Rade Opacic is just one man, but he wants to show the strength and resilience of an entire nation to the world.
Hailing from Serbia, the heavyweight striker believes that history has ingrained these characteristics into him. And he intends to display them when he returns to action against Patrick “Big Swiss” Schmid at ONE: FIRST STRIKE on Friday, 15 October.
“There was the World Wars, wars in the ’90s. In every war, Serbians were inside of it. We have had many things happen in our country, so we are tough people,” Opacic says.
“I feel very proud that I can represent that on the biggest stage in kickboxing. It gives me extra motivation and extra power to know that I am representing my country at that level.”
The southeastern European nation has certainly experienced a lot of turbulence in recent years. And although the 24-year-old Opacic is too young to have experienced the brunt of the Yugoslav Wars directly, the instability caused by them has played a notable role in his life.
In 1995, his parents fled their war-ravaged homeland of Croatia. They, like many others, sought refuge in Serbia, which hosted the highest number of displaced people in Europe at that time.
“Originally, my family are Serbs from Croatia, where the war was happening. They came to Serbia trying to start a new life, but there was still a lot of struggle,” Opacic explains.
“I was born in 1997 in Serbia. Even though I was young, I felt the [effects] of the war. Still, 20 years after, you see a lot of people that couldn’t be as successful because of the situation. So actually, my family felt it a lot.
“There were many refugees that came to [Serbian capital city] Belgrade, and still at that time, it wasn’t so nice here. There wasn’t war, but there was bombing of the city and many, many crazy things.”
Even after the war ended, it was a long time before the region found its footing, but Opacic believes the struggles helped strengthen the Serbian people as a whole. They adapted to the hard times, and those experiences are reflected in their character.
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“I think that’s why we are strong people. Because we have survived many tough things, so it’s in our genes to be tough,” the heavyweight says.
“Whatever is happening, we have to go forward, we don’t just stand aside. It’s built into us, that’s our mentality.
“That’s probably why I do [kickboxing]. Because I have that fire and warrior mentality – that’s what I have in me. A lot of Serbians are like that.”
Life is much less dangerous in Belgrade now, and its people can live in peace, though their troubles have not been forgotten.
For this reason, Opacic wants to bring pride to his country through sporting success on the global stage as he treads new ground in ONE Super Series.
He and his team at Kikboks Klub Sindjelic are leading the way for professional kickboxers in Serbia. And with their success, Opacic hopes to inspire the next generation to channel their innate qualities into combat sports.
“My goal is to win the World Title in ONE. I know it has to be step-by-step, but that is eventually my goal. It would mean a lot for me, for my people, for Serbia,” he says.
“It would be a very big thing here, so I’m going to go for it. The first thing is [Schmid at ONE: FIRST STRIKE], and I’m going to do my best to beat him and then go for that title.
“Serbia is a small country. Me getting to the biggest level in kickboxing means a lot, to prove that even from a small country, you can get to the top of the game. And I have big support from my people to do it.”