In the early 1990s the former Yugoslavia split into six countries, the smallest by a considerable way was Montenegro (the 2011 census reported a population of 625,266), an enclave in south Eastern Europe which has only been separated from Serbia since 2006. It’s not known as a sporting hub but on Saturday one of its native sons, Predrag Radosevic, will be contesting an IBF middleweight title eliminator against far more experienced Felix Sturm at the Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany.
Interestingly enough, Sturm is a German national he is of Bosnian decent, adding a little extra spice to an already interesting contest that could see a changing of the guard, something Radosevic is keen to point out with a smile “You know that Sturm is from here (the old Yugoslavia) as well?”
The former three-time middleweight beltholder a quantum leap in levels for Radosevic, who is unperturbed by the considerable step up in class adding “Without doubt the fight with Sturm is the biggest fight of my career, something I was never dreaming of. However, while Sturm is the biggest fight of my career, for me he is an opponent the same as the other 27 I fought.”
Radosevic (27-0, 9 knockouts), who is ranked No. 4 by the IBF, was quick to point out that while he appreciates what Sturm has accomplished, as the younger man he has more to gain and that Sturm can ill afford another reverse.
“I’m aware of his achievements, but this is boxing and everybody has weak points,” he said. “He is 34; I’m 28. He had much harder fights and the big question is how much he has left. This is for me fight of my life, but for Sturm it’s the same. Coming off two loses, back to back, he knows if he loses this one it may be the end to his boxing career. He has much more to lose than me.”
The 2006 “Montenegro Sportsman of the Year” feels his strengths are much the same as his country in general though acknowledges he’ll need to use his brain as well as his fists to win this bout.
“Montenegro people in general are known as a people with huge heart,” he told RingTV.com. “One just has to look into the history of our country. I’m dedicated and determined, but a big heart will not be enough to beat Sturm and this is why we are working with my trainer Hartmut Schroder on strategy.”
Outside of Montenegro, very little is known about Radosevic. Last year the government took it upon themselves to contact Yugoslavian-born promoter Branco Milenkovic, who has lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for 25 years from where he operates his promotional empire, to see if he could help advance Radosevic’s career.
Milenkovic is internationally known having been involved in 65 IBF title fights in the past six years. Currently, he works with several fighters including current IBF flyweight titleholder Moruti Mthalane, as well as former junior middleweight title holder Jeffrey Mathebula, among others.
Milenkovic was all too happy to help. Radosevic doesn’t remember much of the conflict that occurred in his homeland in the early ‘90s.
“I was still young and didn’t understand many things,” he said before interestingly adding that he believes the move to independence weakened the country in more than one way.
“Something I understood very well later,” he said, “was the fact that as united Yugoslavia we were stronger not only as a country but as a sport nation as well.”
While boxing isn’t a big sport in Montenegro it was always something he enjoyed from a young age.=
“I used to love boxing as a child,” Radosevic said. “My father, who was working on a ship, once brought me boxing gloves as a present and I think this is how it started.”
Young Radosevic gravitated towards boxing because it was about what he could do, whereas team sports were about being connected in Montenegro.
“Prior to starting boxing I used to play soccer for five years,” he said. “The reason I left soccer for boxing, was that in boxing if you are better than your opponent you will go further, unlike in soccer where you will get a place on the team not based on your ability but on that how well connected your father is.”
From there he had a relatively good amateur career of an estimated 90 wins against only 16 losses. His biggest amateur achievement was winning the Balkan championship but because of the war that was taking place at the time he wasn’t able to enter either the Olympics or the World Championships.
Radosevic is also part of the Montenegro Elite Police Unit for special projects and VIP Protection, a job he says he loves.
So far only two fighters – Mate Pavlov in 1978 and Jan Zaveck in 2009 (who was assisted by Branco Milenkovic) – from the old Yugoslavia have held world titles. He views this match as one that can really help his country gain recognition.
“Same as for myself, for Montenegro this is the historic event and it is huge excitement and expectations,” he said. “Without doubt it will put the country on the world boxing map.”
“(Sturm) is wrong if he believes that I will be stepping stone for him in order to get to the IBF world title. I’d love the IBF title, but for me it is not only about it but about my livelihood and about making Montenegro proud and all these people who have been supporting me. Maybe in the ring it will be only two of us but I know that every moment of the fight behind me will be all of Montenegro.”
Photos / Branco Sports