Zlaticanin shooting for stardom in title defense against Garcia

When Dejan Zlaticanin scored a third-round TKO of Franklin Mamani in June, he became a national hero as the first boxer from Montenegro to win a world championship. Now, he’s looking to raise his profile even further by making the first defense of his 135-pound title.

Dejan Zlaticanin

Dejan Zlaticanin became the first boxer from Montenegro to win a world championship by stopping Franklin Mamani in June. The hard-hitting southpaw now will try to defend his title Saturday against undefeated Mikey Garcia. (Scott Hirano/Showtime)

The unbeaten southpaw will put his championship on the line at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday when he faces former two-division champion Mikey Garcia in the co-main event to the 126-pound title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).

Dejan Zlaticanin (22-0, 15 KOs) will be fighting for the third straight time in the United States after competing in his homeland for most of his career.

“People [in Montenegro] are still discovering what the sport of boxing is, but because I'm the first champion, they know that it's something special,” Zlaticanin says. “I'm famous there. They recognize me—everyone from 5-year-old kids to all the elders know me.

“Right now, soccer and basketball are more prevalent than boxing, but I’m trying to change all of that. After this next fight, I believe I won't just be famous in my country, but I'll be famous worldwide.”

Zlaticanin, 32, defeated some stiff competition en route to his title-winning victory over Mamani. The 5-foot-4 southpaw earned a unanimous decision over 135-pound title challenger Petr Petrov in April 2013, edged three-division world champion Ricky Burns by split decision in Glasgow, Scotland, in June 2014, and stopped then-unbeaten Ivan Redkach in four rounds in June 2015 to earn his title shot.

Garcia (35-0, 29 KOs) might present Zlaticanin’s biggest challenge thus far, however, as the former 126- and 130-pound champion attempts to earn a world title in his third weight class.

Garcia, 29, ended a 2½-year ring absence in July with a fifth-round TKO of former 126-pound champion Elio Rojas in Brooklyn, New York. Since making his pro debut in July 2006, the 5-foot-7 Southern California native is 6-0 with five knockouts against former or current world titleholders.

“If Garcia is looking past me, if he doubts my left hand, it will break off his head. I’m planning to knock him out,” Zlaticanin says. “I want to get in the ring and show everything. I’ve lived the dream that I’ve had since I was a child and first stepped into a boxing gym.”

Zlaticanin, the eldest of three sons, was introduced to boxing at the age of 14 by his father and won his pro debut in Budva, Montenegro, in May 2008 with a third-round technical decision over Wladmir Borov.

“From the very first time he stepped into a gym, that was it,” says Zlaticanin’s manager, Alex Vaysfeld. “In a month, he became a champion of Yugoslavia. Boxing became his first and only love.

“Dejan isn’t some angry guy who lived in poverty or anything. He’s just a normal guy from a good family who never got into trouble.”

Despite Zlaticanin’s mild-mannered demeanor outside the ring, the fighter nicknamed “Dynamite” has been explosive in it, finishing off 14 of his 22 opponents in less than four rounds while competing at 135 pounds his entire pro career. He expects Garcia to be the last opponent to go down.

“Mikey’s never fought a fighter like me with big punches like mine," Zlaticanin says. "I'm very durable, and I am patient.

"I want to fight dangerous opponents, test myself every time and get better and better.”

For a complete look at Zlaticanin vs Garcia, visit our fight page.

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