Mrdjenovic: Boxing has given me a life
By Peter Gilbert
Jelena Mrdjenovic believes boxing has “given her a life” and is proud to have played her part in helping the development of women’s involvement in the sport.
Mrdjenovic, the reigning unified featherweight champion, has been an active participant in the sport’s growth since she first laced up a pair of gloves as a professional 16 years ago.
The Canadian became hooked on boxing in her late teens when she started dabbling in the sport as part of her recovery from a cruciate ligament injury sustained while playing university basketball.
“I was told I couldn’t do it, so I kinda wanted to prove everyone wrong,” Mrdjenovic said during an exclusive interview on the WBC’s Youtube channel.
After winning back-to-back national titles as an amateur, Mrdjenovic joined the pro ranks in 2003 and secured the inaugural WBC super featherweight title in her 15th contest.
“I won it in 2005 with a spectacular six-round knockout, left hook, I couldn’t have wrote the story any better myself,” recalled Mrdjenovic.
“I was the first female WBC super featherweight world champion ever. So to see women’s boxing progress and grow, to watch it, to witness, to be a part of it, is just something just truly incredible. It’s something I’ll always be proud of.”
Women’s boxing has indeed come on leaps and bounds since the dark days of the late 80s when pioneer Marian “Lady Tyger” Trimiar embarked on a month-long hunger strike in a bid to secure more money and equal rights for female fighters in 1987.
London 2012 was the first Olympics to include women’s boxing and the worldwide exposure helped gold medallists Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams become household names and carve out a career in the ring.
Mrdjenovic, without the global TV audience of the Olympics, started out fighting for free and selling tickets for her own shows.
She has since racked up 50 fights, retaining her WBC and WBA titles in the milestone bout with a unanimous decision over France’s Ducastel in a rematch in front of her hometown Edmonton fans last April.
“I have so many amazing moments. When you’ve had 50 fights, it’s hard to pick one but that will always be special to me,” said Mrdjenovic.
However, when pushed to pick her favourite fight, she narrows it down to a shortlist of three.
“My first professional fight. Amazing to get in that ring, to feel the gloves, no headgear. To just be able to perform with those lights on. That will always be super special to me.
“My 50th fight is probably my No.1. My first world title. I also had a fight where I got cut in the second round, blood everywhere, and I fought to the sixth round and ended up winning the fight. That one is special because it taught me a lot about myself, how far I can push myself and still succeed. To never really give up because you never know what really going to achieve.”
The 36-year-old has experienced many highs and lows in the ring during her long career in the ring, winning eight world titles in three weight divisions along the way, but boxing has brought her more than just belts.
“Boxing has given me a life,” explained Mrdjenovic. “I mean I had a life before and I have a life outside of boxing, but it’s given me a family, it’s given me motivation, it’s given me encouragement, it’s changed my life.
“It has helped me become the person and the woman I am today. I have learnt how to be an ambassador, I have learnt how to be a role model. I have learnt how to be a good sport and a bad sport.
“I have learned so much throughout this journey of boxing that I kind of fell into accidentally, so most of all I’m just grateful.”