By Ryan Maquiñana
When Lou DiBella announced to BoxingScene last month that Andre Berto’s first fight removed from his loss to Victor Ortiz would be a title fight with IBF welterweight champion Jan Zaveck, most observers penciled the former WBC champ in the win column almost immediately.
Well, half a world away Zaveck was reading and contacted BoxingScene in order to make his case. Compared with many European fighters, he’s far from content to protect his belt against lesser competition for the sake of comfortable paydays. More importantly, he says he’s coming to Biloxi, Miss., on Sept. 3 to win.
In our conversation, the boxer formerly known as Dejan Zavec spoke through translator Jure Doler on a variety of subjects, namely his massive following in his native Slovenia, what he plans to accomplish in his first trip stateside, and his reaction to Team Berto’s comment that he’s a “Winky Wright with no jab.”
BoxingScene: Your real name is Dejan Zavec. I've noticed a lot of Slavic fighters change their names when they fight in Germany (like Adnan Catic to Felix Sturm). Why do you have to change your name to Jan Zaveck? Is it purely because of business? Would you prefer to keep it Dejan Zavec all the time if you could?
Jan Zaveck: To be honest, I'm really not obsessed with my name, boxing name or nickname. My boxing name Jan Zaveck was given to me in Germany, due to easier pronunciation, so the reason is business, as you also say. But the truth is, I'm Dejan and will always remain Dejan. In general, changing names in boxing is not a rarity. Let's take a look at Felix Sturm, who you mentioned or the great Muhammad Ali and many other fighters who are not Slavic.
BoxingScene: You have a lot of fans in Slovenia. In your last defense of your IBF title, 12,000 people bought tickets to see you fight Paul Delgado. One of your fans in Slovenia just emailed me saying she will travel with 50 friends to Biloxi for your fight. What do you think it is that has made you become so popular in Slovenia?
Jan Zaveck: I just can't explain you the connection between us. I need them, they need me, and together we're the strongest team. We're going through real, emotional, and unforgettable moments during my fights and the energy between us is boundless. Whenever I can, I take time for my fans. We chat together and even spend some time together. I guess the popularity comes from my open character. I can't tell you how proud and happy I'm to hear my fans are going with me also to Biloxi.
BoxingScene: Like I said, you have a big fan base in Slovenia, and you can make a lot of money defending your belt there against less tougher competition than Berto. A lot of European fighters do that, so why not do the same? Why risk coming to America where there's always a concern that you might not get a fair decision from the judges? For example, look at Sturm when he fought Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas. Sturm should've won the fight in my opinion, but the judges gave it to De La Hoya.
Jan Zaveck: I always say you have to push harder and challenge your luck and success, because this is the only way to go beyond the limits. I want to know where I am, and if I'm not good enough to defend my title everywhere in the earth—U.S. or Europe—I don't deserve it. It's not my intention to hide a belt away. It's not moral. Yes, it would be easier to defend the title back home, but that's not my way.
BoxingScene: This is your American debut. Are you planning to come here early so you can get accustomed to your surroundings, or will you come late, like right before the weigh-in? When are you flying here?
Jan Zaveck: I've been in the U.S.A. a few times and everywhere I went, I always felt good and welcome by people. If I could choose it, I would make all the preparations for the fight to be in the U.S. However, we're coming around two and a half weeks before the fight so we'll have enough time for acclimating to the area and having final sparring. Indeed, this is my first professional fight in America, but it is not the last one!
BoxingScene: Berto and his trainer, Tony Morgan, said you're a pressure fighter who comes forward with his hands up. In the video I sent you, Morgan said you're powerful with a tight defense, but in his words, “a Winky Wright with no jab.” Do you agree or disagree? How would you describe your style?
Jan Zaveck: Like they are looking for my weak points, we're also looking for his. I'll try to do my best with my jab, although as they are saying, it might not be the best. Anyway, things in the ring can change. You can do in the ring what the opponent lets you do.
BoxingScene: Now it's your turn. What do you think about Berto's style? What does your trainer think about Berto's style?
Jan Zaveck: It wouldn't be proper if I say what Andre's pluses and minuses are. Generally looking, he's a great fighter and it's actually difficult to find what he does badly. I'd rather focus on my advantages. Everybody in our team, including my coach, Dirk Dzemski, and my strength coach, Tomi Jagarinec, is sure that Andre is a great fighter. But definitely, like everyone, he's not unbeatable.
BoxingScene: I watched Berto spar this week, and he's very fast, especially with his double left hook. However, he showed in the Ortiz fight than he can be hit and he can be hurt. How do you plan on beating Berto?
Jan Zaveck: Too bad you didn't come to my training. (Laughs) Anyway, everybody has his own strategy and vision but you can't be sure to realize your plans until you’re in the ring and until you feel the opponent. However, I expect a great fight, a great performance from both of us, a lot of action, adrenaline, and exciting boxing.
BoxingScene: You only have one loss to consensus top ten welterweight Rafal Jackiewicz in 2008, which you avenged last September. What was the difference between the first fight, the rematch, and today? What weaknesses have you improved?
Jan Zaveck: The main difference between our first and second fight against Jackiewicz was that last September when I won, I didn't defend my title, although I was the champion. I was more offensive than in our fight on 2008 where I was counting points and defending more. That fight in Poland was a really great test and excellent schooling for me, and it showed me a lot of things.
BoxingScene: Right now, everyone in America is predicting Berto to win even though they probably have never seen you fight. What do you have to say to those people who aren't giving you a chance to win?
Jan Zaveck: I recommend these people relax, sit down in front of the T.V. or live in Biloxi, and enjoy the fight. I will show them they were wrong with their anticipation and conclusions about the winner. The essence is often hidden to the eyes.
BoxingScene: Can you give your prediction on how you think the fight will end?
Jan Zaveck: Worst-case scenario is my confident points victory. Please watch my video “Calling Out” (LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWwWLZwDRR4) so you can learn more about me and my intentions.
Ryan Maquiñana is the boxing correspondent at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at www.maqdown.com or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.