Olivia Gerula is so close she can almost taste it — the sweet flavour of winning a world title, that is.
The 29-year-old West Kildonan pro boxer is on her way to becoming a world champion in her weight class if she can maintain her recent success in the ring.
Next month, Gerula will step into the ring against Edmonton’s Jelena Mrdjenovich to compete for the World Boxing Council’s super featherweight championship. The 5-foot-7 Mrdjenovich will defend her title in her hometown against Gerula on April 9.
Earlier this month, Gerula travelled overseas to take on Japanese fighter Fujin Emiko Raika in Tokyo.
Gerula defeated the higher-ranked Raika in an eight-round split decision in the junior lightweight, non-title bout. It was the 22nd fight of Gerula’s decade-long boxing career.
“One judge actually scored in her favour, which just about gave me a heart attack. I was like, ‘No, I can’t lose this fight’ because it was a clear win on my part,” said Gerula, who grew up in North Kildonan.
The victory moved Gerula up to No. 5 in the world rankings from eighth spot.
“That’s a big deal. That was the best thing of it all,” Gerula said.
In her match against Raika, Gerula heeded the advice of her trainers, stayed calm and collected as she connected with a series of upper cuts and jabs.
“I was surprised she didn’t have more power behind her hits. I expected it to be a little harsher than what it was, but I was not surprised to get the head butts that I got,” Gerula said of several illegal blows she had to endure.
In an interview before she boarded a plane to Tokyo, Gerula said she fully intended to return looking like a boxer. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
“I actually thought I’d look a whole lot worse. I was kinda disappointed,” Gerula said with a laugh.
Johnny Vernaus, one of her trainers, agreed.
“She hardly had a mark on her,” he said.
While Vernaus was disappointed he couldn’t be there to witness Gerula’s win in Tokyo, he said he’ll be on-hand to witness her fight in Edmonton.
“She’s gonna win. I know (Mrdjenovich’s) trainer and I’ve seen her fight probably a dozen times. She’s an excellent fighter, but I know how to beat her,” Vernaus said.
And what kind of strategy does he have in mind for the fight?
“I won’t tell you right now,” Vernaus said. “We’ll come out with a surprise attack that will definitely give Olivia a better than fair chance at winning that fight.”
Gerula can’t wait for a rematch with Mrdjenovich. The two fought each other back in 2004 in Winnipeg, with Gerula coming out on the losing end.
This time around, Gerula is confident the outcome will be different.
“This is a fight where I have nothing to lose,” she said. “It’s a little sooner than I’d like it to be, but I’m so conditioned from the fight I just had that there’s really no reason not to take it. There’s nothing for me to lose and everything for me to gain.”
Olivia ‘The Predator’ Gerula scored a unanimous decision (97-94, 97-94 and 96-95) over Jelena Mrdjenovich at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton Thursday night, grabbing Mrdjenovich’s World Boxing Council’s super featherweight title with a solid victory over the hometown girl.
"I am doing wonderful," exclaimed Gerula when reached as she exited the ring on her brother’s cell phone. "I am now carrying around a shiny (championship) green belt and I can tell you it feels great.
"I’m sorry to keep interrupting you, but I’m walking out of the ring right now and stopping for photos and everything. My whole crew’s here and we’re doing a lot of hugs."
Gerula, now 11-10-2, not only became champion with the effort, but exacted a measure of revenge by defeating the only opponent who had knocked her out a previous meeting some 4 1/2 years ago. The result also derails some significant big plans Mrdjenovich, who falls to 23-4-1, had spoken publicly about before the fight. Instead, Gerula is likely now in line for bigger paydays and bigger fights — the next likely against the European champion.
"It was an amazing fight," said Gerula. "I was aggressive from the very beginning. She tried to land that famous left hook of hers and she landed a few. But I’ve learned to cover up and take some punches. I had her in trouble... she did hit the canvas once but they called it a slip. I had her tired and backed up and she was holding. It was a war and it was great.
"This is the payoff for all the years I’ve put in, all that time and effort. This is what it’s all about."
The Predator's five-year plan worked to perfection.
Winnipeg's Olivia (The Predator) Gerula stunned a sold-out house at the Shaw Conference Centre last night by out-slugging, out-hustling and outpointing Jelena Mrdjenovich en route to usurping the Edmontonian as the World Boxing Council's super featherweight champion of the world.
Five years ago, Mrdjenovich handed Gerula the only KO loss on her record, and the Winnipegger vowed earlier this week that avenging that loss and taking Mrdjenovich's title would represent "the Holy Grail" of her career.
"This is a moment I've dreamed about since the night she knocked me out ... and it's even sweeter now that it's come true," an ecstatic Gerula said afterwards.
"I knew she had all the advantages - height, weight, the home crowd, the home judges, being the champ - but I also knew that we'd designed a great fight plan, and if I stuck to it, we'd win."
The plan - risky as it was for the shorter Gerula - was to stalk Mrdjenovich, negate her punching leverage and beat her up on the inside. The challenger's success was reflected in the scoring: two judges had her winning 96-94, while the third had it 95-94.
"I've only been working with Olivia for about six months, but she showed that she's got the heart of a true champion," said trainer Mark Collins. "She went toe to toe with one of the best female fighters in the world and made her back up, made her run. It was fun to watch."
Mrdjenovich didn't see it that way.
"It thought I did the most damage, and that should have been enough," she said. "But that's typical Edmonton judging. Power and aggression don't seem to count for as much as the amateur-style pit-a-pat punches.
"I'm really disappointed, but this is just a setback. I know in my heart I'm still a world champion, and I'll come back and prove it. There's no thought of quitting."
Milan Lubovac, Mrdjenovich's trainer, said his fighter lost fair and square.
"We can't blame this one on the judges or the referee; my fighter just didn't fight. She was breathing through her mouth after two rounds. What does that tell you?
"She didn't do her running to get ready and she was complacent in the gym. She didn't want to pay the price that a champion has to pay.
"Jelena has all the talent in the world, but that means nothing if you choose not to put it to use.," added Lubovac.
"That was her choice tonight.
"I knew after the fourth round she couldn't win unless she got a KO, but she didn't go for it. Her heart wasn't in it after she ran out of gas.
"She's going to have to decide if she still wants to pay the price, or call it a day."
With the win, Gerula improves to 11-10-2 while Mrdjenovich drops to 23-4-2.
That wasn't a monkey on Jelena Mrdjenovich's back, it was a gorilla.
Olivia (the Predator) Gerula to be exact, and the Winnipeg fighter is now the top banana in the World Boxing Council super featherweight division.
The challenger waltzed into Edmonton and won a unanimous decision from the city's favourite daughter, defeating Mrdjenovich
in what the judges scored a 97-94, 97-94, 96-95 victory in front of roughly 3,000 fans at Shaw Conference Centre on Thursday night.
Gerula, now 11-10-2, was full marks for the win, even though Mrdjenovich didn't see it that way.
"She had the world title, the height, the reach, she had everything to her advantage," said a smiling Gerula, who made off like a bandit.
Gerula was the fresher fighter and it showed early as Mrdjenovich appeared to be gasping early.
"I believe she is in trouble most when she is pressured and that was my goal to pressure, pressure, pressure -- not to let up and that was the deciding factor," said Gerula, who dodged some early short lefts, although two caught her in the second round.
"She was trying to land that left hook of hers and I knew that. My defence has been raised a huge amount as far as just keeping my hands up," insisted the new champ, who wasn't opposed to a rematch.
"I knew those last two rounds were going to be vicious as far as her attack because I knew her corner knew she was in trouble."
Mrdjenovich's trainer, Milan Lubovac, admitted as much, although his fighter wouldn't.
"You can maybe give a lot of excuses, like maybe (Jelena) couldn't run (in training) because of her (surgically repaired) knee. But when you're gasping for air after the first two, three rounds, you're not going to win. You're lucky to survive," said a disappointed Lubovac.
"Obviously there was no morning training, no running and there was no hunger," he continued. "If she was physically fit, she knocks her out, no question, but after two or three rounds she didn't have anything."
Mrdjenovich didn't see it that way.
"I found that I hurt her in every other round, but apparently that's not enough for the judges here. You have to throw the pitter-patter amateur style here and power and defence doesn't mean anything," said the disappointed fighter, who drops to 23-4-1, but refuses to stop fighting.
"Taking nothing away from Olivia, she fought the fight of her life.
"I think maybe I came out a little bit too relaxed. I felt really comfortable the first five rounds and I felt like I dominated every one of those rounds and maybe let it go a little bit and had no jump on anything, no fire in the later rounds. She definitely did because she knew she was down."
It's not how the judges saw it, nor the fans who expressed their concern throughout.
It is one of the coolest, most dramatic moments in sports and Olivia Gerula -- Winnipeg's newest world champion -- was right there in the ring to soak up every thrilling nanosecond.
Gerula became the World Boxing Council's female super featherweight champion Thursday night in Edmonton, shocking everyone but herself and her handlers with a unanimous (96-94, 96-94, 95-94) decision over Jelena Mrdjenovich in front of 3,000 fans at the Shaw Conference Centre. And here's how the Winnipeg personal trainer and mother of two recalled the emotions as she went from challenger to world champ:
"I just closed my eyes and listened as they read out the scores," Gerula said Friday from Edmonton. "They don't tell you the name of who won on each judge's scorecard, they just read the score. So I heard 96-94 and I thought, 'Good spread' but you never know because you're in somebody else's hometown and she is the champion. The second score was the same and I'm thinking, 'Just say it... just say it...' The third card was closer, 95-94, and then they start with 'And the NEW...' and I just broke. That was just such a payoff right there to hear that.
"By the time they finished making the announcement I had already jumped into my trainer's arms and I was screaming 'Yeah!' But even now it's just starting to sink in. Every once in a while I stop and think about it... it's going to take awhile to get used to."
Just to be clear, this isn't some fly-by-night belt Gerula is bringing home to Winnipeg. Mrdjenovich was 23-3-1 before the loss and had defended her belt five times. Other current WBC champions include heavyweight Vitaly Klitschko and middleweight Kelly Pavlik and it's the same organization that Donny Lalonde represented as champ after winning his light heavyweight title back in 1987.
"It's history," said Gerula. "I'll have to wait until I get back to Winnipeg but isn't the only other fighter from Winnipeg to win a world title Donny Lalonde? That's amazing to me.
"This is what I prepared for, this is what I expected to happen. I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to win this fight. But the reality of it, the chance to hold on to the belt and hear the announcer say, 'the WBC featherweight champion of the world'... it's beyond my wildest dreams."
Gerula had 18 friends and family in Edmonton and they watched her take control of the fight early and apply relentless pressure (the fight is scheduled to be broadcast on Sportsnet in a couple of weeks).
"She simply outworked her from the get-go," said Mark Collins, Gerula's trainer. "Her movement, feinting and constant pressure simply brought down Jelena and by the time the ninth round rolled around Jelena had nothing left."
Mrdjenovich, while crediting Gerula, didn't agree with the decision, claiming "that's typical Edmonton judging. Power and aggression don't seem to count for as much as the amateur-style pit-a-pat punches," but her trainer thought otherwise.
"We can't blame this one on the judges or the referee; my fighter just didn't fight," Milan Lubovac told Edmonton reporters after the fight. "She was breathing through her mouth after two rounds. What does that tell you? She didn't do her running to get ready and she was complacent in the gym. She didn't want to pay the price that a champion has to pay. Jelena has all the talent in the world, but that means nothing if you choose not to put it to use."
Gerula celebrated Thursday night -- some dancing with friends and a game of pool or two -- but is already thinking about what's next. A fight is already tentatively scheduled for June 12 in France against the European champ, but Gerula -- who won in Japan in her last fight before heading to Edmonton -- wouldn't mind defending her title right here in River City.
"I've been on the road for two huge fights back-to-back," said Gerula, 11-10-2. "My body needs a little healing time to recuperate from what I've put it through in training and in the ring. We'll be discussing paydays and opportunities, but I would like to defend my belt at home. I think it would be great for Winnipeg to see me holding my belt high above my head and walking into the ring. I would love to have people share in that.
"We'll see. And," she added, laughing, "now that you're the champ you can ask for some of these things."