Just a couple of years ago, if there was a discussion about Croatia’s talented MMA prospects, one just had to mention Luka Jelčić. Most of MMA coaches, enthusiasts and fans believed that this young man from Zagreb suburbia is definitely going to be the one who will achieve something big on the fighting sports scene. Luka was extremely talented in every aspect of the game, he was technically superior in comparison to other young fighters and he was also very persistent in his plan to ink a deal with the UFC and become Croatia’s new MMA star.
But then in 2013 he lost to completely anonymous Laszlo Senyei from Hungary at the FFC event in Zagreb. He was defeated via stoppage looking quite inferior in comparison to Senyei who later became the FFC welterweight champ. From a big prospect Luka became just one of many.
But this difficult defeat and great disappointment did not discourage the persistent “Hitman”. He recapitulated the situation and decided to make some important changes. He dropped to lighter division believing it would suit him much better. He turned his life upside down and moved to Dublin, Ireland, with his fiancée, driven by ambition and trying to escape bad economic situation and recession in Croatia.
Few years later Jelčić became the FFC champ with one of the world’s best coaches in his corner – John Kavanagh. Since he moved to Dublin he fought in seven bouts and won six of them. He once again became a success story.
What’s it like in Dublin? You seem to have adjusted well and it looks like you feel like home there now. What are Dublin’s advantages and disadvantages?
“I love living in Dublin. My fiancée and I have been here for almost two years now and we are very happy from the very beginning. We had big goals when we moved to Dublin. We work hard, we are getting closer to our goals and we won’t stop until we fulfill them. And when we do, we will make new ones. We are both very realistic and we grew up in working class families. Don’t get me wrong, our goals are not yachts, airplanes or gold. Just a house, a family and to be able to help people around us like out families who have been a great support to us so far. Dublin’s advantage is definitely better financial situation. But the weather is crappy, I can’t lie about that even if I wanted to.”
Do you miss Croatia?
“Of course. Every day and every second since I moved here. I cannot hide that. Nor do I want to hide it. I love my home, my people and culture. I miss it all. Especially my family. I would be very happy if I could live in Croatia but I cannot imagine living in such a financial situation again. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we do what we do. It is what it is now. You accept things as they are and you move on.”
You made a big progress since you started to train in SBG and this is visible in your bouts. Who helped you the most in improving your game?
“Thank you. I can definitely thank John Kavanagh for that. His whole team and all coaches invested so much in me. This is the result of our efforts.”
John Kavanagh, Photo by FFC
What is the major difference between training in Croatia’s MMA gyms and such a big team as SBG?
“The biggest difference is in people and in the system. In SBG everything’s in one place. There are some 60 to 80 fighters and many more who come occasionally when they do their preps.”
Who are you closest to when it comes to the big names who train there and why? McGregor, Pendred, Lobov, Nelson… Who did you learn from the most?
“I have the most in common with Gunnar Nelson. I liked him as a person since the beginning and even before I joined the SBG he was one of my biggest influences. I learned the most from him.”
What’s your relationship with Conor McGregor? Will you be there to help him with his upcoming boxing match? Do you think he stands any chance against Mayweather?
“Honestly, I’m not interested in that match. I don’t see the point in it, except money. I will check it out the next day. We have always been on good terms, but we are completely different and I see him only in the gym. I doubt he will seek my help because I have nothing in common with his opponent.”
You defended your FFC belt a month and a half ago. What are your future plans now?
“I will soon go to Island with Gunni and help him with UFC Glasgow. I’m in excelled shape all the time and I see every UFC as an opportunity to step up as a replacement. I believe it is possible. I’m not someone who has big plans. I prefer setting goals and work for them. I believe in “You reap what you sow” principle. When it comes to the FFC, I’m perfectly fine with being where I am now. FFC invested a lot in me and I do my best to return them the favor. UFC has always been one of my goals and I know I am one of the best fighters in my division. I worked hard for everything I have and my self-confidence always came from the result of my efforts. But I am also aware that I still have tons of work to do to become the best and that’s why I make such a big progress. I will not stop until I take care of all the people I love and become the best in the world.”
Where do you see yourself among fighters such as Nurmagomedov, Ferguson, Alvarez…?
“I don’t like to watch them as a fan. I used to do that, but then I stopped. I watch the matches to see techniques they use. I see them all as a target. If you’re in my division, you’re on the menu. I’m not here to make friends, but to make future for myself and for the ones I love.”
Roberto Soldić called you out. Is there any chance you’d fight him?
“They are all the same. Sign the deal, drop the weight, come to the ring.”