24/01/2008 - 11.41

Strugar vs. Dzildzic in Montenegro: a Beautiful Title Bout

IVAN THE GREAT

The Montenegro superstar dominated. Boban Nikic promoted a real great show at Hotel Splendid.

by Ennio Falsoni

The brand new Hotel Splendid in Budva (Montenegro) -- a five-star hotel which is a pearl on the Adriatic Sea -- was the prestigious site of a long-awaited title bout. Ivan Strugar, born in Podgorica 33 years ago and one of the superstars of kickboxing, having won gold medals in WAKO world championships and WAKO-PRO world titles in 75, 78 and 81 kilos respectively during the past decade, was longing to also capture the 85 kg crown which belonged to Zalko Dzildzic from Bosnia Herzegovina. Such an achievement had never before been accomplished.

As everybody knows, the two fighters once lived in the same country, Yugoslavia. But after its disintegration, they are now the flag-bearers and heroes of two different countries, Montenegro and Bosnia. When Ivan Strugar officially challenged Zdildzic, Bosnian pride skyrocketed.
Zalko is a formidable fighter and a very nice person. He is very well known and loved in his country where he attracts thousands and thousands of people when he fights in Tuzla (the Muslim part of Bosnia). The same can be said of Ivan Strugar. The last time he fought in the Podgorica sport-hall there were 6000 fans to support him. Those numbers give you an idea of the interest these two can generate. It is even more impressive if you consider that Montenegro has only 650,000 inhabitants as a country!

Unfortunately, Zalko injured his right knee and it took him a few months to recover. Therefore, the title bout was delayed, but the managers of the fighters agreed to have the first match in Budva last December 14 and the re-match (no matter what result) in Tuzla in March 2008 (it has now been fixed for March 22).

Boban Nikic, the former general manager of the Montenegro national team and now just a promoter and a manager, is the man backing Ivan Strugar’s fighting career. He is the one who had the idea of putting on a great show in Budva, thanks to the fact that the town now boasts one of the best and most luxurious hotels on the Adriatic Coast, the Hotel Splendid. Talking to the general manager of the hotel and the Minister of Tourism of the country, he found the financial backing to organize a formidable show.

The Hotel Splendid has a grand ballroom, also used for conferences, which nicely fit Boban’s needs. He brought in a beautiful ring, lights, national TV, gigantic posters of the two great fighters to adorn the hall and 650 chairs, only around the ring. Seats cost from 100 to 250 Euros each and were sold out in 48 hours. That night the Hotel Splendid saw “la crème de la crème” of Montenegro society. The card of the night offered 4 extremely selective title matches.

The first match saw Frenchman Zinedine Hameur fighting against Croatian Gordan Jukic for the European heavyweight title in low-kick. Hameur, who seized control of the centre of the ring from the very beginning of the match, KOed his opponent in the second round with a perfect right to the chin.

In the second match, veteran Mirko Vlahovic was offered the chance to fight for the intercontinental title in the super-heavyweight category against young Brazilian Rogerio Lima, who is also an expert in Brazilian vale tudo. Everyone realized from the outset that Vlahovic would be in danger. Rogerio was clearly more active, more powerful and in the end Mirko went to the canvas in the third round.

The third title bout was supposed to feature one who I think is among the greatest talents I have ever seen between the ropes, Russian Konstantin Sbytov, the world champion in low-kick in the 71-kilo category, and also a formidable fighter in full contact in which he won a gold at the WAKO world championships in Szeged (Hungary) in 2005. Unfortunately, Sbytov had a terrible car accident just a month before the bout and went into a coma for 4 days. Probably his competitive career is in danger, so the Russian federation replaced him with a Dagestan fighter called Rizvan Isaev, someone I had never seen. He turned out to be a very unusual kind of fighter, strong and elusive at the same time, not very spectacular and not in possession of great power, but one who fought with efficacy. His poor Polish opponent, Michal Glokowski, who had finished in a draw in the Belgrade WAKO World championships against Konstantin Sbytov, and who was my favourite to win since Konstantin was not there, wound up losing his head against such an evanescent Russian fighter and lost on points.

Frankly speaking, most of the people present did not pay much attention to the preliminary matches. Everybody was there to see Strugar in action against the world champion. Both sides were confident, but Bosnia’s Halilovic confessed to me that Zalko was not in top form because he was suffering from the flu. After a break of music and songs by local girls, the two champions entered the ring and I could immediately feel a change of atmosphere and tension in the air. Both fighters were very calm outwardly but in full concentration. After their respective national anthems the match started.

Ivan Strugar took the initiative which he never relinquished to Zalko for the entire 5 rounds of 3 minutes. The Bosnian world champion tried from time to time to be effective with some of his beautiful kicks, but Strugar was always in control of the match, appearing to be more powerful and better at boxing. He landed some solid punches and low-kicks and was never in danger during the whole match. He won clearly by points much to the delight of his followers, capturing his fourth crown in a row. It is a record which will be difficult to beat and which I think will remain for years.