05/06/2009 - 18.27

STRUGAR-ZDILDZIC 3: THE REVENGE

Strugar

In Montenegro, Podgoriça, the capital    

In a jam-packed sports palace, the champion from Montenegro wins by KO in the fourth round over his archrival and regains possession of the light-heavyweight crown.  

by Ennio Falsoni  

There are few places in the world in which I feel as proud to be the president of a world federation as I do in the Balkans. In almost all the countries in this region, kickboxing is a popular sport that is closely followed by the media, much like other sports that are much richer and well known than ours. The press conferences are always well attended, the news channels acknowledge us with filmed highlights and I have frequent meetings with sports and political authorities at the highest levels. In other words, they make me feel like an important person, and it’s obviously a good feeling. It happened again in Montenegro. I arrived in Podgoriça, the capital on Montenegro, in the early afternoon of May 25. I was picked up at the airport and taken to my hotel. At 5 p.m. I had a meeting with Milo Djukanovic, the Prime Minister, who just two weeks earlier had hosted Silvio Berlusconi at his home. The reason, besides the fact that Djukanovic is a supporter of Ivan Strugar, who is a local sports hero, is that this small country is desperately trying to enter the European Union and is utilizing sports as a window to the country, like a publicity vehicle, to demonstrate their organizational and technical skills. Therefore, they would like to host a WAKO European or world championship event in the next few years. Mr. Djukanovic, in addition to guaranteeing to me his personal support of the initiative, also confirmed that he is working on getting some low-cost airlines to fly into Podgoriça, which would greatly facilitate access for tourists and sportsmen alike. The following day was the third title fight between the 85 kg low-kick world champion, Bosnia’s Salko Dzildzic, and the ex-champion, Ivan Strugar. At 10 a.m. I was welcomed by Marco Mugasha, the Mayor of Podgoriça, together with the directors of the Montenegro national Federation, and at 11 a.m. we held a press conference with numerous local radio and television interviews. After a brief pause I was at the Podgoriça sports hall for what promised to be an unforgettable evening for one of the two fighters. Ivan Strugar, 34, was certainly at a turning point following a long career highlighted by incredible successes. He holds the record of world titles won in different categories, from 75 kilos in which he fought during the golden era of our Daniele Petroni, whom he met three times, to 85 kilos, the title he lost by KO to Dzildzic in Tuzla last year. If he had lost to his younger rival again I honestly believe he would have hung up his gloves. But evidently Strugar never even thought of losing and at the press conference he predicted he would bring the title back home. When he talked he had the appearance of being totally concentrated on his mission. Salko is a nice young man, easy-going and always smiling. He had trained hard, was in good condition and was confident that he would retain his title and win again by KO. As always, the ultimate verdict would be decided in the ring that evening. The first meeting between these two was held three years ago in the beautiful new Splendid Hotel in Budva, the Monte Carlo of Montenegro, as they called it. It was an evening for a select few, 600 spectators. The match was always in Strugar’s hands as he checked every assault from Dzildzic and won a clear decision. But Salko wasn’t feeling well that evening, as he would later tell me. Indeed, in their second meeting, in Tuzla, Bosnia, before 8000 spectators, the hometown favorite knocked out the world champion as the crowd literally went wild. Therefore, that evening in Podgoriça would decide once and for all who was the best. After 5 matches, some of which were between youngsters that were hard to watch, and two good matches (I liked Bosnia’s Emkic who won on points over Croatia’s Bozic, and the Croat of Kosovo origin Preteni who beat Bosnia’s Tufekcic) the two title contenders finally entered the ring accompanied by loud music, fireworks, smoke and lights. The Montenegro fans are highly partisan and not well behaved and Dzildzic entered the ring to salvos of catcalls and booing. But neither he nor his handlers seemed to pay any attention. Evidently they were prepared for this lack of good sportsmanship. I noticed that when Strugar entered the ring he was wearing the same T-shirt, with Yugoslavia written on the back, that he had used when he was a member of the united national team. It was a historical find and evidently he wore it as a good-luck charm. The referee of the match was Simurina of Serbia, while the judges were Igor Beziak (Croatia), Flavio Brivio (Italy) and Lazlo Gregor (Hungary), an impeccably neutral quartet. I must say the match was fantastic and fully lived up to expectations. It was full of tension, strong and rapid execution and great determination on the part of both fighters who offered a show that was well worth the price of admission. “This is all the public wanted to see,” Boban Nikic, the local organizer, told me in justification of the shabby undercard. Salko, more flexible than Strugar, displayed his excellent kicking technique, like the splendid frontal kick to Strugar’s face that caused him to fly backwards during the third round. Having already KOed Strugar with punches, he tried to win this time with his feet, but the careful Strugar managed to avoid his heavy kick broadsides. On the other hand, the local hero landed powerful roundhouse kicks to the Bosnian’s arms and sometimes they reached his torso as evidenced by the redness of his left ribcage. But the masterpiece came in the fourth round. After a series of kicks toward the body, of which two lateral kicks reached their target, Ivan unleashed a roundhouse right foot. Salko was convinced it was another shot to the body and inexplicably (perhaps because they were truly strong kicks) he lowered both arms for a fraction of a second. But Strugar’s kick was aimed directly at the left side of Salko’s head and, as if hit by a baseball bat, he collapsed heavily to the canvas. Strugar quickly went to a neutral corner so that the referee could begin the count as the crowd went crazy. “8-9-10” said Simurina, it’s a KO! Salko had tried to get up, but his legs were wobbly and he had a blank stare on his face and was probably wondering how he was going to regain his senses in a few seconds. He tried his best but it was clear he couldn’t continue. Dzildzic’s seconds entered the ring and got him to sit down in his corner while Strugar was bursting with joy. As often happens, he climbed the ropes in the corners to receive the crowd’s cheers. What joy he must have been feeling and what a relief for his future. There is already talk of him attempting to win the world title in the next higher category, 88.2 kilos. Two hours after the event he arrived at the victory party with his closest friends. We exchanged warm greetings and I congratulated him. He still had that determined look with tensed facial muscles that I saw at the pre-fight press conference. He ate nothing and drank only a glass of fruit juice. As I looked at him I thought to myself that he certainly wouldn’t get any sleep that night.