When undefeated heavyweight prospect Mario Preskar began boxing at the age of nine in his native Croatia, he dreamed of becoming the second world champion ever to hail from that country.
The only other titlist to come from there is Mate Parlov, who won the WBC light heavyweight title from Miguel Angel Cuello in January 1978. Parlov made two successful defenses before losing the crown to Marvin Johnson nearly two years later.
Parlov fought to a draw with Marvin Camel in a bout for the vacant WBC cruiserweight title in December 1979, and then lost a 15 round decision to Camel for the same title almost four months later.
The last big name boxer to hail from Croatia was Zeljko Mavrovic, who gave a surprisingly good account of himself in going the distance with Lennox Lewis in a September 1998 WBC heavyweight title fight. He and Preskar are good friends, and they recently did a media blitz together.
“Mate Parlov is the biggest boxer in the history of Croatia,” said the 22-year-old Preskar who is 9-0-1 (6 KOS) as a pro.
But that was then, and this is now. Preskar, who speaks fluid English, gets one step closer to establishing his own boxing legacy when he takes on Matthew Greer, 7-2 (6 KOS), of Parkville, Missouri, on the undercard of IBF junior middleweight champion Roman Karmazin’s title defense against Cory Spinks at the Savvis Center in Spinks’ hometown of St. Louis on Saturday, July 8.
“I have dreamed of being a champion for a long time,” said Preskar, who has sparred with Oleg Maskaev, Hasim Rahman, Wayne Braithwaite, Larry Donald, Owen Beck, and Gerald Nobles, among others.
“I feel great, ready and eager to step in the ring again. After a long and arduous training period my strength and power have increased and I’m ready for anybody. Hopefully, Mr. Don King can help me achieve my dream.”
The wild-haired promoter has been promoting Preskar, whose last fight was a sixth round knockout of Ervin Slonka in December 2005 in Berlin, for his entire professional career, which began with a first round TKO of Roman Armstrong in Las Vegas in July 2003.
Since then, Preskar has laced them up three more times in Las Vegas, as well as three times in Germany, once in South Carolina, and once at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The one blemish on his record is a four round draw with Marcelino Novaes, who was 5-2, in Preskar’s fourth fight in Las Vegas.
According to Vedran Nazor, Preskar’s New York-based advisor and publicist, trainer Yoel Judah told King about Preskar after watching him spar at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.
While Judah was unavailable for comment for this article, Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason’s who is not easily impressed, remembers observing Preskar in the ring during that time period.
“He’s a very smart guy, and you have to be smart to be a good boxer,” said Silverglade. “He’s young, has decent size and strength, is in good condition, works hard, and has a solid plan. With all of those components, he has as good a chance as anyone to go a long way.”
Preskar began boxing at the urging of his father Zeljko, a cab driver whom he says is his biggest fan. A quick study, he soon began racking up one amateur accolade after another.
He is a seven-time Croatian national champion, as well as a gold medalist in numerous European tournaments. His final amateur ring ledger of 45-5 probably would have been better if more boxers were willing to fight him.
According to Nazor, a special license had to be obtained to allow Preskar to compete against fighters two to four years older than he was.
“It was hoped that would provide Mario with the challenges he desired,” said Nazor. “It did not. The young men fell as easily as the boys. He was a prodigy. His combinations are an unbelievable mixture of speed and power punching. He flows inside the ring, delivering crisp straight punches and powerful hooks. He’s disciplined, intelligent and strong.”
There is no question that Preskar is very smart. It takes all of a few seconds of conversation to realize that. Still, he forsook a college education to dedicate himself full-time to boxing.
With the support of his parents, Zeljko and Visnjica, sister Zeljka, as well as his longtime trainer Leonardo Pijetraj, and a whole country behind him, he is certain that a championship reign is within punching distance.
“I put all my guts and power into my boxing career,” said the always exuberant and extremely positive Preskar. “Step by step, in a few years I see myself with many championship belts.”
Preskar is much too polite to speak ill of other boxers, but he believes that Wladimir Klitschko is the best of the current heavyweight champions. Whether or not Klitschko is still at the top when Preskar’s time comes to fight for a title is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain.
“I will be ready,” said Preskar. “When my time comes, I will be ready to beat the best. Everything is coming together, just as planned.”
The next step for Preskar is Greer, who might just be a bit more challenging than expected. If he is victorious, Preskar would love to fight at home this summer and become as big an attraction in his native country, which many people consider one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth, as the Ukrainian-born Klitschko is in his adopted homeland of Germany.
Eastern Europeans are dominating the heavyweight landscape these days, and Preskar is eager to get on the bandwagon.
“Mr. King is working on promoting me in Croatia,” said Preskar, who is 6’1” and about 220 pounds, which at his age gives him plenty of time and room to fill out.
“Maybe that will happen this summer. I hope so, Fighting in Croatia would be great, but fighting in Zagreb, which is the capitol, as well as my hometown, would be really special.
“Mate Parlov was the biggest athlete there in the last century,” he continued. “I want to be the biggest in this century.”