For Turkish referee Firat Gök, the mixed martial arts community led by the Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA) has quickly become a second family.

Since receiving his first MMA refereeing certificate in 2016, Gök’s star has been steadily rising at the national and international levels. He recently officiated at the GAMMA 2021 European Championships in Kyiv and performed his job so admirably that he was selected to be a part of the referee and judges team at the Muradov Professional MMA League Event No.2 in Uzbekistan earlier this month.
Gök (second from right) at the Muradov Professional MMA League Event No.2 in Uzbekistan earlier this month.

Gök said he faced resistance from friends, family and his girlfriend for choosing to travel to Ukraine for the European Championships as it coincided with his 27th birthday and they wanted to celebrate with him in person.

“I was saying that this job is important to me and that I see these people who are part of my job as my family, and as a result, I would spend my birthday with another family,” he said.

It was a decision he would not regret. Not only did the organisers make sure his big day did not go unnoticed (the ring announcer congratulated Gök in front of a live global audience), but he also gained valuable experience and yet another chance to move up the officiating ladder.

Gök (centre) with his mentor referee Michael Wachter (right)

“When Michael Watcher, the chief referee at GAMMA, sent me a message and invited me to the [Muradov Professional MMA League] event, I felt a great honour,” he said. “It was an indescribable feeling to start seeing the results of my individual, team and federation efforts over the years and that I was taking important steps towards my goals.”

Gök, who is a police officer professionally, first became interested in mixed martial arts as a young boy. Following the death of his father and with his mother at work, Gök found himself out of school and spending most of his days playing in the street with other children. To help protect himself, he gravitated towards boxing before finding kickboxing in his adolescence.

As a teenager Gök went to high school and eventually qualified to enter the Police Vocational School in Istanbul, where his mastery of various martial arts, including Wing Chun, continued as part of his police training.

After graduating in 2015, he began a dual career as a Muay Thai athlete, earning his 10th Khan the following year. He also switched to MMA in 2016 after meeting Turkish MMA Federation President Ali Arik. “It was then I started in MMA, attending seminars and training, which I still continue to this day,” he said.

It was also at this time that Gök took his first steps towards becoming an MMA official.

Gök receiving his International Level ‘C’ MMA Judges & Referee certificate at the GAMMA European Championships in November.

“After trainings and seminars, I took my certificates and I started my MMA referee/judge career as a candidate referee/judge in the Turkish Championship held in Antalya province,” Gök said. “In the following years, I took part in and managed hundreds of matches, taking on the duties of referee and judge in many national, international, amateur and professional events.”

Gök is clearly a disciplined individual whose hard work and dedication have gotten him to where he is today. But he is also quick to point out all the people who lent him a hand over the years, in particular the Turkish MMA Federation and its president.

“When I met Ali Arik, he supported, informed and inspired me about this job,” Gök said. “He and the Turkish MMA Federation gave me and the other candidates so many seminars and trainings. In addition, the Turkish MMA Federation has organised so many amateur events in its first few years. In the following years, Ali Arik and we, as the MMA Federation, organised many small and large professional events in Turkey. All these and many other things that I cannot count have led to my development as a referee.”

The sky appears to be the limit for Gök, who says he has already officiated more matches than he can remember at the amateur and professional level. And just like the athletes, there are distinct adjustments that have to be made when officiating at either level, according to Gök.

“As a referee, what should not be forgotten in amateur matches is to be more careful, protective and encouraging towards the athletes,” he said. “Athletes who have stepped into professionalism, on the other hand, have more experience than amateurs to make your job easier. As a referee, you should have a high level of attention and knowledge along with more experience.”

Gök at the GAMMA European Championships in November.

Gök is certainly an inspiration to others looking to climb the ranks of MMA officiating both in Turkey and internationally. For anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, Gök suggests combining hard work with the development of technical knowledge and observation skills while participating in as many events as possible to gain experience.

Asked what he likes best about officiating, Gök points to the satisfaction of making the right call at the right time in the ring and earning the appreciation and respect from other refs, technical and management teams, coaches and athletes. “Even without getting their acknowledgement and respect, just seeing that I made and implemented the right decisions at critical places reminds me of why I am doing this job, and it satisfies me.”

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