Jelena Mrdjenovich, Q&A
What's your favourite book?
The Power of One.
The Fox and the Hound.
Steak. I love my steak. Alberta beef, born and raised.
Probably, being World Boxing Commission most improved fighter this last year.
If you could do any job other than this what would it be?
I love my job. I have the best job in the world: punching people in the face, getting paid and not getting charged for it.
Boxing versus mixed martial arts?
I feel like the novelty is going to wear off MMA and people are going to come back to boxing, because it is a tried and true sport. It has been around forever it will be around forever.
Jelena Mrdjenovich's smile and charming personality hide something very important; She can almost certainly knock you out. In her decade long career as a professional boxer 14 opponents have been sent to the canvas.
"You hear people saying 'Oh she's cute.' Well, wait till you see me hit someone."
Mrdjenovich, who grew up in the hamlet of Gainford, which lies about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, now lives in Sturgeon County, but she is most at home inside a boxing ring.
Mrdjenovich holds two featherweight title belts from two boxing associations, along with three others from weight classes she no longer competes in.
"I would just like to keep collecting. I like belts and jewelry," she jokes. "It is my kind of jewelry."
She says one day she would like a collection of belts that could surround her.
"I would like to disappear if I ever stood in the middle of them."
Right now, Mrdjenovich is aiming to hold on to the hardware she already has in a bout scheduled for Sept. 14 that will put one of those titles on the line.
Her trainer Milan Lubovac, whom she calls her "second dad," is supremely confident in Mrdjenovich's ability to win on Sept. 14.
"I would be surprised if it goes over five rounds, really," he says
Just a year ago, Mrdjenovich lost a fight to the same opponent she will fight Sept. 14. The crowd saw it differently than the judges, who gave it to her opponent in a decision after a full ten rounds, but Mrdjenovich is looking forward, not back.
Her record includes 28 wins, including 14 knockouts and one draw. She has eight losses on her record as well, but has never been knocked out. She has fought in Japan, Germany and several times here at home, but her boxing career began on a lark.
Mrdjenovich had a knee injury that sidelined her from the basketball court at the University of Alberta, so she decided she would give boxing a try.
"I kind of fell into boxing, I watched boxing on TV with my dad and I thought that could be kind of neat."
After trying it out she quickly became hooked.
"I love the sport, I love boxing. I come down here and I am like a kid in the gym," the now 30-year-old says. "I am a lot older than everybody here now, but I am the first one in and one of the last few to leave. That passion, that fun and that drive is what keeps me going."
Having been in the ring for 10 years, Mrdjenovich has gone through ups and downs throughout her career and has at times thought about hanging up her gloves.
"You kind of look at everything and you step back," she says. "I have had an up-and-down career and there have been a couple of times, like when I lost my title, where you kind of say 'hey, what do I do now?' "
Those doubts are in the past, however, because the past year has seen an upward trajectory.
"I am at the peak of my career right now, so how can I think about retirement?"
Lubovac said he doesn't know what keeps Mrdjenovich going.
"She doesn't need more money, she doesn't need fame, she doesn't need more titles."
Over the last year, Lubovac said the 10 years of training have really started to click.
"She used to get by and wasn't doing the right things, now she is doing everything right."
Lubovac said Mrdjenovich's form is excellent and she puts in the work needed to stay in shape, training every morning and five nights a week. Professional fights last ten rounds and Lubovac says, even when she falls behind in a contest she catches up.
"She just punches that hard, so if the fight is 10 rounds she will catch you."
He said boxing is largely a mental game, and that part of it has now come together.
"Physically, you have to be in great shape, but 75 per cent of it is upstairs."
Full-time boxing is not a full-time career for Mrdjenovich, so when she is not at the gym she works for the family business. Nova Ventures is a development company and hotel group and are weeks away from opening a new hotel on St. Albert Trail and Yellowhead Trail.
She says without the family support she couldn't box professionally.
"I am lucky that my family loves me and they are very lenient toward me."
Lately for Mrdjenovich, the biggest challenge has been finding the next bout. Several YouTube videos show her landing heavy hits on opponents who instantly fall to the canvas. With advertisements like that, there haven't been a lot of volunteers recently to take her on.
"I can't explain it because that is not my mentality, because I would fight anybody," says Mrdjenovich.
Lubovac who helps arrange her contests says fighters have backed out after initially agreeing and others simply don't return calls.
"She is probably the most powerful fighter in her division, probably the most powerful fighter in either hand."
Mrdjenovich is aware that winning in September could actually make the problem worse.
"If I knock this girl out it could be extremely hard to ever get me another fight."
All or nothing
That it might limit her future challengers isn't holding Mrdjenovich back from an aggressive stance in the ring.
"I am a brawler. I love putting on entertaining fights. I get bored when people are just trying to outbox each other. I like to put on a great show."
Taking such an aggressive stance can leave a boxer open and can cost them in the judging, but it doesn't stop her.
"It may not be the smartest thing to do and I get in a lot of trouble in the corner, but I love to put on entertaining fights," she says. "I would love to finish every fight at home by knockout, that is my goal. I want to knock the girl out and I will do my best."
Mrdjenovich said part of that is just about respecting the fans.
"You guys pay enough money to come watch us fight and I want to make sure you get every penny worth."
- The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Mrdjenovich grew up in St. Albert. The Gazette apologizes for the error.