"Don't regret your past… learn from it, regrets just make a person weaker."
That phrase seems to be a perfect one for Croatia's Goran Reljic,
who faces Kendall Grove at UFC 116 in Las Vegas on July 3rd. In fact,
it’s so perfect that the 185-pound prospect has posted it on his
personal Facebook page.
Coming from a defeat by unanimous decision at the hands of CB "The Doberman" Dollaway at UFC 110 in February, the first negative result collected by the Croatian, Reljic was expected to put out the same big statement against Dollaway as he did against Wilson Gouveia at UFC 84, when he stopped the veteran in the second round.
But it wasn't meant to be on February 20th, and even through Reljic was fighting as a middleweight for the first time, what many waited for was nullified by the improved and impressive striking of Dollaway. Goran believes there was another reason for his defeat.
"He didn't (surprise me with his striking ability), I lost because I had no stamina and that's it. I got caught by the jet lag of arriving in Sydney close to the fight."
Even through Reljic doesn't admit that Dollaway (who's known as a wrestler and not so much as a confident striker) and his stand-up surprised him, the body kicks combined with his lack of adjustment to the Aussie environment forced him to start breathing hard as soon as the last 40 seconds of the first round. Before that, Goran showed a bit of his versatility at using unusual 'shin on shin' kicks, which impressed Joe Rogan during the broadcast, and that were landing right below Dollaway's knee. However, Reljic didn't add it to his arsenal as a new trick in training; it was just something that came naturally.
“I wasn't aiming (the kicks) there actually," he says. "It just came to me there. I don't really know why I did that, because normally I don't do that."
He also displayed a good rubber guard and omoplata attempts that showed that his conquest of the 2007 Gracie international field in two different classes as a purple belt wasn't by chance, and he made the first round a tough one to score. But following that round, Reljic slowed down considerably, and the dominant positions from the top rendered his opponent the victory by unanimous decision after three stanzas.
To the former unbeaten fighter, now 8-1 (1-1 UFC), who has trained at Xtreme Couture since right after his UFC debut, but spent the UFC 110 week preparing with Australia’s most popular fighters in Anthony Perosh and Elvis Sinosic, the defeat came at the right moment, as he realized that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
"I had a great welcome in Australia, there were a lot of Croatians and I had big help from Perosh and Sinosic. It's great to train MMA there, as people love the sport and respect it. I think it (the loss to Dollaway) was a good thing; I feel much stronger now and I know what I did wrong. I'm a much better fighter now."
With that said, we might have expected to see Goran back in the light heavyweight division, a weight class where his speed and power were clear and huge factors in his favor. Instead, and in spite of the opinion that he can fight in both categories (185 and 205), he's back - but in the same middleweight division. Perhaps this is because he wants to display the same relentless form of his light heavyweight days in his current middleweight stint.
"Honestly, I feel good at 185," he says. "I'm one of the biggest guys there and I will stay there for now."
It’s funny that the 6’3 Reljic mentions his size, considering that he won’t be the biggest fighter in the Octagon this Saturday. Battling the 6'6' TUF 3 winner in Grove, he dissects the Hawaiian as having more striking ability than his previous foe, but keeps the rest of his scouting report to himself.
"I know he has great wrestling also, that's why I worked on everything for this fight."
And what does ‘everything’ mean?
"Everything," he laughs, before adding, "I worked on everything and I'm a more complete fighter than before (the defeat)."
Reljic does reveal that he doesn’t feel any more pressure than usual to get the win on Saturday, as being the one with his hand raised is always the goal.
"I want to win, that's me." Goran stated. "I want to make a huge impact and put on a great performance, and I'm sure I'll do it. I want to say thanks to all my fans and the people who will be out there watching."
To get the performance he wants and the victory he needs, Reljic knows what to do, how to do it and when to do the things necessary to erase his previous result. His opponent, who is looking to get back in the win column as well, possesses the same knowledge, making this fight an interesting puzzle to figure out. But the unique certainty is this: fights of this sort are huge candidates for something rewarding, and when it happens inside the Octagon, not only the combatants get the gift. We, the eyewitness, have the chance to see something special, and no matter the outcome, we’re the winners.