Growing up in a war-torn country is difficult. Obviously, that goes without being said, but for people in other parts of the world who wake up in a nice, cushy suburb with clean streets, intact buildings and ongoing development will never understand what it is like to wake up in the morning to see many buildings around them nearly destroyed.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the 1990’s saw a lot of changes on conflicts throughout Europe. 1991 ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and shortly after, the break-up of Yugolslavia led to the Bosian War. The Bosnia War lasted a few years, and it was devastating to the region consisting of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as different ethnic groups, who were once neighbors, were at war with each other. That war ended in Dec. 1995, 11 months after ONE Championship welterweight Roberto Soldić was born. Of Croatian descent, he was born and raised in Vitez, Bosnia. His earliest memories are of a post-war Bosnia.
“I was really small by the end of the war,” Soldić told Combat Press. “I was just born, but after 10 years, I felt it still. There were videos and everything, and I would hear people talk, you know? Everything was destroyed – houses. But now, they are better, because they invested money, and they’re recovered every house. It was really tough when I watched the videos.
“My father was first on the frontline. There were so many dead guys, like, for nothing. Now, everyone is together in school – Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian – and everything is mixed like before. We keep each other together. People died for nothing. You know, war is always bullshit. It was a tough, tough life. Poor, poor people didn’t have bread. They had to buy a Kalashnikov and defend their house from someone. They didn’t want to go into war, but you have to attack. It was really sad, and the most important thing now is that we are together again.”
The 28-year-old Soldić’s family still lives in Bosnia, but his MMA training is in Düsseldorf. He has an older sister who is now 40, and a brother who is 33 and is also in Germany. When he was growing up, life was a bit of a mixed bag. He enjoyed sports, but was also surrounded by a lot of the negative aspects of a post-war city. Fortunately, he eventually headed down the path to where he is today.
“I started playing football, but there was also a lot of criminal stuff – weapons, cheap drugs, stealing cars and other stuff,” Soldić explained. “So, it’s a tough life, you know, like poor families. You work all day for 250 Euros, and you don’t have health insurance. It’s like everything is messed up. Everything is crazy.
“In 2011, I started to follow, like, for real MMA, but we followed since 2002. We followed it from Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ [Filipović] against [Kazuyuki] Fujita. I don’t remember when he fought Ernesto Hoost and everything, but, from 2002, I remember when he fought Fujita and the blood on his head. I remember when he fought [Antonio] ‘Minotauro’ [Rodrigo Nogueira] and Hong-man Choi and guys like that. I never thought that I could start that also.”
In 2012, there was an MMA Fight Club Gladiator event in Soldić’s hometown. This is the promotion that brought on stars like 2022 PFL heavyweight champion Ante Delija, who is also Croatian. the champion of PFL came from. Soldić had previously trained in Judo, but it was in 2012 that he started to clean up his diet, stop going to bars, and cut out anything that was not conducive to his athletic pursuits. When he was 17, he had finished high school, and he spent the next two years training every day. He eventually met a coach at a Final Fight Championship event, and asked him to get some fights.
After little-to-no professional sparring experience, Soldić entered the MMA scene taking out some really good fighters in the region. Next thing he knows, it’s early 2015, and he is 4-0 as a pro with three knockouts and one submission. Again, at one of the events he was at early in his pro career, he met his eventual manager, Ivan Dijaković.
“In 2014, Ivan brought in a guy named Nic Salchov,” said Soldić. “He beat this guy from Croatia who was 15-1, when he was only 4-0. He beat him easily, like in four minutes. He got the takedown to a ground-and-pound finish. I was at the same event with my friend Ivo [Skopljak], and he fought Ruben Wolf. I saw Gilbert Yvel from Pride, and I asked him, ‘Where is this gym?’. They said, ‘In Germany – the University of Fighting Gym Düsseldorf.’ So, I sent Ivan a friend request on Facebook. We started talking, and I said I was very interested in training. He told me I had to wait, because he had one fighter who was sleeping in this room. In 2015, he said to me after Easter, he said to me I can come now. I just wanted to train with the best guys.
“From 2015, I slept for two years in the gym. Ivan found me all the best guys to fight. So in 2016, I went to Russia, and I lost a split decision against Yaroslov Amasov. He’s the Bellator champion now. From that time, I had a lot of experience. I also traveled to a gym in Holland to kickbox. I traveled to Brazil to do jiu-jitsu and Luta Livre. Then, I went to Las Vegas to the Xtreme Couture gym, just for training, you know? And then my manager called me, and Dricus du Plessis was out against Borys Mańkowski. He asked me if I wanted Borys. At that time, Borys was six-years undefeated in KSW. He was the champion. I took the belt from him on short notice. Every one of my fights was short-notice. Now I fight for ONE Championship, and dreams come true.”
After becoming a two-division champ in KSW, Soldić made his much-anticipated ONE Championship debut in Dec. 2022 against Murad Ramazanov. It was a highly touted fight that came to a disappointing end when an accidental knee landed to the groin of the Croatian only three minutes into the fight, and it was ruled a no contest. Soldić takes partial responsibility for the way it ended.
“My only mistake is that I didn’t have the steel cup or even plastic cup,” Soldić admitted. “I used a foam cup for a long time. I think with a steel cup, maybe I could have recovered. But with this foam cup, it was soft, you know? It was my mistake. I don’t know why that guy threw the knee in that position. You could only hit me in the balls.”
As 2023 rolled around, ONE Championship announced they would be making their North American debut. This Friday, May 5, ONE Fight Night 10 lands at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo., and Soldić will face ONE veteran and former welterweight champion Zebaztian Kadestam as a feature fight on the main card. The Swedish fighter is coming in off back-to-back first-round stoppage victories in 2022.
“He’s a good striker, a dangerous guy, and a former ONE champion,” said Soldić. “He has fought with everyone. He just goes forward, and tries to kill you with the elbows and knees. He’s a super good guy. He’s got good conditioning, good mental stuff. He’s a real fighter, but we will see. I think I’m different. He will feel it. On YouTube, you can see a lot, but when you feel it in the cage, it’s different. I believe in my skills, in my level, in my hands, wrestling, jiu-jitsu. I believe in everything. I’m ready to go.
“I believe in myself. I don’t miss training. I live for this every day. I give everything in the training. I’m disciplined. I’m motivated. When I go in there, I do my job. And, maybe God gave me something. I don’t know. I’m just ready to go. I keep coming forward, and I believe I’m a complete MMA fighter. I just work hard every day, and I never give up.”
For every fighter on the card, ONE Fight Night 10 is a huge deal. The organization celebrated their largest event in history in Mar. 2022 when ONE X featured a whopping 20 bouts across four fighting disciplines at their home base in Singapore. For this weekend’s event, there will be 11 bouts, featuring MMA, Muay Thai and submission grappling, including three title fights. For the combat sports world, all eyes will be on ONE Fight Night 10 this Friday.
“It’s good for me,” said Soldić. “I will try to put on the best performance of my life – one that people remember. For me, fighting in the U.S., you know, it’s a big stage. It’s a world stage for people following MMA in my country. I’m really super excited for this match-up, too. It’s ONE Championship for the first time in the U.S., so it’s like a historic event. I can say that I was part of this event, too.
“I will try to give my best. I want to show people the real me, and that people can enjoy. I bring the noise in the arena, and people will talk about this. I will give my best.”
ONE Fight Night 10 airs live on Prime Video at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on Friday, May 5, from the 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colo. The event is free for all Amazon Prime subscribers based in the U.S. and Canada.