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June 20, 2023

Pro MMA Fighter and Easton Black Belt Bojan Velickovic on Self-Reliance, Versatility and Living Fully

Tatyana Grechina

Pro MMA Fighter and Easton Black Belt Bojan Velickovic on Self-Reliance, Versatility and Living Fully

Pro MMA Fighter and Easton Denver Kids Department Head Bojan Velickovic remembers watching his dad’s Judo training lessons as a kid – a requirement of the special forces police unit his father worked for in Novi Sad, Serbia. 

Oktagon #36 Fight Night VOL 1.

Bojan’s dad held a brown belt in Judo and a black belt in Karate, but Bojan grew up playing soccer. He didn’t hit the mat himself until middle school, when his friends all decided to give it a try. With that, Bojan fell in love with Judo. Today, he holds a black belt in Jiu Jitsu and a Brown Shirt in Muay Thai.

For a while, he practiced both Judo and soccer, but once he realized how much more control he had in Judo, the choice became easy. 

With team sports, you must depend on up to 10 or 11 others to achieve your goal. With martial arts, you rely on nobody but yourself. You get to decide how much work you put in and what you want your outcome to look like. 

“I always embraced hard work,” says Bojan, recalling from his soccer captain days. “It was frustrating having lazy boys on the team, having to get into fights with them.”  

In martial arts, we still have teammates and training partners who help us learn and level up, but ultimately you alone suffer the consequences if you fail to show up.

Getting out of your own way

Bojan with his older brother.

Bojan’s Judo academy – his town’s police headquarters – operated next to a juvenile correction facility, and its children would have to take class as part of their rehab.

The program had good intentions, but the children often made trouble during training, and one incident stands out.

He and one boy got into a fight, and all of the boy’s friends jumped in. The coach, furious, lined them all up and brought out a book of respect – a code of behavior.

She read two points that they should always follow in martial arts: respect and humility.

This lesson has always stayed with Bojan, grounding and shaping his journey through life. Resolution of conflict must be met on those terms, not with ego.

Along with these guiding principles, another thread that guides Bojan’s success in martial arts comes from the desire for a balanced wheelhouse. You can’t just do the same things expecting to learn something new.

“You have to get out of your own way,” Bojan says, “be versatile. Get into poetry and art, be good at different things besides fighting. Be a complete person.”

At one point while fighting, Bojan spent two years exploring bachata, salsa dancing and painting lessons. Two years ago, he started learning drums from a fellow Easton athlete who trades Bojan drum lessons for striking or Jiu Jitsu privates. 

Building up a home-base

Bojan found Easton after he’d already been fighting professionally for five years. At the time, he lived in Florida, and upon his 2010 fighting debut with reality show “Road to the Ring of Fire,” had come to Denver in 2011 for his first US fight. 

He met a promoter at this fight that invited him back to Denver in 2014 – to fight a local badass nobody else would take on. 

Bojan lost, but did far better than everyone expected, and in the locker rooms afterwards a couple guys told him so. He did great, they said, and if he ever wanted to come train with them, they’d help him become a better fighter. 

They trained at Easton Denver, and several months later, Bojan found himself back in Colorado helping them train two local UFC stars, Neal Magny and Brandon Thatch, as their sparring partner. 

During the six to seven months he stayed in Denver, Bojan trained at Easton and fell in love with the community. He went back to Florida and officially moved to Colorado in 2015.

Bojan started coaching in June 2021, and today teaches advanced BJJ and works the front desk at Centennial along with running Denver’s Kids Program! 

Image: Oktagon #36 Fight Night VOL 2.

Punch of life

A pivotal jolt in Bojan’s fighting career, and life, happened in May 2017 with a fight in Stockholm, Sweden. He had trained for weeks, slated to fight a tough, local guy in the UFC, and his entire family had come to watch.

On the flight to Stockholm from Denver, his plane suddenly dropped – twice. 

For a second, everyone braced for the inevitable crash and Bojan thought he was going to die. 

The plane didn’t crash, but when things settled, Bojan had a ringing question left: if he did die, what would he regret? 

At that point, Bojan had around three fights in the UFC – a win, a loss and a draw. However, he hadn’t yet had a performance he was proud of, one where he amazed himself.

Bojan realized that in pacing himself so cautiously, for fear of losing, he had never shown his real self – he didn’t actually know what he could achieve.

He decided then that he would go out and give this fight in Stockholm his all. Bojan fought a very hard fight, he tells us, knocked the other guy out in the third round and silenced an arena full of 20,000 people. Along with receiving Best Performance of the Night, and a generous $50K bonus, he got to share the entire experience with his family. 

“I almost died without giving it my all,” Bojan said. “As a result, I did that.” 

Oktagon #36 Fight Night VOL 1.

Embracing the fear

Sometimes, even when catastrophic accidents don’t keep you from doing what you love, your own fear can. The best way to overcome it lies in accepting it and preparing yourself.

Bojan and Coach Sean Madden in Serbia.

Even after 35 professional fights, Bojan still feels it.

“It’s scary every time,” says Bojan, “especially when you know there’s someone who’s trained just as much as you did to come and beat you up and earn their own bonus.” 

Once, Bojan got booked to fight a particularly gnarly opponent in the Czech Republic. The fighter had 12 wins, 9 by knock-out. On top of that, he had specifically sent Bojan a message that he was coming to knock him out in the first round. 

Bojan couldn’t sleep for a week because he was so anxious. It’s easy to dull the fear with an instant solution – distractions, medicine or drugs, but Bojan refused any sort of sleeping medicine, and instead stayed up all night visualizing the upcoming fight. 

He imagined his opponent’s process, different possibilities and outcomes, and prayed. Bojan slept about one to two hours a night that week. Then, when fight night came, he felt a quiet calm.

Bojan knew he couldn’t control the outcome, but that he had given his very best efforts, even overcoming difficult injuries during training camp on his way to get here (a painful broken toe which barred his kicking ability.)

He had done his best with what he had, and this gave Bojan peace of mind. We can’t control what will happen, but we can control our effort, the hard work we put in. 

“Martial arts has taught me that when you’re doing something,” says Bojan, “try to give it your best.” 

Oktagon #36 Fight Night VOL 1.


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