It would be just to say that Bilić already earned his title shot when he brutally KO’ed Kristijan Franjić in his FFC debut in Linz, Austria. After that he also fought at FFC 27 at the Zagreb Arena. His opponent was Giorgi Bazanov, but Ivan demolished him too. Now he is to face a test that might define his career that tremendously improved in last two years.
Tell us more about your last match. Bazanov has unorthodox style, but you managed to defeat him. Not as brutally as you did Franjić, thought, but dominantly enough.
“He is very short and he tried to land some attractive punches. I watched a couple of his matches on YouTube so we were ready for that. He wants it all to look attractive so we adapted my game plan. I had to be careful not to give him any chance to punch me by accident and finish me with one punch. I was careful and I waited. Then I saw he cannot harm me. I was bigger and heavier and in the third round he walked right into my fist so I finished him. At weigh-in he weighed 75 kg in his sweatpants and I had 83 before I started to cut so I really had huge advantage.”
You prepared for this match with your good friend Andi Vrtačić, but until the last couple of days you had no idea you would fight at the same stage that evening. But at FFC 28 you will both fight for titles.
“Now we fight at the same event and I love training with him because he is the same height as my opponent. We absolutely make a perfect match for this event and this is great. But most of the guys in my gym have a match soon so I have great sparring partners at all times. Every time you get there you get your ass whooped, but this is the main reason why this camp is just awesome.”
You will have to have tactics that Stevan Živković and Shkodran Veseli did not manage to come up with since they both lost to him on his way to the belt.
“Shkodran and Stevan were too static so he used his height. Technically, he is surely among Top 10 fighters in this division globally. I will have to move a lot, close the distance, throw combinations and move out immediately. But I will have to have strong legs and great conditioning. He is too tall to have knockout power, but his knees are extremely dangerous. He will either punch the air out of you or knock you out if he lands that knee in your head. The main thing is not to be an easy target.”
You have been preparing for this match for a couple of months now, right?
“Yes, already after my match with Franjić, FFC suggested this title match and of course we accepted. Who would refuse a title match? So we started to get ready and then Danenberg was forced out of the match and then they organized a contender match with Bajrović. And then we had to change like everything and get ready for a southpaw and then again Bajrović gets injured one week before the match and then again I got completely different opponent. So my preps for my last match zigzagged into hundreds of different directions. But in the end we managed to do the right thing and it was like one way ticket for my opponent.”
What about your trainings now? On what aspect do you work the most?
“So far we mostly worked on my strength and conditioning and now we will start with sparring. Of course, nothing too tough, we don’t want injuries. I have a lot of training partners like heavyweight Ivan Vitasović, David Vasić, Teo and Toni Mikelić as well as pro boxer Marko Čalić who is Danenberg’s size. I have a lot of sparring partners and no sparring has been easy so far.”
Did your coach Zelg Galešić impose hard tempo on you?
“My trainings are blood, sweat and tears. Next week we will notch it up a bit, but it’s never easy. Zelg is pushing us hard. But it’s better to shed tears and blood in the gym than in the match.”
This event is justly dubbed „Greece vs. Rest of the World“, but you and Andi are rare fighters on this fight card whose opponents are not fighting on their home turf.
“It will be neutral territory for all of us and it is sort of advantage. But when you step into the ring and when all lights are on you, you don’t hear the audience. You only see your opponent and you hear only your coach. When you have your audience and supporters there, sometimes it can fill you with self-confidence and it might help you. To relax at least. But the most important thing is to stay calm in your head because if the audience pumps you up too much, you start to think with your heart and it is easy just to walk into the punch. It has pros and cons, but it’s best when your’re both on neutral territory.”
What are your plans until the match comes?
“I just hope I don’t get injured. That’s the most important thing. If I get to get ready, I’m sure I can become FFC champ. If I didn’t not believe that, I would not accept the match.”