal turned pro in September 1996 and won the WBC International title by TKO 3 against Craig Houk, 17 January 1998. He defended the WBC International title later that year against Viktor Baranov on points. After three more defenses, he vacated it. On 19 February 2000, he decisioned Mikhail Krivolapov to win the European title and defended it twice, before challenging the WBC and WBA champion Kostya Tszyu and fighting him 23 June 2001 in Uncasville, USA. Urkay fought well and gave Tszyu some trouble with his long arms and technical style, but also suffered a broken jaw in round 7 and lost on all scorecards, 115-113, 116-113 and 116-112. He recaptured the Euro title in 2002 by beating Victor Mapouka and defended it twice, first time by beating Eamonn Magee by UD, before fighting the new WBA champion Vivian Harris, 17 April 2004 in Berlin. Urkal was down once but also won enough rounds to be "given" a majority decision loss. Because of the closeness of the bout, he got a rematch on 23 October, again in Germany. This time however, he got stopped by TKO 11 by the tall and hard punching Harris. He would make 2 more defenses of the Euro belt, against solid Frenchman Frederik Klose and Maxim Nesterenko of Russia, both on points, before vacating it. His final fight came on 3 March 2007, when he took on the new WBA champion, Miguel Cotto, in San Juan, PR. After getting two point deductions for butts, one in the 7th and one in 11th round, his trainer Ulli Wegner threw in the towel and stopped the fight out of protest for what he saw as preferential refereeing by Luis Pabon. Urkal retired with a record of 38(12)-4-0. Today he works as a trainer.


4. Selcuk Aydin (Sel-chuk Aay-deen)


Aydin was born in Trabzon, a major city in Turkey, on Black Sea coast. He was known under fighting aliases of "Mini Tyson" and "Turkish Warrior". He was the first promising fighter from Turkey in a longer time and first as amateur he won the bronze as a featherweight at the 2000 Junior World Championships in Budapest. In 2001, he also won the Junior European Championships in Sarajevo, but as a lightweight. He also won the 2002 EC bronze and in 2003 beat Devis Boschiero in the final to win the EU Championships in Strasbourg. The 5'7 or 170 cm tall Aydin turned pro at the end of 2006. After easily winning his first 14 fights, he won the vacant WBC International welter title by UD 12 against Lucky Lewele. He defended it 3 times, before also winning the vacant EBU European title by KO 9 against Jackson Osei Bonsu. On 5 June 2010 came his first and perhaps best significant victory when he took on the 26-0 Romanian Ionut Dan Ion for the vacant WBC Silver title and won by SD after dropping him in the first round. Because some complained about the decision, the rematch happened on 26 November next year and this time, Aydin left no doubts when he beat Ion by UD, dropping him twice this time. He then signed to fight the biggest fight of his life against Robert Guerrero for the WBC interim title on 28 July 2012, in San Jose, USA. Although he had some strong rounds and hurt Guerrero a few times, he was outboxed in the rest of the fight and lost by UD. After also losing, somewhat surprisingly, to Jesus Soto Karass by MD10 in his next fight, in September 2013 he stopped DeMarcus Corley by RTD 4 to win the WBC Mediterranean light welter title. In his next fight however, on 17 May next year, he was knocked out in 11 by Viktor Postol, a much taller and slicker fighter. He only had 3 more fights after this disappointment before retiring in 2016. His record is 29(22)-3-0.


5. Eyup Can (Eh-yoop Djahn)


This guy never scored a single knockout as a pro, but he won the European flyweight title and only suffered one loss, on points, against a solid fighter. Can was born in Cihanbeyli, Konya province of central Turkey. As amateur, he won the bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, losing to Steve McCrory, brother of Milton, who won the gold. Can also won the bronze at the 1986 world championships in Reno. He went to Denmark to sign with Team Palle and start his pro career, fighting mainly in Copenhagen. After going 8-0, he faced the former WBA light fly champ Joey Olivo on 12 February '88 in Helsingør and lost to him on points after 8 rounds. This would remain his only pro loss, but it hindered his career somewhat, preventing him from getting the big fights. On 16 February '89, he beat the Scotsman Pat Clinton by a wide UD to win the European fly title and went to Cefalu in Italy for the only time as a pro to defend it against Giampiero Pinna, this time retaining it by SD. He would vacate the title after that and returned for only 2 more fights in 1992, after which he retired for good. His record is 15-1.


6. Avni Yildirim (Av-nee Yeel-dee-reem)


One of the few on this list to be both born and raised in Turkey, Yildirim initially looked promising, but was exposed by Chris Eubank jr and later several others. His best wins are over either aging or not world class fighters, fringe contenders. Yildirim (meaning lightning) is a strong and aggressive guy who packs a good punch, but his chin is suspect and his defense not the best. He comes from Istanbul and is both trained and promoted by Ahmet Oener, a controversial German-Turkish promoter. As amateur, he participated in various tournaments, but never won a medal in any significant one. He turned pro in 2014 and already in his sixth fight, he beat Glen Johnson by UD to win the vacant WBC International Silver light heavy title-Johnson was 46 at the time. He would defend it 4 times, most notably beating Janne Forsman of Finland by KO 1. He then vacated it in 2016 to step down to super middleweight. He decisioned Aaron Pryor jr in his third fight there and then in the fourth he beat Schiller Hyppolite by TKO 3 to win the same title he held at 175. In May 2017, he beat Marco Antonio Periban (a fringe contender) by UD to win the WBC International title. He then participated at the Super 8 tournament and lost to a devastating third round ko to Chris Eubank jr, thus being eliminated in the first round. He then made 3 defenses of his WBC International title by beating Derek Edwards, Ryan Ford and Lolenga Mock, all on points, before challenging Anthony Dirrell for the vacant WBC title on 23 February 2019. An accidental headbutt brought the fight to a premature close in the 10th and Dirrell went on to win by a technical split decision. His next fight would be in 2021, 27 February, when he took on Saul Canelo Alvarez for the WBC, WBA and The Ring titles-he was easily handled and knocked down in round 3 before retiring in his corner after that round. His last fight was on 14 May this year and he got stopped by TKO 9 against unknown Yusuf Kanguel. His record is 24(13)-5-0.


7. Ali Eren Demirezen (Ah-lee Eh-ren Deh-meer-ehzen)


Currently the best Turkish heavyweight and fighter in general, Demirezen is a 6'3 guy with an 80-inch reach who has pretty good power but more of the accumulation sort. He competed at the 2016 Olympics but in the first round he had to fight the 6'6 Filip Hrgovic, one of the best heavyweights in that tournament, so he lost to him 0-3 on points. The Samsun(Turkish town on Black Sea coast)-born Demirezen lives in Hamburg, like so many other of his fellow Turkish boxers. He had his first pro fight in October 2016 and in 2018 he beat Rad Rashid by TKO 2 to win the WBO European title and defended it against Sergiej Werwejko by TKO 8 and Adnan Redzovic by DQ 6 before vacating it to fight Efe Ajagba, another 6'6 powerhouse, from Nigeria. It was on 20 July '19 at the MGM Grand and his first truly big fight-he lost by a wide unanimous decision. On 13 March '21, he again won the WBO European title against Nikola Milacic (21-1 at the time) by TKO 2, but didn't defend it. He instead set his goals for bigger fights and on 1 January this year he scored his so far biggest victory when he stopped another 6'6 giant Gerald Washington by a TKO 8 in Hollywood. He has since also defeated Kevin Johnson by UD 8 and is slated to fight Adam Kownacki on 30 July in Brooklyn. His record is currently 16(12)-1.


8. Orhan Delibas (Ohr-hahn Deh-lee-baash)


Known under the alias "Turkish Delight", Delibas was a stellar amateur who wasn't able to translate that success to professional boxing. Born in Kayseri, Turkey, he lived and fought out of Arnhem, Netherlands as a boxer. His greatest success was winning the Olympic silver in 1992 by beating Raul Marquez and Robin Reid and then losing to Cuban Juan Carlos Lemus in the final. He also won the silver at the 1993 European championships in Bursa, Turkey-all at light middleweight. He turned pro in 1995 and in his 10th fight won the Benelux title, the only one he would ever win, on points against Danny Defevere. He went 22-0 before fighting Mamadou Thiam for the European light middle title in 1999 and getting stopped by TKO 7. In 2000, he again unsuccessfully challenged Roman Karmazin for the same title and retired in his corner after 3 rounds. He retired but came back briefly in 2008 and won 2 minor fights. His record is 25(10)-2.


9. Mahir Oral (Maa-heer Oh-rahl)


Another German-Turkish fighter, Oral is born and raised in Hamburg. Tall for a middleweight at 6'1, Oral turned pro at the age of 20, in 2000. He only lost one fight early on, on points against Malik Dziarra, in a super middle fight. He also had one fight at light heavy before that, but then decided to only fight as a middle. In 2006, he won the European Union title by stopping Dirk Dzemski by TKO 1. Dzemski only had one loss previously, to Sebastian Sylvester, one of the best German middleweights back then. In 2007, he also won the WBC International title against 22-0 Domenico Spada of Italy, winning by SD. He defended this title once, by beating Alexander Sipos due to a shoulder injury after 7 rounds. On 27 June 2009, he fought his biggest fight against the IBF-champion Arthur Abraham and was down five times before his corner threw in the towel in round 10. This would be a turnaround fight for his career, in the negative sense of course. On 30 October 2010, he fought Sebastian Sylvester, the new IBF-champion, and dropped a unanimous decision to him. Just before that, he won the minor WBA International title by TKO 10 against Juan Camilo Novoa. His last fight came on 12 February 2011, when he fought Jozsef Matolcsi of Hungary and had to retire after 2 rounds. His record is 28(11)-4-2. He was known under the nickname "Lion".


10. Hizni Altunkaya (Hee-znee Al-toon-kayah)


Altunkaya is a cruiser who once fought for the WBA title, unsuccessfully. He was born in Neuwied, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany and lives there still. 6'1 Altunkaya is a pretty hard hitter, but his chin is not the best and his defense is also leaky. His real name is Nezir Altunkaya and he turned pro at the age of 20, in 2008. After winning two minor Youth titles, in November 2011 he won the interim World Boxing Federation title by UD against 29-0 Salvatore Aiello. He defended it once, by stopping Attila Palko by KO 4. He was 29-0 when he faced his first true opponent, then-former WBO champion Krzysztof Glowacki of Poland. The fight was in Gdansk, Poland, 24 June 2017, and Altunkaya went down once in the second and twice in the fifth before retiring in his corner after the fifth. He then faced Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan for the vacant WBA title on 7 July 2018, in Astana, Kazakhstan. He was down in the first and dominated for 9 rounds before quitting in his corner. Exactly 2 months later, he was knocked out in 3 by Denis Lebedev. Since then, he has fought lesser fighters and won 4 fights, all by stoppage. He has a new fight coming up on 16 July, opponent unknown. His record is 34(21)-3.

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