Americans take pride in convenience. From 7-Eleven stores to shopping malls to being able to order just about anything from a smartphone, tablet or even a watch, we like having everything under one roof.
However, this wasn’t the case for the UFC’s Bojan Veličković when he began his MMA career in his native Serbia. After dabbling in many different sports while growing up, including soccer, basketball, skateboarding, kickboxing and Muay Thai, Veličković settled on MMA, but he discovered that doing so meant he still had to travel to many different places to pursue his passion.
“In Serbia, guys have to train each discipline separately,” Veličković told Combat Press. “I had to go to a boxing gym, then a jiu-jitsu gym, then a kickboxing gym, and then guys had to get together and do MMA sparring on weekends. But guys in Serbia couldn’t support themselves by just fighting, so they had jobs like being a bouncer on the weekends, and there was just a lot of hustling. But guys just weren’t very committed.”
Luckily for Veličković, he landed a spot on a Serbian reality TV show similar to the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter. After Veličković was victorious on the show, he received an opportunity to travel to the United States and compete for regional organization Ring of Fire. It was in the States where Veličković got his first taste of what training in MMA professionally is really like when he joined American Top Team.
“They had guys from the UFC, Bellator and Strikeforce, and one of my first training partners was Hector Lombard, when he was the champion in Bellator,” Veličković said, adding that he also trained with the UFC’s Thiago Alves and former UFC fighter Thiago Silva.
“It was just train, eat and rest, then train, eat and sleep,” Veličković said. “Training is their life. I wondered how these guys can fight for 15 or 20 minutes nonstop, but then I saw the doctors and nutritionists that these guys had. I never had access to that before.”
It was during Veličković’s time at ATT that he was invited to the Elevation Fight Team in Colorado by the UFC’s Brandon Thatch to help fighters like Neil Magny prepare for fights. Veličković continued his training with Elevation and began thinking that he needed a new home.
“ATT was crowded with big names, and I felt like they never believed in me like the guys at Elevation do,” Veličković said. “When the UFC did The Ultimate Fighter with American Top Team facing the Blackzilians, I was told I would be on the show. But it didn’t work out and I wasn’t on the team, even though guys who hadn’t been there as long as me were on the team. But I’m not mad at anyone about it.”
Veličković was splitting his time between ATT and Elevation Fight Team, and noted that other fighters lived elsewhere but would travel to ATT in Florida for their fight camps. Veličković and ATT eventually reached a mutual agreement to part ways, and Veličković has since moved to Colorado to train full-time with Elevation.
With an overall professional record of 14-4-1, Veličković made his UFC debut last year on the organization’s first-ever fight card in Croatia. He entered the Octagon following a 4-1 run and a title win in the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance.
“Croatian fans are crazy for the UFC because of fighters like Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ [Filipovic],” Veličković said. “There are some promotions based in Croatia also, and to make my debut in front of my fans, friends and family was a dream come true. The UFC is different from any other promotion, but there wasn’t anything about it that surprised me. The UFC is the best promotion in the world with their professionalism. Everyone works really well together, everything is organized, and they make fight week easy for fighters.”
Veličković won his UFC debut against Alessio Di Chirico, but he has since been on the wrong end of two close fights against former ATT teammates. First, he battled to a draw with Michael Graves. Then, he suffered a split decision loss to Sultan Aliev.
“I knew them both very well,” Veličković said. “During the fight with Michael, I found out his coaches were my coaches for four years. They told him some things that I was going to do, but he also did some things that shocked me. Mike is a good grappler who’s finished fights on the ground. I also let Sultan take the fight to the ground, but he didn’t really do anything. I wasn’t in danger, but spending time on your back isn’t good. I thought I landed more strikes, but I didn’t have a good strategy.”
Veličković’s next fight comes against Nico Musoke, whose record currently sits at 13-4, at UFC Fight Night 109 on May 28 in Sweden. The Croatian’s strategy is “to be dominant everywhere.”
“My last two fights were against wrestlers, so I want to let my striking come out as well,” he said. “They avoided the fight on their feet, but my next opponent is a good technical striker. I’m getting ready for 15 minutes of a real bloody war. He’s fighting in his hometown, so I have to be ready to push him and break him.”
Veličković hopes his fight against Musoke will show the UFC that he’s ready to face someone in the welterweight top 10 or 20.
“I do better under pressure and when the odds are against me,” Veličković said. “I want to show the UFC that I can handle the big fights. All three of my fights so far have been on Fight Pass, when the arena was still empty. I think I deserve to be on the televised preliminary card or main card. I know I can perform well and deliver exciting fights.”