Coconut Creek resident Mirsad Bektic is training to fight Brazilian Lucas Martins May 30 in Goiania, Brazil for Ultimate Fighting Championship Fight Night 67.
Websites list Bektic, 24, as the 19th ranked fighter in the UFC featherweight class. He is a newcomer to the mixed martial arts promotion company, but has won his first two fights.
Bektic trains at the American Top Team facility in Coconut Creek and often arrives to the gym in the morning before anybody else.
“I’m just going to continue to outwork everybody,” Bektic said, “and make that number 19 soon turn into number one.”
Bektic’s family fled the town of Srebrenica, where he was born, after war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.
Senad Bektic, Mirsad Bektic’s older brother, can recall happy pre-war memories of mountains and children riding horses. After fighting broke out, their mother lost both her parents.
“A lot of our family has been killed,” Senad Bektic said.
Mirsad Bektic, who was an infant when the Bosnian War broke out, grew up in refugee camps in Italy and Germany before his mother secured permanent residency for him and his two brothers in the United States when he was nine. His father, a soldier in the Bosnian Army, stayed behind.
“I remember as a kid always being moved around,” Mirsad Bektic said. “Windows would have bars like a prison.”
Mirsad Bektic’s mother relocated to Nebraska without possessions, he said, but an American family helped her and the children survive the early days.
“I remember they took us to the grocery store for the first time,” he said. “We never had that kind of freedom to grab whatever we wanted.”
Before moving to Nebraska, Mirsad Bektic’s perception of the United States had been shaped by watching professional wrestling and rap videos on television.
Mirsad Bektic struggled to get along with his American classmates at first and remembers them teasing him for wearing articles of clothing more than one day in a row. That had never been an issue for him at the refugee camp in Germany, he said.
“I dealt with bullying,” Mirsad Bektic said. “They made fun of my hair.”
Having to stand up for himself made him mean until an elementary school counselor suggested he enroll in karate. After that, martial arts, boxing and bodybuilding helped him channel negative feelings, he said.
As a young bodybuilder he watched highlights of mixed martial arts fighter Thiago Alves. As an amateur mixed martial arts fighter, Mirsad Bektic carried an electronic tablet with Alves as the screen’s wallpaper.
For the upcoming fight in Brazil, Mirsad Bektic will join Alves on the fight card. Alves, who is fighting in the main event, also trains in Coconut Creek at American Top Team and the two have developed a friendship.
Inside the octagon ring at the gym last week, Mirsad Bektic trained with Chuck Isen, one of his coaches. After turning the music up loud, Mirsad Bektic danced around the ring in precise movements, ducking under a line strung across the ring, and delivering speedy combinations of punches to Isen’s training gloves.
Isen works with Mirsad Bektic on his boxing and footwork five days per week, and said the young fighter shares characteristics with other Eastern European fighters he has been around.
“They had to flee their country and it’s a poor place so most of them are very tough,” Isen said. “They work super hard.”
Isen predicts Mirsad Bektic will beat his Brazilian opponent at the end of the month.
“I see him fighting for the world title,” Isen added. “It’s just a matter of time.”
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