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For Serbian and other Eastern European athletes across the globe, success in sports hasn’t always come easy, but over time it has become a reasonable expectation.
A region rich in culture, a complex history and plenty of adversity, to risk sounding like a cliche, the people of Eastern European countries are quite literally built differently — especially when it comes to sport.
“I say Serbia is a land of sports; they raised us well, kept us active,” UFC lightweight Uroš Medić explained of his upbringing in a small village just outside of Novi Sad. “Everybody wanted to play sports. I happen to be in MMA, but I've trained myself in basketball, football, all these other sports that I'd enjoyed quite a bit growing up with.”
Medić added that he was able to look up to and be inspired by some of the greatest athletes to come out of the region, regardless of sport.
“We have had a handful of professional athletes in the world that represent us very well. Some of them, like Novak Djokovic, who just achieved his 1,000th win as a tennis player,” Medić said.
“He’s a legend of the sport — a living legend that's still competing, and probably is going to be the best of all time. Then, on the other hand, we have our NBA players, representing our country in a great light, absolutely dominating the NBA game here in the United States.”
After he and his brother were introduced to combat sports via kickboxing in grammar school, Medić quickly developed a love — and natural affinity — for martial arts.
“I started competing in kickboxing and did very well and then the opportunities were presented to go to the United States,” he said. “When I went to the United States, I wanted to do more kickboxing, but there was really not much of a kickboxing culture here. It was more, you know, jiu-jitsu and MMA. So, I went to Anchorage Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and I met Coach Ryder (Spadafore), I met the team at Anchorage BJJ, and that's where the love for MMA started.
“They introduced the sport to me in the right way, and that's where I fell in love. I was like, ‘Wait, I can actually make a career out of this?’ I could see myself being out there in the big lights. When I experienced the big lights, that's where I kind of froze a little bit because that's all I wanted for a very long time. And when the opportunity was there for me, I was like, wow, this is too much to handle right now. But my team got me back on track.”
For Medić, what’s most important to him is to “be one of those guys and represent our country in the best light possible, and just enjoy my time and the opportunities this great country of the United States has given me.”
While Medić found his way to the United States to train, fellow countryman and UFC middleweight Duško Todorović has been determined to prove to the world that elite-level martial artists can be born and bred in Eastern Europe.
“Serbia is a small country, but it has a very big potential in terms of fighting and sports,” he said.
“When we were starting, everyone would be like, ‘Leave the gym, go somewhere abroad, go train, you can do nothing from here.’ And time after time, we proved everybody wrong,” Todorović explained.
“What I think separates me from a lot of guys is that I do all my training in Serbia. We come (to the United States), we fight, we go back to Serbia. I’ve said it before in my interviews, but again, I just want to prove that it can be done. From my country, from my team at Secutor Academy, that’s a goal of mine, a dream of mine, and my coach — to show that it’s possible and we can make it happen. Of course, me paving the road is going to be a bit difficult, but I believe even from our academy and from our country, we have a lot of talent.”
“So, I guess, for me, maybe it has something to do with just proving people wrong. I also think if I did leave, then the level of training and level of everything in Serbia and in the whole region… it would stay the same this way and never improve.”
Whether being motivated by the legacy of excellence in sports set forth by other athletes in the region or simply wanting to prove everyone wrong, both Medić and Todorović, alongside Austrian-born Serbian light heavyweight Aleksandar Rakić, have succeeded in making a name for themselves and their country in mixed martial arts.
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