It's not unusual to see American MMA fighters travel from gym to gym in order to work on aspects of their game, or just to sharpen their skillsets with a fresh outlook or a different coaching mindset that is more compatible with their methods and form of thought. Yet what has become somewhat more common is to see some international fighters move around, training with one high-level team to another, especially if it's only for a set period of time before returning to their original team.
That brings us to a name you may not be familiar with yet. Antun Račić is a 25-year-old fighter coming from Croatia that has been fighting since 2009 and is still looking to grow in the sport of MMA. He has amassed a record of 18-7, with 13 submissions and 5 decisions, and is determined to continue his improvement and development as a fighter, despite some ups and downs he's had in his last few fights in Russia under the M-1 banner. Bloody Elbow spoke to him as he was recently in California training in Sacramento with Team Alpha Male, a team known for working with some of the very best fighters in lower weight classes such as his (featherweight).
Victor Rodriguez: What was your initial motivation to start doing MMA? You very clearly have a grappling background and base, so what led you to the sport?
Antun Račić: Since I was 5 years old I was involved in martial arts. I started in Judo, so therefore it is my grappling base. After Judo I proceeded with submission wrestling. My first MMA training was in 2006 when I was 16 years old. I started training in Gladiator Dubrovnik MMA team and still I am one of the Gladiators. Also, in 2006, Georges St- Pierre became UFC welterweight world champion. GSP is one of the reasons that I love MMA so much.
VR: You have various wins with different techniques, so how did your submission game become so well-developed?
AR: In Judo I was a national team member and after that I became Junior World Champion (2010) in submission wrestling by FILA rules. In the early beginning of my MMA career I was training a lot with BJJ black belts, so it is not a surprise that the submission game is one of my key parts of fighting.
VR: What have been the biggest improvements you've seen in your time training with such an esteemed gym like Alpha Male?
AR: Quantity and variety of training with top world fighters and coaches opened my view of the MMA game. Method and approach to training and MMA lifestyle with all the members of Team Alpha Male is certainly something you do not see so often. For this reason they are the best gym in the world for my weight category.
I would say that the biggest improvement is in connecting all aspects of martial arts that are included in one fight. From boxing to submissions we were practicing all skills with coaches that wanted us to implement it into the MMA game.
VR: Seeing some of your fights, you've shown impressive strength for a featherweight and some very good recovery from scrambles into dominant positions. With 13 submissions on your record, do you feel that there are aspects of your style that are overlooked?
AR: My whole life I have liked an athlete. I live completely in the sports lifestyle: training, rest, nutrition and that is where my strength comes from. Part of my fighting style that I raised to a higher level at Team Alpha Male is movement in the stand-up part of the fight. That part I saw as one of the possibilities to improve my overall style so I've been working successfully on this aspect.
VR: What is your assessment of the state of training and the health of the sport in Croatia? What do you think is most beneficial fighters that they may not be getting there right now?
AR: Croatia always was a country with great sportsmen and sport teams. The biggest lack in MMA in Croatia is lack of MMA events. We had one UFC event this year and it was really something. I hope that UFC will be back in Zagreb and that it will become regular event in Croatia. Arena Zagreb was full and in my opinion UFC can be satisfied how the event went.
VR: A lot of us here in the U.S. associate Croatian MMA with one name - Cro Cop. You know I had to ask you this, but what do you think of his accomplishments in MMA? Has he helped the sport grow in your country and if so, how much?
AR: For sure Cro Cop is the biggest name in MMA that Croatia ever had. Without him and his career MMA would not be nearly famous as it is today in Croatia. He helped a lot the sport to grow big in my country. It was enough to see him entering UFC event in Zagreb (capital of Croatia) as a spectator when the whole arena was cheering his name.
VR: Have you had the opportunity to train with him, and if so, have you fallen victim to any of his pranks?
AR: Until now I didn't have the opportunity to train with him. One of the reason is because we have a big difference in weight category. Therefore he could not make any prank on me.
VR: Back to the training at Alpha Male, who have been some of your best training partners?
AR: I don't want to single out anybody because every one of them is a great sport and fighter. Of course, there are famous UFC names that I have been training with like Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Clay Guida, Cody Garbrandt... and this was an invaluable experience. I want to thank them all for being such a great support.
VR: Your last two fights have been under the M-1 banner. Do you plan on fighting for any organizations based in the U.S.? Is it something you aspire to in the future?
AR: I have a contract with the M-1 organization and I am satisfied in every way. I like options and there are some organizations in U.S. that we have mutual interests. But, I keep a very professional relationship with the organization in which I fight and I respect current contractual relationships. All other options will be considered in the time that comes but only upon fulfilling current commitments and plans.
VR: You've faced some very tough opposition and have had a few competitive fights that ended in losses. Are there any of those losses you wish to avenge?
AR: Every sport as well as every aspect of life is consisting of wins and losses. It is the same with my career. I am not a person that will look back. If some of the opponents that I have lost a fight with appear sometime in the future, I will fight them again any time. But, revenges are not my way of thinking or acting. I always want to give my best in each fight and to enjoy every fight that is coming.