Anyone who saw Rade Opacic knocking out Errol Zimmerman would have been impressed. But to the Serbian the win was particularly significant because he had been following the Dutchman’s career for years.

Opacic was not just a fan of Zimmerman’s but had spent time training at his gym when he was an up and coming prospect on the European kickboxing scene,

“I watched every one of Zimmerman’s fights before I got to meet him and train together. He was here (in Belgrade) for treatments when he injured his knee. At that time, he didn’t train because he was here for recovery. We met and talked, and the next year, I went to his gym.”

Never forget

Opacic hasn’t trained with Zimmerman for several years but will never forget the first time he sparred with the fighters at the Dutch gym,

“I’ve been there twice, two training camps when I was 19 or 20 years old, so I felt a little bit of the training there and sparred with them. They were good to us. Sparring was obviously hard but, to me, it was good to feel that.”

It sounds like those trips gave the Serbian the confidence and self belief he needed to take on the best kickboxers in the heavyweight division,

“If you spar with some big names, you know where you belong. You can see what level you are  if you are good or not good, and where the other guy is better. It’s good to see where you where you stand.”

Idol to rival

Opacic was proud to have reached the level in his kickboxing career where he was being offered fights against opponents he had previously watched on TV,

“It was a big thing for me to fight someone that I used to watch, who I looked at like a mentor or something.”

He also says that the two remain friends despite having fought one another,

“(He) was here in Belgrade when I first met, and then I was in Holland training with him. And a couple of years after, I fought him and beat him. So it’s a great thing, a great memory. We’re still good friends, even before and after the fight, so everything is good.”

Top contender

The win over Zimmerman was the first of Opacic’s ONE Championship career. The 24 year old is on a tear and has scored four stoppage wins since signing for the promotion.

At ONE 157 later this month he takes on Guto Inocente. The Brazilian has challenged for the Glory heavyweight title and Opacic says he knows all about his upcoming opponent,

“I watched his fights before. I’m very happy to fight all these guys. It’s a dream come true for me and I’m enjoying it.”

ONE Championship has yet to crown a heavyweight kickboxing champion. The division is still in its infancy and while Opacic is clearly the #1 contender there isn’t an obvious candidate to face him in a title fight.