Neven Pajkic readily admits that many people haven’t heard of him.
The current Canadian heavyweight champion is on foreign soil, challenging British star Tyson Fury on Saturday night in Manchester, England. Although come Sunday morning, Pajkic could be the heavyweight representative of the Commonwealth, he could likely walk down the street anywhere within it and never be recognized.
“Even though people say I’m a big underdog, they don’t really know who I am,” said Pajkic (16-0, five knockouts), who is indeed a massive underdog according to the bookies, as wide as 7-1 in some places.
But those who are familiar with Pajkic have found him uncharacteristic as of late as well. Followers of Canadian boxing have always known the 34 year old as a good natured, soft-spoken man, particularly when behind the microphone. However, several ill-fated attempts to make a fight with Fury changed Pajkic’s tune completely.
“I respect him as a fighter, but as a person, I’m not crazy about him at all,” Pajkic told RingTV.com. “He contradicts himself all the time. Whatever man. I don’t know how to describe him, really.”
Pajkic’s message has softened a little, but he can be forgiven if he’s irritated or has run out of words to say about Fury. Last winter, he engaged in a Canadian press tour under the assumption that a fight would be signed with the Briton. It was not, resulting in plenty of expletive-laced tirades coming from both fighters.
It happened again and again. Fury’s promoter Hennessy Sports and the Canadian outfit Wild Card Promotions would get on the phone, meet up, fax contracts and suggest venues that ranged from Toronto, to Montreal, to Belfast. A contract was never faxed both ways with a signature until last month.
“I only want you to sleep for 11 seconds,” said Pajkic to Fury at the final press conference on Wednesday, showing a glimpse of his traditional kind demeanor.
A knockout is not typically something the Toronto, Ontario resident aims for. As a late arrival to the sport of boxing, Pajkic’s trainer Peter Wiley has been efficient with the tools his fighter has, and has helped craft a swarming contact fighter who has won the majority of his bouts on the merits of relentlessness and conditioning.
“What am I gonna do, jab with him? No, I’m gonna get in there and do my thing,” said Pajkic of his game plan. “I’m not planning to go the distance with him. I’m planning to take him out in the later rounds. But cardio will be a factor, because he’s never been pressured the way I’ll pressure him. He’s gonna get tired.”
Fury (16-0, 11 KOs) had been criticized early in his career for poor conditioning, which the youngster charmingly attributed to a love of pie and popcorn. Recently though, he’s hit the gym more than the snack bar, and put together two impressive wins over former Commonwealth titleholder Dereck Chisora and gatekeeper Nicolai Firtha.
“Listen man, I’m a realist. When I’m judging his fights, it doesn’t matter whether or not I like him. He looked good in both fights,” admits Pajkic, who gives up six inches in height to his opponent.
Luckily, the hulking Canuck happens to have a friend and former roommate in 6-foot-7 heavyweight Ray Olubowale, who has acted as a mimic for Fury in sparring. Olubowale is a frequent sparring partner for David Haye—perhaps the only British heavyweight in recent memory who has received more hype than Fury.
The success, combined with the attention Fury has received from the rabid British boxing media has afforded him the platform to call out bigger names in the division for the future, such as WBA “regular” beltholder Alexander Povetkin.
As for Pajkic, he relishes his anonymity. After all, if the underdog is going to commit theft on international turf, maybe it’s better that nobody recognizes him on the street.
“Once I beat him, I’m going to steal his spotlight.”