‘I Was Born To Battle People’ – Denis Puric’s Wild Journey From War-Torn Bosnia To The Global Stage Of Muay Thai

Tagir Khalilov and Denis Puric exchange blows

Denis Puric’s life reads like the script of a Hollywood movie.  

The 38-year-old striker – who will face Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat in a flyweight Muay Thai matchup at ONE Fight Night 17: Kryklia vs. Roberts on Prime Video – has seen the best and the worst of humanity.

After being surrounded by danger and uncertainty throughout childhood, Puric has used those experiences to fortify himself in the ring and become a fan favorite due to his fearless and entertaining style.  

Before “The Bosnian Menace” returns to action in U.S. primetime on Friday, December 8, we take a deep dive into his incredible background and explore how those moments led him to the world’s largest martial arts organization.

A Child Of War 

Puric was born to Bosnian parents in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1985, but when the Yugoslav Wars first started to simmer in the region in 1992, the family moved to their homeland – which became an even more intense battleground.  

At that point, trying to leave was nearly impossible. Puric’s father served as a soldier on the battlefield while his wife and son lived in a refugee camp, not knowing whether he was alive or dead. 

“The Bosnian Menace” told onefc.com:

“Once the first shots started popping off, my dad packed us up and moved to Bosnia because he had lots of land and a home there.  

“We moved back to Bosnia without knowing that the actual war was going to happen there. When that happened, they closed down the borders, so then we were stuck there for about four years. We spent some time in a refugee camp while my dad was on the front lines fighting in the war.  

“He got shot in the war and kinda disappeared on us. My mother and I thought he was dead. We went back to our town, and we went to another refugee camp because the fighting started in our city again. That second time, we actually found my father alive.” 

Things were turbulent, but the family eventually found someone who smuggled them back into Slovenia, where there was no longer any fighting. Still, the memories of Bosnia and the refugee camp were already scarred into the youngster’s memory.  

While he wasn’t fully aware of what was happening at the time and tried to live like a normal child, Puric now recognizes the horrors of that situation in hindsight:

“I remember we were playing soccer one time in a field, and there was a horse running by. And I guess the horse stepped on a landmine, and it exploded. We didn’t know that it was a minefield where we used to play soccer.  

“We had to switch places and play more on the streets. But the streets were all bombed up. There were grenade holes everywhere. But we were kids, man. We made it work with whatever spot we found.” 

A New Life In Canada 

With wars still raging in the region, Puric’s father wanted to get his family as far away as possible.  

Initially refused entry into the United States, the family was later accepted north of the border in Canada, where they moved to start their new life – though it took some time to find the right spot. 

Looking back at the massive lifestyle shift, “The Bosnian Menace” said: 

“We got denied by the USA because my father fought in the war. So, we applied for refugee status to go to Canada. We moved to Canada on August 28, 1997. 

“When I first got there, I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, which was a small city at the time. It was super cold. We got there in the summertime, but as soon as winter hit, it was minus-20 degrees. 

“My father was like, “We’re moving out!” So we moved 600 kilometers [370 miles] away, which was even worse. That was Winnipeg, Manitoba. We stayed there for about a year and a half, and then we moved outside of Toronto to a city called Hamilton in the summer of 1999, and we’ve been there ever since.” 

Already a refugee and having lived in multiple homes in different cities, Puric was an outsider. However, things could be dangerous on the streets, and the only way to guarantee any security was in numbers. 

He found this in the local gang culture, which worked alongside one of his passions:

“The city that we lived in was rough. A lot of gangs and stuff like that. To be able to survive, you had to be a part of something. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters to take care of me. I had to find a way to be safe growing up.  

“I used to breakdance. So, I see these guys breakdancing, and I figured I’d jump in and do my little thing. They liked what they saw, and they were like, ‘Hey, you want to be part of our crew?’ 

“One thing led to another where we kinda turned into a gang. It was more like a brotherhood to us, but other people saw it differently. But it was good for me because I felt safe. These are people who became my brothers until today. 

“Sometimes we did some bad stuff, but we were kids. What the hell did we know? We get to learn from those experiences and move on.” 

‘We Do Muay Thai’

Puric had started training martial arts in the refugee camp, where one of the older men taught karate. When the family moved back to Slovenia, he kept up his training at a local taekwondo school because his mother wanted him to be able to protect himself. 

Fortunately, “The Bosnian Menace” took it seriously, and after moving to Canada, he started competing.

He would earn his black belt and won the Canadian national championships four years in a row, but it wasn’t until he was reprimanded for his behavior in his late teens that he found “the art of eight limbs”:

“In 2002, I was like 17 years old. I met my coach, who is my coach today still, Kru Alin Halmagean, who introduced me to Muay Thai. 

“I got into a fight in high school and got into some trouble. I had a social worker who helped me get back on my feet and get my stuff together. He signed me up to go to this fitness gym. Kru Alin was the health manager. He interviewed me and showed me around. ‘Okay, you gotta clean these toilets. Put these weights away.’ This and that.  

“He brought me to this boxing room with the punching bags and stuff like that, so I just started playing around with these bags. The guy was looking at me, and he was like, ‘Forget about the toilets. You sit here and learn boxing with this guy. We do Muay Thai.’” 

That chance encounter set Puric off onto a new track, and he never looked back. Ultimately, the realness and intensity of Muay Thai enamored him.

He explained: 

“I liked their vibe, and I liked the hardcore European guy that [Alin] was. From there on, I started training Muay Thai. Two weeks into my Muay Thai training, I had my first fight. I got my ass whooped!” 

Turning Passion Into Career

At the start, Muay Thai was all about enjoyment for Puric. But when his coach suggested there was money to be made in his new endeavor, he was all in.  

The Hamilton resident didn’t know fighting could be a professional job, and once he found out, he never had eyes for anything else:

“I went to Kru Alin’s house and saw an event, and I was like, ‘Are you telling me that I can get paid to fight?’ He was like, “Yes, you didn’t know?’  

“I thought, ‘This is exactly what I’m looking for.’ Fighting was my passion, and if I can make money, damn right, I’m sticking to it. And 21 years later, we’re still going!” 

Puric began earning some cash in Muay Thai and kickboxing, but in order to reach his full potential, he moved to Thailand in 2010. 

He trained at various places until he was introduced to Thai striking legend Buakaw Banchamek, who invited him to learn at his gym. Alongside him was a young Superbon Singha Mawynn and other world-class competitors, and “The Bosnian Meance” knew he was in the right place.

Puric said:

“That camp became a family. Superbon, Petchtanong, Buakaw – a bunch of killers over there. We were very close. We ate together, trained together, slept together. We’d wake up, we’d run – everything that we did was together.  

“It brought me back to those times where I really just wanted to be part of a group of people that accept you, and you grow together. And that’s what it was, man.” 

‘We’ve Come A Long Way, Man’

Puric has now trained, fought, and coached all over the world, becoming a well-known figure internationally. He’s competed in MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, never turning down a tough fight, no matter the circumstances.  

That dedication and persistence paid off with a ONE Championship contract in 2022, as he aimed to make waves against the best of the best. It was a dream come true for Puric after seeing longtime ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Champion Rodtang “The Iron Man” Jitmuangnon become one of the most popular and exciting strikers on the planet.

Even though “The Bosnian Menace” had returned to Canada and had a young son, he knew he needed to be close to the action in order to elevate his chances of success:

“During COVID, I was watching ONE Championship, and I saw this Rodtang guy smashing everybody, and all I could think of was, ‘I need to fight this guy.’ 

“As soon as Thailand opened their borders, I said, ‘I’m heading over there and try to get that ONE Championship contract. I don’t care who they put in front of me, but my ultimate goal is Rodtang.’ 

“Two months after that, I got the contract, and here we are, still chasing that fight.” 

Whether or not Puric gets a shot at Rodtang someday, he can undoubtedly feel proud about everything he’s achieved and how far he’s come after a roller-coaster upbringing.

It’s clear that he is a true fighter, and he’s shown that with commitment and passion, anything is possible. 

“The Bosnian Menace” said of the remarkable path he’s taken to the global stage: 

“It’s crazy [that I’ve gone from a refugee camp to fighting in stadiums]. I hope they’re still watching me! We’ve come a long way, man. 

“We’ve been battling since I was born! Whether it’s a war, soccer in a refugee camp, dancing, or fighting – I was born to battle people. And I think I’m gonna die battling somebody, too. It’s the best way to go.” 

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