Dejan Zlaticanin pulls no punches when predicting how he plans to end the first defense of his 135-pound world title against Mikey Garcia.
“It’s a 12-round fight,” says Zlaticanin, a 32-year-old southpaw. “But I will catch him with a good shot, and he will be knocked out.”
Garcia’s response? Bring it on.
“I’m glad he’s confident,” says the 29-year-old Garcia, a former 126- and 130-pound champion. “He’s an aggressive fighter with dangerous power [and] always looking for the knockout. I don’t want someone who will take a knee or a beating,
“Facing an undefeated, dangerous world champion like yourself gives you more credibility and the most recognition. I want someone to really test me, and Dejan's the perfect man to do that.”
The first boxer from Montenegro to hold a world title, Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KOs) will be after his third straight knockout in his second consecutive appearance on American soil when he faces Mikey Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Bout fighters hit the scales Friday at 134.5 pounds.
It will be Garcia’s second time in the ring since a 2½-year hiatus that was the result of a contract dispute. In his return on July 30, the Southern California native shook off some early ring rust and scored a fifth-round TKO of former 126-pound champion Elio Rojas in a 140-pound bout.
With that victory, Garcia improved to 6-0 with five KOs against current or former world titleholders. However, Garcia considers Zlaticanin—a career-long 135-pounder nicknamed “Dynamite”—to be one of the toughest challenges of his career.
“ Facing an undefeated, dangerous world champion like yourself gives you more credibility and the most recognition. I want someone to really test me, and Dejan's the perfect man to do that. ” Mikey Garcia, former two-division world champion
And even though Zlaticanin is somewhat of an unknown quantity, Garcia considers him more treacherous than the three other fighters who currently hold 135-pound titles: Jorge Linares (41-3, 27 KOs), Robert Easter Jr. (18-0, 14 KOs) and Terry Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs).
“I think Dejan’s the most dangerous of all of the champions,” Garcia says. “We fought at 140 pounds in my last fight, but Rojas was a former featherweight champion like myself. Being a naturally big 135-pounder, he’s definitely going to be the biggest guy I’ve faced.
“Being off for two years before Rojas, there were concerns about whether the time off might affect me, if the weight difference might factor in, or that my heart was no longer there. This next fight will prove I’m back even better [than I was before] and about to enjoy the best stage of my career.”
Not surprisingly, Zlaticanin takes exception to Garcia’s view of his future—or the fact he’s looking beyond Saturday night.
“Mikey’s never fought anyone with a big punch and durability like mine,” Zlaticanin says. “Looking past me is a big mistake.”
To prepare his fighter for his first title defense, Zlaticanin trainer Jose Benavidez Sr. recruited a pair of Garcia clones for sparring: 25-year-old Alejandro Luna (21-0, 15 KOs) and 22-year-old Mexican slugger Robert Manzanarez (33-1, 27 KOs) who, like Garcia, is listed at 5-foot-7.
“There’s only one Mikey Garcia, but I tried to match him as much as possible,” Benavidez says. “I brought Robert all the way from Mexico. He’s a little bit taller than Mikey and uses the jab, the one-two and counter-punching.
“Because Dejan’s a brawler, I brought in Luna to make it a dog fight. We’ve worked with Dejan on moving his head and fighting his way in against a taller guy with power. We feel really comfortable with the work he got out of both of them.”
The champion wasn’t the only one who tried to leave no stone unturned during training camp. In addition to the usual routine, Garcia and his older brother/trainer, Robert Garcia, scouted Zlaticanin’s past fights, in particular his 12-round split decision victory over Ricky Burns, a former two-division titleholder and current 140-pound champ.
In that bout, Zlaticanin floored Burns in the opening round with a cannonball left hand.
“We’ve trained for two months like never before,” Robert Garcia says.
Adds Mikey Garcia: “Zlaticanin’s pretty successful measuring with his right hand, getting into range and timing that straight left or an overhand left. It seems that’s his favorite power punch, along with attacking the body.
“He’s got a champion’s mindset, and physically, he doesn’t take a step back or seem to get discouraged. He’s not a paper champion. He’s earned his world championship. I respect him for that, and that’s something we’ve trained for.”
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