'Humble beginnings': Why TUF contestant Kaan Ofli thinks he can race to the belt

Australian featherweight Kaan Ofli doesn't have any time to waste.

Ofli, 30, told ESPN he wants to be on a fast-track to UFC stardom after winning his first bout in "The Ultimate Fighter" Season 32, via decision over Englishman Nathan Fletcher.

But Ofli is no overnight success story either, nor has he accepted any shortcuts. In fact, the Australian, who fights out of Bali, Indonesia, had to be convinced to submit his application for "The Ultimate Fighter," leaving it to the last minute to commit to an opportunity that may yet prove the making of him.

"I've been chasing a UFC contract for the last couple of years and 'The Ultimate Fighter' trials had come out and I had a few people sending me the link to apply, but I thought it was a little bit of back step for some reason; I don't know why, my negative mind had overtaken at that time," Ofli said.

"So I sat on it for a couple of weeks and it was the last day of the application and my wife just looked at me and she pulled out the laptop, she got onto the page and said 'You're doing this.' I said, 'Nah I'm not' and she came back 'you're f---ing doing this, you've got no choice, this is your dream, and this is what you've got to do.'

"And we did, we applied on the last day and then the next day the UFC production team called me and said they were super interested in me being a part of the cast, so that's how it all started."

Dig deeper into Ofli's past and you discover that he has been grinding away both in Australia and overseas for a decade, recovering from a first-up professional loss to build a résumé that sits at 10-2-1. Ofli hasn't lost since 2016.

"I've been fighting for a long time, I've been training for a long time," he said. "I've really done a lot of the work on the Australian scene, I've got the Hex [Series] Featherweight title, and not only that, I'm probably the one Australian that's been competing overseas as well, so I've been traveling the world and taking these opportunities really anywhere because I love this sport.

"I come from humble beginnings, so being able to travel was always a luxury to me, so being able to travel the world and fight, I could just double-up on the experience. I've had five international fights as well as a bunch of fights in Australia as well.

"So I did the hard work, I didn't get no shortcuts to get to where I am now and that's the reason why I got 'The Ultimate Fighter' opportunity."

Dig further still and his, at times, challenging childhood perhaps helps illustrate why he has found his way into mixed martial arts and the same series that launched the career of his countryman and former world champion Robert Whittaker -- and why Ofli has made a flying start in doing so.

"Both my parents are Turkish, but I was born in Melbourne in Australia," Ofli said. "My parents came over to Australia when they were 18/19. We were living in Craigieburn [a suburb of Melbourne] and my parents separated and my dad had left the country for a minute, and about a month later the bank came and sold our house, so at this time my mum didn't have any family here and she didn't really have the best English at the time as well.

"We were essentially homeless, so her and my sister, all three of us were sleeping in the car and we went to go see a social worker, we went to go and get some help from the Victorian Government. And I remember we had a meeting with one of them and the lady said 'no, you're joking, you're sleeping in the car' and we were like 'yeah, come outside' and she could see that we had set the car up into a bedroom.

"So that's when they were pretty concerned for us and they had to obviously fix that situation as soon as possible, so that's when they put us into a church for a few weeks, we lived in a refuge camp for a few weeks. And they kind of just moved us around until we found somewhere temporary to live. At that time also, the Victorian Government also gave me a scholarship to continue my jiu-jitsu training as a teenager, so they gave me the space and allowed me to continue my sport through the hard times, so super grateful for that."

Part of Alexa Grasso's team on "The Ultimate Fighter," Ofli said he was hoping to be chosen by the UFC featherweight champion rather than opposing coach Valentina Shevchenko having been tipped off that the Russian's "old-school, militant" approach could be hard to adapt to.

But he feels right at home under Grasso, relishing the freedom to stick to what he knows and seek out the vast array of coaches for what he does not.

"To be able to have that space and support meant a lot, and it really helped all the fighters on our team,' he explained. "There [weren't] too many tactical or technical things that I picked up because you're only training for a couple of weeks before you have to fight, so it was more-so just making sure everything was sharp, everything was firing; mentally, physically you're all good; and thankfully Grasso gave us that opportunity."

As an Australian featherweight, there is no better role model for Ofli than Alexander Volkanovski, and the 30-year-old has already had the chance to train with the former UFC champion in the build-up for his title defense against Chan Sung Jung in 2022.

Ofli has also been across to the famed City Kickboxing gym in Auckland, New Zealand, where he has marveled at fighters like Israel Adesanya, who will return to the Octagon in Perth at UFC 305.

Those experiences and the one which will unfold on TV over the coming weeks have only narrowed his focus on one goal: becoming a UFC champion proper.

"I think we've got a very similar stature and frame, and the type of fighter I am I always like to learn from everybody," Ofli said of Volkanovski. "Izzy, he's also one of the greatest, but I can't expect to fight like Izzy. He's six-foot, he's long, if you try and mimic someone completely you're going to fail. So what I like to do is get little bits and pieces from everyone and add it to my toolbelt.

"And I definitely did that with Volkanovski, he's helped me a lot, and I've learned a lot of things from him. And I always knew that towards the end of his career was when my career was going to start to shine, so now having the platform of 'The Ultimate Fighter' my dream is to win it.

"I don't want to be here for too long, in the sense where I don't want to be fighting on the prelims, I don't want to be fighting no-names. I see myself having five years, so by winning 'The Ultimate Fighter,' I believe that I will be able to race to the belt.

"I want to be one of those guys who fights for the belt within two years. There [have] been four of five guys who have done that in the UFC and I can't see why I can't be another one."

While it may have taken more than just a gentle nudge from his wife to start the ball rolling, Ofli is in little doubt as to the direction he is headed.

"100% [there is a lot of self-belief]. Like I said I've come from nothing, I'm from humble beginnings and adversity, and a lot of guys barely scratch the surface of where I am now.

"I've kicked the front door down, I'm in 'The Ultimate Fighter' and that's not all I want to be, I want to be a UFC world champion."