Fighter of the Month: Roman Todorovich

By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by Stephanie Drews and Meghan Wonder

Roman Todorovich chuckles as he rattles off a list of prevalent Bosnian stereotypes, classifying his people as “stubborn,” “hard-working,” “resilient,” and “strong.”

It’s a collection of traits that are altogether unsurprising when considering the recent history of the Bosnian people, who, in the early nineties, suffered a brutal civil war; one which displaced approximately 800,000 Bosnians, including Todorovich, from their native land.

'Roman the Gladiator' in victory.

‘Roman the Gladiator’ in victory. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

“That definitely influenced my fighting spirit,” Todorovich said. “My family fought for me to have a better life, bringing me to a country with so many opportunities, a country that isn’t war-torn.”

“I’m really able to value and appreciate the little things that I am blessed with in this life. I couldn’t feel more blessed to be in the position I’m in today.”

At age four, Todorovich and his family escaped the dangers of the Bosnian civil war, moving to Germany for three years before coming to the United States in 1997.

Apart from the natural fire that he ascribes to his Bosnian roots, Todorovich has long been a martial artist, having begun his Judo education as a four year-old living in Germany.

Over time, Todorovich has earned the nickname “Kettle Bell Head,” a moniker earned because of the three broken hands suffered from striking the twenty-four year-old fighter’s near-metallic dome.

Ironically, when Todorovich isn’t busy breaking people, he’s putting them back together, as he spends his time away from the gym working as an emergency room technician, a high-stress profession that demands performance under pressure.

But when he steps in the cage, Todorovich enters a different realm, when the cold reality of mankind’s oldest sport literally hits him in the face.

“I have had a really good upbringing in terms of the respect I have before a fight,” Todorovich said. “But when the bell rings, and the gloves touch, it’s war. I try to do everything in my ability to stop the guy and get the win.”

Since losing by TKO in his first bout in 2011, Todorovich has been successful in exactly that, winning four consecutive fights to place his amateur record at 4-1-0.

Todorovich (center), surrounded by his Elite TC coaches and teammates.

Todorovich (center), surrounded by his Elite TC coaches and sparring partner. (Photo by Meghan Wonder)

Todorovich is quick to credit his recent success to the members of the Elite Training Center fight team, a support system that offers him both emotional and technical backing.

“My head coaches, Brian Rauchbach and Josiah Doby, they’re like brothers in a sense. But they’re also like fathers in that they help me out through tough times, not just inside but outside of the gym, where I have personal relationships with them,” Todorovich said.

In his most recent fight, a first round submission of Ronald Minera during the University of MMA’s Fight Night 3, Todorovich looked to be in trouble against the heavy-handed Minera, who landed a series of powerful hooks before the fight moved to the ground.

Sparring partner and fellow Elite Training Center fighter Tommy Aaron, who was also victorious that night, looked on nervously in the early stages of Todorovich’s bout.

“I’m more nervous when my buddies go into the ring than when I go into the ring,” Aaron said. “At Elite, there’s no egos. We care about others more than ourselves, so when my buddy Roman was taking some blows in the first round I was feeling pretty nervous.”

But following the opening barrage, Todorovich was able to take control of the fight on the ground, striking with a serpentine quickness to defeat Minera with a textbook arm bar.

Todorovich (red rashguard), cinching an armbar at University of MMA: Fight Night 3. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Todorovich (red rashguard), cinching an armbar at University of MMA: Fight Night 3. (Photo by Stephanie Drews)

Todorovich’s first-round submission was truly a display of artistry, a perfect example of what program director Shawni Young and the ETC team demand of their fighters; a training philosophy that values technique and repetition over flashiness and brute strength.

Behind the split-second, highlight-reel maneuver that delivered Todorovich’s fourth consecutive victory were hours of unseen repetition, a grueling but rewarding refining of his art form.

In this sense, the summer bout between two amateur mixed martial artists fits into the framework of a great tradition of martial arts and martial artists, a reality that Young and the rest of the ETC staff want engrained into their fight team.

“Mixed martial arts wouldn’t be mixed martial arts without thousands of centuries of battles between samurais and other warriors throughout the world bringing martial arts to life through necessity. Martial arts wasn’t always a sport as it is now,” Young said.

In fact, in an effort to drive this idea home, Todorovich, Aaron and other members of the ETC team traveled to a place where martial arts isn’t a necessity, but a livelihood.

“We had some Muay Thai instructors who had never been to Thailand,” Young said. “So Brian and I decided to take them all to Thailand December of last year to give them traditional Muay Thai training, because we wanted them to have a true understanding of the roots of these martial arts.”

It may be a coincidence, but since his trip to Thailand, Todorovich has yet to lose a fight. Eight hour training days were coupled with an education in the original Muay Thai culture.

“When we went to Thailand, I was really impressed with the fighting culture,” Todorovich said. “You would be woken up at 4:30 in the morning to the sound of people hitting Thai bags.”

Todorovich and his teammates were given a strict curriculum, one that ensured they mastered the basics of their craft before moving to more advanced techniques.

But while the correlation between Todorovich’s trip to Thailand and current winning streak is difficult to ignore, the twenty-four year-old fighter gained valuable insight that extends far beyond the cage.

“I’d seen documentaries about the Thai fighting culture, but actually seeing it firsthand was crazy,” Todorovich said.

“It was surreal, they have no other avenue of providing for themselves. I’ve had my own struggles, but seeing struggles far worse than mine made me realize I’ve got it pretty good, no matter how bad it is back home. I can train because I want to train, not because it’s a necessity.”

Currently, things on the home front are looking good for Todorovich, who is training for a title opportunity at the U of MMA’s upcoming show on January 26th.  The bout could prove a turning point in the young career of the refugee turned fighter, who will look to demonstrate that stalwart Bosnian toughness and tenacity under the lights of Club Nokia.

“It’s always been a childhood dream of mine to become a professional athlete,” Todorovich said, “Most people watch professional athletes on television and think they’re phenomenal, that they’re superheroes. I look at it and think I could be just as good as him if I put my mind to it.”

“We’re gonna ride this thing to the top man. I feel like as long as I’m there mentally, the physical aspects will just fall in line.”

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