In the days after junior middleweight Kemal Kolenovic was murdered on December 31, family members and friends in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he had been residing set up a makeshift shrine in front of his apartment building.
When I visited the shrine on a Saturday morning, scores of local people came by. All expressed extreme fondness for Kolenovic, as well as overwhelming sadness and anger over the fact that he was purposely run down by an angry motorist while playing peacemaker during an argument outside of a Bronx nightspot that is frequented by Yugoslavian and Albanian immigrants.
They told me how the 28-year-old Kolenovic, who was born in Montenegro in what was once Yugoslavia, had moved to Brooklyn from the Bronx to be near his sister, who was emotionally devastated after becoming separated from her husband and children.
Although known for his ferocity in the ring, Kolenovic, the former New York State welterweight champion with a record of 10-6-2 (5 KOS), was a beacon of kindness for his troubled sister, as well as others who lived in his new neighborhood.
“He was a good person, a good uncle,” said Kolenovic’s nephew, 15-year-old Semir Radoncic, who is shown here in front of the shrine. “We always talked. He looked after me.”
One of many testimonials taped on the shrine was written by Radoncic. It spoke, as the others did, of how the fallen fighter always did right by others.
“Kemo, you always told me your soul is your might,” it said. “Now yours is soaring like a kite. You always said make your wrongs into rights. You were a good person and I loved you a lot.”
One woman, Virginia Cama, said that Kolenovic’s positive influence on her 22-year-old son was immense. “He sat with him when he had trouble with his girlfriend,” she said. “He gave him words of wisdom and advice, and helped him in any way he could.”
Plus, she adds, “He had respect for everyone, young and old. He had a beautiful smile and was always kissing and hugging. He was a great guy.”
Police have publicly identified the driver of the car that killed Kolenovic, but he has thus far eluded capture. Of Albanian descent, it is possible he might have already slipped out of the country.
While alcohol and testosterone undoubtedly played a part in Kolenovic’s death, one has to wonder if the wrong of his killing could ever be righted by the surrender and successful prosecution of the killer.
While that is questionable, one thing is clear. Those who loved Koenovic are sure that he was in some way present at the site of the shrine. On the day it was erected, a white cat appeared out of nowhere and began following the mourners to and from their homes, as well as on trips to a nearby 7-11 convenience store.
Moreover, says 23-year-old Krystle Horvath, a physical education teacher in a public elementary school, one of the candles placed in the shrine never blew out. It was a 26 hour candle that burned brightly for more than three days.
“We’re not crazy, but there has to be some significance to that,” said Horvath. “Nobody ever saw that cat before and all the other candles we placed in the shrine blew out when they were supposed to or burnt out on their own.
“We believe that his spirit might have been in that cat,” she continued. “He was kind and considerate, just like the cat was. He always had a smile and a kind word. And he never told anyone, not anyone, that he was a boxer. He was a tough guy who never thought it was necessary to tell anyone how tough he was.”
Horvath’s beliefs were emphasized in the testimonial she had placed on Kolenovic’s shrine. “Thank you for being so kind to our family,” it said. “You’ve left footprints on the hearts of all the people who were fortunate enough to know you. Those footprints can never be erased.”
On a January 25 boxing show promoted by Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing at the newly restored Paradise Theater in the Bronx, many of Kolenovic’s friends were on hand.
At the time of his death, Kolenovic, who had fought such notables as then undefeated Carlos Quintana and Walter Wright of season two of “The Contender” reality television series during his seven year career, was tentatively scheduled to appear on the show.
Midway through the evening, ring announcer Joe Antonacci paid homage to Kolenovic, whom her knew personally and was very fond of.
Speaking to the thousand or so fans in attendance, his voice cracked with emotion as he called Kolenovic a great champion and a great friend.
After the obligatory ten-count followed, to all but those who loved him Kolenovic was relegated to becoming just another grim statistic in a city where it seems more dreams are shattered than attained.
One local fighter who has a maniacal following in the Bronx is Albanian-born super middleweight Elvir Muriqi. As tough as he is in the ring, Muriqi was visibly shaken by the ten-count. On the night that his good friend was murdered, Muriqi was supposed to meet up with him but got tied up late with a date.
“Kemal was a good fighter and a good man,” said Muriqi. “This is terrible. Things like this only happen to the best people. He was the best. He was my friend, he was everyone’s friend.”