Inside The Mind Of Pro Fighter Ognjen Topic – By Matt Lucas
Ognjen Topic has been making the rounds. In his pro career he’s amassed a solid list of contemporary Muay Thai fighters that he’s done battle with; Rami Ibrahim, Paowarit Sasiprarpa, Coke Chunuwat, and Neungsiam Samphusri. The Bosnian/Serbian born Jersey resident is due to face one of his toughest challenges battling against Rungravee Sasiprapa on November 21st for Lion Fight Promotion at the Foxwoods Casino in Connneticut.
Topic took some time out of his training to talk to me about how he got into fighting, his training, and his recent battles against top Thai fighters.
How did you get into Muay Thai?
I started off in 7th grade. I wanted to start boxing and I was watching a lot of boxing fights on ESPN. It was something that I fell in love with. It was a new challenge. I asked my parents if I could join a boxing gym and they said no because when I was younger I had a lot of concussions. They didn’t want me taking any unnecessary headshots. I said, “Okay, well if I can’t do boxing can I do Tae Kwon Do, or karate or something?” I found a Tae Kwon Do school when I was 14 years old and that’s where I started. I got a black belt but it wasn’t for me. Martial Arts are different than boxing sports. In Muay Thai you train to fight and finish opponents off where, as Martial Arts are mainly a defensive arts.
I was 18 and I saw Muay Thai fights on ESPN. That was probably my first time I saw a Muay Thai fight live in the ring. I think it was actually Thai guys fighting. I thought to myself, “Wow these guys are machines! They look so solid, strong, and powerful. This is what I want to do.” I had never heard of the sport before and I figured I would never find it. Fast forward a bit and I am traveling around the neighborhood and I see a logo of a guy wearing a mongkol on the side of a building and it looks like one of the fighters I was watching on TV. I was like, “woah this is the stuff from before.” So I go inside the building and ask, “when can I join?” The guys inside told me the gym had just moved. I went home and started looking online for North Jersey Muay Thai. I found them and they were about 30 minutes away. I started training, and that’s it. I’ve been with them ever since.
You recently came back from Thailand. How was it?
It was excellent. It was everything that I imagined it to be. I learned a lot. It wasn’t so much learning new techniques, as Muay Thai is a very simple sport, it was more about getting experience. That was what was great about it. I’m eager to go back after this fight with Rungravee. I’d like to continue to gain more experience over there.
On most of your trips to Thailand you’ve trained at Eminent Air. How did you end up out there?
It started out with my trainers. They wanted to find a gym when they went to Thailand in 2007. They’d searched online and Eminent Air at the time was ranked very high in Bangkok. Eminent Air had a lot of accolades and awards, Best Gym of the Year etc., so they went to the gym and they liked it. They told us to go there and so I started to go there. I went there my first time. The second time my friend talked me into going to another gym That was a great gym, but Eminent Air was my first gym and I had a great experience there so on my third and fourth trip I returned to Eminent Air.
How long have you stayed?
The first few times I went I only stayed a month. I had a job at the time so I couldn’t stay more than that. Even one month was difficult for me to stay out there because of my job. The third time I decided pursue Muay Thai fully. It was getting too much. Working here 9-5 then having to go to the gym and train hard from 5-9 was excessive. I had no life and I was miserable during training. So I decided that Muay Thai was something that I was going to go after full time. So I’m focused on Muay Thai now as my career.
When you go to Eminent Air do you stay at the camp or do you get an apartment nearby?
There is a house across the street from the gym and that’s where I stay. The accommodation is very basic. The rooms do have air conditioning; after all it is Eminent Air, which is an air conditioning company that sponsors the gym. There’s pretty much all I need. I’m a very basic, simple, guy so I don’t really need any bells and whistles. I don’t need no five star hotel. Give me a bed and feed me- that’s it.
What was it like fighting for Max Muay Thai?
It was actually great, I had two fights for MAX Muay Thai and everything was professional. You can see on the videos. It was like one of the big shows over here, like Glory or whatever.
How did you feel about the bout?
Well in terms of winning or losing I definitely lost the fight. I’m losing these fights to these guys because of inexperience. I have the skill, I have the knowledge in regards to the sport but now it comes down to gaining more experience, and being more relaxed in the fight. I can’t get so excited in the fights and lose concentration. Also learning how to turn around a fight when you’re losing and being able to win the fight. Doing that against an experienced Thai is a lot different than doing it against a foreigner that has the same skill level. That’s why I want to go back to Thailand, to gain experience and fight more often.
My opponent had eighty fights. In total with my amateur record I’m at 34 or 35 bouts. I have fourteen or fifteen pro fights. I had twenty amateur fights and then the rest are all-professional.
What do you feel the difference is between fighting here and fighting in Thailand?
Honestly it’s a lot tougher in Thailand. Those guys kick really hard. My forearms were really damaged every time after I’d fought a Thai guy. It’s just different. When you step into the ring against a Thai you can feel the difference. When you fight a foreigner you can play around more. With a Thai you have to be much more serious and on point.
What are some of your strengths as a fighter?
I like to call myself a technical fighter. I liked to think that I’m intelligent in the ring but like Tyson says when you get punched in the face everything goes out the window. One of my strengths though is being technical. My kicks, knees and elbows are good, my punches are pretty good too.
What do you think some of your weaknesses are?
Right now I think it’s mainly experience.
What’s your favorite part of training?
Sparring. Sparring is fun, you use your brain. Especially if the guy is doing better than you. You have to use your brain to turn things around and gain more points. We spar very lightly, just like they do in Thailand.
Do you have a lot of training/sparring partners in Jersey?
Not as much as I’d like to have but I’m not really worried about that. I have been in situations before where I had a lack of training partners. The guys that we do have are very smart and technical. Our trainers really did their job preparing these guys. Even if you see the guys that only have one fight they come into the ring extremely solid. When I first fought as an amateur fight they thought I was a professional. People were saying I came from Europe and had professional fights over there. It all comes down to the way we train. We prepare really well. I’m not worried at all about being prepared for this next fight.
What are some intimidating or frightening moments you’ve had during the sport?
When I first fought a Thai, Neungsiam, I was nervous. I wasn’t afraid of being knocked out but I was afraid of losing the fight based on experience and that’s exactly what happened. I gave him way too much respect in that fight. I couldn’t really pull the trigger and do my thing. After that fight I told myself I would never do that again. The next Thai guy that I fought was Paowarit and you saw what happened with that. I went in there and didn’t give him any respect. That worked in my favor.
Neungsiam was one of those really great guys in the 90s. He was super slick like Sanchai. To be honest though I didn’t think it was a close fight. Especially if it had been in Thailand. In America, yeah I guess it was a close fight. Round 3 and Round 4 he outpointed me by a lot and based on the judging in Thailand that would have made a big difference.
Becoming ranked number 1 in America by winning the WBC and WKA titles and also all of the awards I’ve received throughout the years. I’ve had the most “Fight of the Night” awards from the Friday Night Fights promotion. It was like clockwork. Every time I fought I got “Fight of the Night.” I have received fighter of the year and fighter of the month awards. I was also inducted in the NJ hall of fame. As far as titles go, I’ve never really cared about them. I’ve only really cared about them because you’re expected to care about them. That’s the pinnacle of the sport but for me it’s more about proving to myself that I can accomplish these in between challenges. That’s more important to me than getting some title.
Do you have any favorite fighters yourself?
I love watching Saenchai. I like watching a lot of the old school fighters as well. I like watching Boonlai, Karuhat, Mainly the 90s guys. They really used their brains and didn’t like to eat a lot of shots.
Is there anyone you’d like to fight in the future?
Right now, not really. If you’d asked me this a couple months ago I would have said Rungravee. After this bout whatever comes my way, I really don’t care at this point.
Do you have a specific game plan for your fight against Rungravee?
Being smart. People think Rungravee is just a pressure fighter but he’s actually very technical. He changes it up according to who he is fighting and what style they are. He is a very smart fighter. He can fight either as a forward fighter or counter fighter so it will be extremely tough fight. I feel good about it. I feel very confident. I’m a lot better than I was before. I felt confident about it a year and half ago when we first started talking about the match up. Now after spending all this time in Thailand I feel even better about it.
Did you get to see his recent loss by KO? Do you think that will impact his performance?
I really believe that one knock out can really change a fighter. I’m not sure if that knock out was a fair fight. I don’t know why Rungravee took that fight. He fought at 63.5kg which is about 140lbs and that’s way too heavy for him. I think he made a mistake fighting that guy. There’s an obvious size difference that was obvious in the ring.
What’s your plan after this fight with Rungravee?
I’m going to back to Eminent Air after this bout with Rungravee and probably will train there for 5 or 6 months just to get away from the Jersey winter. If Lion Fight needs me to fight again within that time I’ll come back here and fight and then go back to Thailand.