Pajkics has homecoming in mind

MIKE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:37 PM ET

Canadian heavyweight boxing champ Neven Pajkic says it's a good thing that his opponent on Saturday night, Raphael Butler, hails from Rochester, Minn., -- home of the world renowned Mayo Clinic.

Because when it's all over, Pajkic believes Butler will need the most comprehensive medical treatment available.

Ah yes, the old boxing ballyhoo.

Seriously though, Pajkic is looking at his 10-round bout against Butler on Saturday night at the Royal York Hotel as more than just a regular main event bout. He wants to keep his unbeaten record (13-0 5KOs) intact, yes, but a victory over the dangerous Butler, who is 35-8 with 28 KOs, would be a means to something very special.

If Pajkic beats Butler, his next bout likely Neven Pajkic take place in Belgrade, Serbia in October. The Toronto resident was born in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but lived in Belgrade for years and is of Serbian extraction, though now a Canadian citizen. So it would be a grand homecoming.

"That would be a dream come true," said the 33-year-old fighter. "If I could chose between Las Vegas and Belgrade, I'd chose Belgrade. It's where I come from and that's where want to show who I am now."

Who Pajkic is now is one of the most unlikely Canadian heavyweight champions ever. He arrived in Canada in 1996 and didn't start boxing until he was 26, and even when he did turn pro in 2005, he also worked fulltime at a number of other jobs.

"That's how I lived for the last six years, doing a bit of everything -- construction, movies, stunts ... and some things we probably shouldn't be talking about," he said, with a laugh. "But it's not a bad thing if you actually have a job and fight, because it makes you want it that much more, and now I appreciate everything I have."

Pajkic didn't really begin boxing as a full time endeavour until just before he challenged Greg Kielsa for the Canadian title in March. After posting a shocking win over the former Polish Olympian, and defeating Kielsa again in a rematch in June, Pajkic, 33, set his sets on rising up the world rankings as quickly as possible and trains fulltime with Peter Wylie at the Cabbagetown Club.

But he makes one thing perfectly clear. Returning to Belgrade would be a huge thrill, but he would go as a proud Canadian, a proud Canadian champion, actually the first Serbian-Canadian champion. Pajkic said it was about six years ago when he realized that Toronto was truly home, and not just a safe place to live and work.

"Toronto is my hometown now," he said. "And I feel people from Toronto have accepted me as the true Canadian champion and that I represent them in the best light -- I come to fight with courage and honour and that's the way I'm always going to be."

The book on Pajkic is that he has a huge heart and a great work ethic, but is not the biggest puncher in the world and is still a little rough around the edges, the result of his late start in the sport, though he was into karate for years. But he is a natural and the feeling is he'd be at least a top-10 world ranked fighter now if he had embraced the game earlier. But Pajkic and his manager Misho Jovicevic believe that he still has time to climb the rankings and challenge for a world title sometime in the next few years.

For his part, Pajkic refuses to live in a world of 'what ifs?'.

"I don't look life in the rearview mirror," he said. "I'm living in the present. I'm not one of those people who think 'Oh, if I started boxing at 16, I'd be a millionaire right now.' If, if, if. If maybe I was on the street now, I'd get killed by a car. Who knows?

"I'm taking it day by day," he added. "Because tomorrow is not guaranteed and yesterday is the past. I appreciate today to the fullest."

Jovicevic said he has a couple of opponents in mind for Pajkic's homecoming bout in Belgrade on Oct. 31, though he refuses to divulge any names, though he concedes that "they're very dangerous."

"We have to show the boxing world that we are ready," Jovicevic said. "We don't have too much time to do the politics of boxing ... we have to pick up fights we feel he's ready for, and that's that. I don't want Neven to have any easy fights."

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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