Odd twist to title bout

Jelena Mrdjenovich.

Jelena Mrdjenovich.

MURRAY GREIG, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:26 AM ET

EDMONTON - There’s a bizarre storyline behind the Women’s International Boxing Association featherweight title fight on Friday at the Shaw Conference Centre — and it has nothing to do with it being the first world championship bout between a Serb and a Bosnian.

Rather, it’s about how the match came to be made between Edmonton’s Jelena Mrdjenovich (24-7-1, 12 KOs) and Irma Balijagic Adler of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (12-1, 5 KOs).

Mrdjenovich, a former two-time world champ, is coming off back-to-back losses to WIBA super featherweight titleholder Lindsay Garbatt in November and February.

Adler, who has never fought outside of Europe, is likewise coming off a loss — to Germany’s Ramona Kuehne for the WBO crown last November.

While Mrdjenovich has been able to rededicate herself to intense training since her second loss to Garbatt, Adler has had to deal with the psychological scars of the violence that wiped out her last scheduled ring appearance.

On April 1, Adler was in her dressing room in a Berlin arena, gloving up to fight Germany’s Rola El-Halabi for the IBF lightweight belt.

Minutes before they were to enter the ring, however, the undefeated El-Halabi was shot by her stepfather in the hand, knee and feet as she was gloving up in the adjacent dressing room. Two security guards were also wounded.

The shooting ended El-Halabi’s career — and put Adler’s in temporary limbo after months of preparation for the world title shot.

“I heard the shots and I heard Rola’s screams ... and then there was silence,” Adler said at yesterday’s media conference in advance of KO Boxing’s seven-bout No Turning Back card.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening ... it was like it wasn’t even real. Of course, it has been a difficult thing to get out of my head.”

To prevail on Friday, Adler will have to put the painful flashbacks behind her and focus on Mrdjenovich, who is more determined than ever to prove she still has a champion’s heart.

It’s difficult to predict how what happened in Berlin will affect Adler’s performance, and she’s never faced a fighter as talented or experienced as Mrdjenovich, but she’s shown in the past that she can be a very poised puncher.

In 2008, in just her ninth bout, Adler won a split decision over Canada’s Jeannine Garside to claim the same WIBA title she’s fighting for on Friday. It was subsequently stripped due to her inactivity.

Adler’s 12-1 record has been compiled over just 73 pro rounds. By contrast, Mrdjenovich has 204 rounds in the bank — and as many KOs as Adler has victories.

“I’m not going into this fight thinking about redeeming myself for the losses to Garbatt; that’s history, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” said Mrdjenovich.

“My focus is 100% on Adler and winning another world championship. The records don’t mean a lot, either. When we get in the ring, both of us want the same thing: to win.

“Adler’s a little taller than me, but she doesn’t have a lot of knockouts. That tells me that I should be able to fight my fight — move in behind the jab and punish her to the body.

“I’m definitely going for a knockout ... but if it doesn’t come, Irma’s going to take a bad beating.”

murray.greig@sunmedia.ca


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