For the 54th time in her career, Jelena Mrdjenovich is taking things one fight at a time.
A lot of changes have come with her upcoming bout versus Erika Cruz, beginning with the intention of facing Amanda Serrano in a three-belt featherweight title unification match. Her attention shifted instead to her next title defense, which was to be part of the next edition of Ring City USA.
It now serves as the headlining act and the first ever major title fight to take place at the historic U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York (Thursday, NBC Sports Network, 9:00 p.m. ET).
“It all comes from just living in the moment, taking things from fight to fight,” Mrdjenovich told BoxingScene.com in advance of the sixth attempted title defense of her third featherweight title reign. “It’s an honor to headline this card, to be part of something historic. I’ve been making history throughout my career. The more I can make, the more exciting it is.”
Edmonton’s Mrdjenovich (41-10-2, 19KOs) fights in the United States for just the second time in her 18-year career, coming in back-to-back fights. The three-division and reigning WBA featherweight titlist is coming off of a hard-fought 10-round decision win over Iranda Paola Torres last December at Wild Card Boxing Gym in Hollywood, California. The win over Torres—which served as part of a Ring City USA telecast—came with heavy emotion, as Mrdjenovich was without her head trainer and mentor, Milan Lubovac who suffered a cardiac arrest earlier in the year and has since passed. She has since joined forces with Johnathon Banks, a former cruiserweight and heavyweight turned trainer who currently mans the corner of middleweight titlist Gennadiy Golovkin and remains best known for serving as the final trainer in the career of retired former heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko.
“It would be hard to compare to the last training camp considering everything I went through. We were dealing with the loss of my longtime trainer and mental. This camp, all of the stress is gone. My body feels good, I’m not training through all of the emotions I went through in my last camp.
“In 54 fights (come Thursday), I can honestly say that this is the best in quite a while.”
There was once hopes of this fight coming in the form of a WBC/WBA/WBO unification showdown with Serrano (40-1-1, 30KOs) in the first quarter of 2021. Those plans never materialized, with Mrdjenovich’s WBC title reign downgraded to “Champion Emeritus” following a negotiation period she essentially described as a non-starter.
“There’s not a lot to discuss,” insists Mrdjenovich. “I wasn’t given a reasonable offer. Now fast forward to where we are, that’s exactly what happened. All of the things that occurred, we went through the negotiation process and the offer was garbage.
“It was supposed to go to purse bid but COVID has been challenging for everybody. It is what it is. As much as we love to fight, business is business and the business side of it didn’t make any sense to me.”
Mrdjenovich instead focuses on Mexico City’s Cruz (12-1, 3KOs), a streaking contender from Mexico City who has won her last 11 starts. The bout will mark the first fight in the U.S. for Cruz, a 5’6” southpaw who also challenges for her first major title.
“She has a good amateur career and she’s coming to take my titles,” notes Mrdjenovich. “She is in great shape, she leads with her head a bit. A southpaw can always make for an awkward and unconventional fight.
Hopefully we can box well and that it doesn’t turn into a sloppy brawl. I always strive to give great fights. Hopefully this will be one of them.”
A win by Mrdjenovich will increase demand for a clash with Serrano to determine featherweight supremacy. That fight will come back into discussion after April 22nd, and not a moment sooner—and also not on anything less than her desired terms.
“Every move in my career has always been fight to fight. I’ve always just lived in that moment,” notes Mrdjenovich, who is 17-6-1 (7KOs) in title fights. “During everything we’ve experienced in COVID, one thing I’ve really learned is just to appreciate that moment in time.
“Of course, I’d love to be the unified champ, making more money. But I’m not a dreamer, I prefer to forge forward toward that goal rather than just talk about it.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox