Canada’s Jelena Mrdjenovich Wants it All
In the male dominated side of professional boxing, it is rare when an established champion must travel outside his familiar confines to defend his own title, but in the female side of the sport, it is a common occurrence as women look for the biggest challenges, best deal or simply to get to show off their wares, period.
Canada’s Jelena Mrdjenovich (36-10-1, 19KO) will travel across the Atlantic to face undefeated Gaelle Amand (14-0, 1KO) of France on October 8th. The veteran Mrdjenovich will be putting her WBC and WBA featherweight titles on the line for the opportunity to hand Amand her first professional loss.
“Gaelle Amand’s people contacted us and they wanted the fight. It is an exciting fight for me because she is undefeated, I believe she is 16 and 0 or 14 and 0, I am not sure, fighting undefeated fighters is always exciting,” the charismatic Mrdjenovich said to the 2-Min Round, the bi-weekly podcast on the Leave It In the Ring network dedicated to female boxing hosted by David Avila, Elena “Baby Doll” Reid and Felipe Leon. “I think it’s a great match up. It’s a great step up for her; I come with a lot of experience. Fighting in anybody’s hometown is always exciting and fun for me. I can say I have been on both ends of the stick where I have won in other people’s hometown and I have also lost. Taking that challenge of going on the road is always something I enjoy doing in my career.”
A professional prizefighter since 2003, Mrdjenovich has fought nearly every name in the sport within 10 pounds of the featherweight division including such names as Layla McCarter, Mia St. John, Belinda Laracuente and Melissa Hernandez among others, noting she has learned something from each one.
“When you have been around as long as I have, you are bound to fight everybody at some point and time. Every fight I have learned something different from each opponent,” she explained. “Be it the experienced fighters or be it the inexperienced ones who take fights last minute. I have been very fortunate in my career that I have had a great learning curve and I am still constantly learning. I keep becoming a better fighter and maturing even more as a fighter. I have learned a lot from each opponent I have had. Layla McCarter was slick as was Melissa Hernandez. Saccurato was a lot bigger than me so I learned something from that. Mia St. John came with a lot of experience so when you think back of all the opponents I’ve had and the different things they came with, I have definitely learned a lot.”
After hurting her leg and thus ending her college basketball career, Mrdjenovich began boxing after watching a fight on TV while convalescing from her injury. Thirteen years later she is nearly reaching a landmark amount of fights, a fact which keeps her motivated.
“This will be my 48th fight, the one in France, so I definitely want to hit my 50 mark for sure. I tend to make short-term goals that way they are achievable and once you hit that goal you get to move on to another one. My goal last fight was to recapture my title and become the WBA champion as well.”
The 34-year-old Mrdjenovich has been one of the lucky ones in the sport with a promoter who has supported her through the thick and thin of her career while helping her to gather a considerable following in her native Edmonton, Canada.
“I’ve done most of my career herein Edmonton, we have been fortunate enough to get quite a bit of a following here. I know a lot of people were excited Heather Hardy’s fight was broadcast on TV, but we’ve had a lot of my fights broadcast across Canada, we had a contract with them,” Mrdjenovich stated in regard of female boxing in Canada versus their neighbor down to the south.
“We were fortunate enough that I have the fans of Edmonton and Canada to get behind me. I have been lucky enough to be able to stay at home with my promoters KO Boxing and my coach who has been my coach my entire career here in Edmonton. I think it is hard, I think women’s boxing in the U.S. is still gaining that exposure; it is still quite not there yet. A couple of girls in L.A. and Heather Hardy in New York are starting to build the momentum and that is what we need, that exposure and exciting fights. We need great match ups. I think that is what women’s boxing is missing in the states. Once it captivates and captures the audience there, then it is going to be more mainstream. I think it is going to blow up like the MMA and UFC did.”
Despite her multiple appearances on Canadian airwaves, Mrdjenovich doesn’t feel she has gone over the hump to celebrity status.
“Yes and no, I think that is a tough thing with female sports in general unless you are Serena Williams or something like that, it is tough to get that notoriety as a ‘celebrity’. At sporting events I am definitely recognized, here and there I am but it is no means the same as I think as the male counterparts. What is funny is I think that in Mexico I get noticed more than I do in Canada or the states.”
The unified champ’s pending trip to Paris will not be her first having traveled to Japan and Argentina in the past to show her wares. She is hoping this trip is more like her first to the “land of the rising sun” than her last to the South American country. On that trip to face Soledad Matthysse, Mrdjenovich, lost her WBC title via unanimous decision in a country where you must knock out your opponent to score a draw.
“I went full-knowing I would have to either knock her out or basically beat her next to a knock out to win that fight. We had some challenges along the way in camp, I had a couple of nagging injuries and I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do in training camp,” Mrdjenovich said. “I think that translated in the fight, I ended up being a little flat. Even though I think I came out a little flat and not quite myself, I still thought, with the WBC, you have the chance to have open scoring, we have the scoring after the fourth and after the eighth round. We got the scores after the fourth round and we thought we were actually up 3-1 or even worse case scenario and they had us down four rounds to nothing. We were quite shocked and the minute that score came out, Matthysse got on her horse and basically ran the rest of the fight, which basically dictated the fight. It was definitely frustrating, disheartening and a tough pill to swallow. We had them back in March and we had to pay through the nose to get them here and there was no way I was going to let them leave Edmonton without decisively winning a decision here.”
For the rematch Mrdjenovich and her team did everything they could to be ready for whatever Matthysse would bring to the table.
“The most important thing at my age and with the amount of fights that I have is staying injury free. Normally I never have an issue with that. This time we just went back to basics. We did more roadwork; we tried to get my body to just work properly. So for this one we made sure I was really healthy and I ran. My coach took me aside and we had a little talk and he said all I needed to do was to show up. He said we didn’t show up in Argentina and all you need to do is show up and you need to enjoy the fight. I came out in that fight, in the first four rounds I was nervous, I hadn’t experienced that in a long time and it was like we continued the fight in Argentina. I started a little slow and I was a little hesitant. She started running a little bit but then I got my head out of my ass and I started fighting like I should fight and decisively won. From round five on with a knockdown and I think I won a couple of rounds in the beginning but I wasn’t fighting like I wanted to. Once I relaxed and started hitting the body and cutting her off, the fight was a completely different fight. That is the thing with me, once I execute my game plan, as long as I can stick to that, I don’t think there is anybody in the world that can beat me at my weight.”
Always the competitor, Mrdjenovich only wants the best in what might be the final stretch of her career but as always looking to challenge herself with perhaps a surprise move.
“I always would like to fight someone who is top 1 or 2 in the world. Every time there is a new challenger that is who I want,” Mrdjenovich shared. “Right now Amanda Serrano is definitely in the crosshairs since she is the WBO champion. We have tried to make that fight happen a number of years but for some reason their people and our people couldn’t come to an agreement. They didn’t have a promoter and someone in their camp couldn’t come to Canada so it was a challenge. It is definitely one we have always wanted to make happen, she is definitely in the crosshairs. I like the things Heather Hardy is doing, she is a little bit smaller than me by maybe that is when I drop down to 122. You never know, there is a lot of girls out there that they up and coming. I just have to watch my back being that I am 48 fights in and still going. You always have to watch the back to see who is coming up the ranks.”
So what is more important for Mrdjenovich, unifying the titles in the featherweight or dropping down to super bantamweight and capturing that fourth title in as many weight classes? The answer for her is easy.
“I want to have it all, why can’t I do both of them? This might be greedy of me but I want to do it all. That is why I am where I am, because I just want to do everything, have everything and be everything all at the same time. That is how I challenge myself; I know that is definitely greedy. These girls have titles so they are world champions in their own right and I want that, I want to have every belt, every title, and I want to challenge the best. According to the WBO Amanda Serrano is their champion, well I want to be their champion too, I just never had the opportunity to fight for the WBO. They have never sanctioned us to fight for their title so otherwise I am sure I would have it too. I think that is a great fight, the same with women’s boxing of what we need is these kind of match ups, this is what is going to get us the exposure that we need and the notoriety we need. It is absolutely what I want to happen. Even if I drop to 122, I don’t want to fight somebody that is ranked more than five, I want to fight the number one girl in that division. I want to fight the WBC champion at 122 if my body lets me go down to 122. These are the kind of goals I set for myself. When you ask me what is more important, well they are both important but I think at different times. Right now I am a featherweight champion, I plan to keep this title for the rest of my career, if I do make an appearance at 122, it would be just an appearance, win a title maybe that is my final swan song, who knows? I am loving what I do, I am feeling very strong and very capable at featherweight and I still feel there is a good fight to happen so I am happy here for now.”
To listen the full, unedited interview, please visit LeaveItInTheRingRadio.com and search for the 2-Min Rd.: Your Hooks and Jabs On The Female Fight World.