Dejan Kajic is one of those fighters where simply glancing at his record doesn’t paint a complete picture of who he is at this point in his professional career.
A dozen years after making his debut at Armageddon Fighting Championship 3, the 36-year-old carries a 12-7-2 record into his clash with Kyran Cameron on Friday night at Battlefield Fight League 67. What that mark doesn’t show is that the Vancouver-based veteran enters as the reigning BFL super welterweight (175 pounds) titleholder, a former BFL middleweight champion, and riding a four-fight winning streak, with each of those victories coming in by way of stoppage, three of them in the first round.
“I’ll be honest with you,” began Kajic, who missed out on an opportunity to compete last February when his opponent encountered travel issues before Battlefield was forced to postpone its plans due to the global coronavirus pandemic. “When I lost that fight (against Menad Abella) where I was 8-6-2 going into that fight, I felt like I won and it broke my heart.
“I went up to the hotel room after losing that fight and that was the first time in a long time that I cried,” continued the Bosnian-born veteran. “I gave myself 24 hours to feel sorry for myself and when I woke up after that, I said, ‘You’re better than this.’ I started taking everything more seriously, putting emphasis on the small little battles, and changed my mindset, my approach to the game.
“I started surrounding myself with much better guys and it all made a huge difference.”
Though he owns and operates his own gym, Universal MMA in North Vancouver, Kajic has made a point of training with some of the best fighters and teams throughout the Lower Mainland, as well as venturing abroad.
A quick scan of his Instagram profile highlights sessions at Checkmat Vancouver, Revolution Mixed Martial Arts, and The Sound — local proving grounds that have produced many of the top fighters from the region and several competitors that have graduated to the highest levels in the sport.
There are also photos from trips to American Top Team, to Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, and AKA Thailand, all of which have combined to help Kajic reach the precipice of being the next Battlefield Fight League standout to matriculate to the UFC Octagon.
“Perspective is everything, so traveling the world, rubbing elbows with the royalty of MMA, and expanding your horizons reinforces that the things I’m doing are correct,” he began. “When I go to different gyms and they’re doing the same things that I’m doing, that puts me on a good track.
“When you’re a young guy, there is a little insecurity, a little bit of being unsure, and as a result, you’re not as open-minded. It’s through losses and adversity that you start to reflect on your choices and the people you’re around.
“Everyone that is successful has the same mindset, the same approach and you see that recipe for success, whatever industry they’re in, so I just try to learn more from the people that have accomplished more than me,” he added. “I try to sit there and pick their brain, take in as much info as I can about life choices, training choices.”
There is also something to be said for seeing people you’ve surrounded yourself with for years take that next step and have success on the biggest stage in the sport, as Kajic has with fighters like Cole Smith and fellow Lower Mainland veteran and longtime training partner Tristan Connelly, whom he cornered in his UFC debut at home in Vancouver in September 2019.
“When you see guys on TV that succeed and they make it, you think there is something unique and special about them, and you’re like, ‘That’s unreachable,’” said Kajic, who came up short in his previous attempt to claim the BFL welterweight title several years ago. “When the guys around you start making it, you’re like, ‘Wait a second — they’re me; there is nothing mystic about them.’
“Success is achievable by anybody — you just have to make sure you surround yourself with the right people, make the right choices to get there, and all of that has to be supported with an ungodly amount of hard work.”
Friday’s contest is an opportunity for Kajic to take another step towards fulfilling his big-league aspirations, but in order to get there, he first needs to get through the undefeated Cameron.
Representing Para Bellum MMA in Oakville, Ontario, Cameron carries a 5-0 record into Friday’s championship fight, having earned a first-round submission win over one of Kajic’s main training partners, Keanan Kellar, in his BFL debut in March.
“One thing I’ve learned, especially with young kids that are 5-0, 6-0 is they’re so young in their career that they’re always absorbing new info, so for me to judge him by his last fights, it could be a completely different fighter,” offered the battle-tested Kajic.
“With him, he’s a young guy and I feel he beats guys that he shouldn’t beat, which means he’s got a winning mindset; he finds a way to win. That means he’s sharp, that means he can process info in a stressful environment, which makes him a dangerous opponent.
“There is definitely a game plan going into this, but there is also a big part of it that is going to require my ability to adapt. I think that is one thing that makes me so unique compared to a lot of fighters is my ability to adapt to situations.
“I can’t make mistakes,” he added. “This fight is going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.”
And if he were able to emerge victorious, Kajic sees no reason why a chance to compete on the biggest stage in the sport wouldn’t be next.
“One of my good buddies is Michael Hill, who helped me out in this training camp. I bust his balls like, ‘How are you ranked above me in the country?” Kajic said with a laugh, recalling the good-natured ribbing between he and the former Ultimate Fighter contestant regarding Tapology’s Canadian Pro Men’s Welterweight Rankings, where Hill is stationed one spot ahead of him.
“You’re on a two-fight losing streak; I’m on a four-fight winning streak. You haven’t knocked anybody out since ’98 and I’m knocking people out. How are you ranked above me?’”
Kajic can’t help but laugh about the exchanges with Hill, though he is confused by his place in the rankings, which consist solely of fighters on the regional circuit, and not those signed to major promotions.
“I really feel that if I win this fight, I see myself as No. 1 in the country,” Kajic added emphatically. “I don’t understand why I wouldn’t get it (a chance to compete at the next level).”