Meet Damir Mirenić – Former MMA fighter turned Krav Maga instructor
If you belong to younger generations of MMA fans, you might not remember him. But if you have been into MMA for a longer period of time, then you surely know who Damir Mirenić is because Mirenić is one of Croatia’s MMA pioneers.
This exceptionally talented fighter from Velika Gorica stepped into the cage with UFC star Gegard Mousasi and unbreakable Mike Pyle, he signed a contract with Pride but never managed to make his debut for this legendary promotion, he was invited to take part in The Ultimate Fighter reality show and he retired under the banner of Slovenia’s WFC. He had his last professional bout in 2008 and then decided to make a big change. He traded rings and cages for new challenges. Today he is a father of four.
But Mirenić never gave up fighting sports. In recent years he teaches people self-defense, showing them how to primarily avoid and stop any kind of violent behavior through well-known program developed by the Israeli army. Krav Maga was one of the reasons we initiated this interview with one of Croatia’s MMA pioneers.
What do you think of your professional career now? Do you think you could have done more given the circumstances at that time? Do you have any regrets? What are your favorite memories?
“I’m happy when I look back. Of course, you think you could have done more or less in some aspects, but sometimes it’s not up to us, our abilities and qualities. There are many factors that have to sit together to make a plan work. I’m a bit sorry I never made it to Pride. I guess fighting there is something special. I’ve been to Japan and I felt that atmosphere. I inked a deal with Pride and I waited for my debut, but then they collapsed and my fight never happened. Very soon I got an offer from the US. First I was invited to take part in The Ultimate Fighter reality show and then Canada’s HARDCORE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP contacted me as well. I was the first Croatian fighter who fought in American cages on their soil. My favorite memories have always been the time I spent with my team before and after the fight. That’s something you never forget.”
In your career you fought many famous opponents, but the two biggest names are still very popular in the world of MMA. Can you tell us what do you think now about your match with Gegard Mousasi? Can you recall that bout?
“Gegard is a top fighter, that’s why he made it to the very top now. Each fight has its own key moments in which it turns in your favor or in your opponent’s favor. A couple of days ago I was watching that match and saw that one mistake that might have been crucial in that fight. But it happens. And that’s why you have to have your people in the corner. They play an important role in the match. Some fighters never have that and the only thing they have is people who hand them towels and wipe their sweat. I had people who were 100% with me, with their heart and with their soul. I won some matches exclusively because I followed their advice. Sure I’m sorry I lost to Mousasi, but he was better, no doubt about it. But if my team had been there, I’m sure they would notice that mistake I made and they’d warn me. Maybe it would end differently then. Unfortunately, they did not manage to get Canadian visas and I had to travel by myself to Canada.”
You also fought Mike Pyle. What about that match?
“Mike is another talented fighter coming from Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts training organization. He had Randy Couture in his corner. I lost because I had bad game plan, unfortunately. I let him take me down early in the match, I made it out of a couple of tough situation, but that’s why I lost a lot of strength and I fell into a trap because he is an excellent grappler. We negotiated about our rematch in the US, but I retired so it never happened.”
How many people did you have in your MMA team? How much did you improvise and how professional were you?
“My team had three members that used to be in my corner. BJJ and MMA coach Dubravko Ćolić, who was also responsible for my game plan and invaluable member of the team. Goran Babić Hambi was my boxing coach, he was the one always raising the atmosphere. Also very precious. And Alen Talić. He was my sparring partner, my coach, my sponsor, he did all the logistics, he was all in one. I also had excellent training partners in Velika Gorica such as Marijo Belančić Bela, who is a professional soldier, Nenad Crkvenac, a boxer and a taekwondo coach, Mario Vuković, Muay Thai coach, Miro Čevra, MMA fighter, Stipe Todorić, BJJ and judo coach, and many others. We functioned well as a team, it was very friendly and it was all new and interesting to us. But we were definitely not a professional team.”
In what way did MMA change since your days?
“MMA is a science today. It evolved in all the aspects of the game. There are many teams, organizations, gyms, training methods… And techniques are constantly changing and developing. Preparations go to the very limits. There is a big difference. But the only bad thing I see nowadays is the monopoly. I think there should be more big organizations so the fighters could get a bigger pool of opponents and bigger purses.”
And you’re still into fighting sports. But now you’re a Krav Maga instructor. Can you tell us more about Krav Maga for those who are not familiar with it?
“Krav Maga is a practical combat method that teaches you how to avoid, prevent and resolve any type of violent situations and attacks. Krav Maga includes self-defense, various combat skills as well as different skills when it comes to the protections of others around you. It is very simple and unique. Krav Maga employs reactions based on human instincts. It is a horizontal system with very unique and logical approach. Its techniques are simple and easy to remember, everything students do, they do it naturally and instinctively. And the most important thing of all, it can be used in stressful conditions. Some of the most important Krav Maga components and unique pedagogy, methodology and training. Initially, it was associated only with Israeli army and their secret services but in past 25 years it slowly started to get popular with civilians too. “
How popular in Krav Maga in general? And how popular is it in Croatia?
“It is extremely popular. KRAV MAGA GLOBAL operates in 65 countries. For example, it has 300 centers in England. There are some 30 centers in Croatia so far but we still have plenty of space for promotion and expansion. “
What is the main goal of training Krav Maga and what is the profile of your students?
“Krav Maga’s main goal is to teach students how to manage stressful and problematic situations. Krav Maga is for everyone, regardless of age or sex and it is based on natural human movement. It fits perfectly into everyday lifestyle because the participant can reach certain goals in very short period of time. Krav Maga trainings are for anyone who wants to get in shape, who wants to build confidence and learn how to protect oneself as well as those around you while having fun at the same time. Our students come from different walks of life, we have kids, high school students, university students, people of all professions, we even have entire families training at our facilities as well as retired people.”
What is the basic philosophy of Krav Maga? Does it teach certain philosophy or is it based solely on its practical aspect?
“Krav Maga does not imply some philosophical attitudes as some other martial arts. The main concept is simple: ‘If your life or safety is compromised, you have the right to defend yourself employing all available resources.’ Krav Maga is not a sport, it is not a competition. Trainings are practical and techniques learnt can be used in real life. An important aspect of training is also prevention, that is, teaching students how to assess the risk and teaching them how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations. It also influences the development of mental abilities important to effectively respond to stressful situations. “
MMA vs. Krav Maga – who wins?
“We must bear in mind that MMA is a sports and it is limited by the rules for the safety of competitors. On the other hand, Krav Maga is a combat system based on self-defense and getting out of dangerous situations in real life. There are no limitation and rules. Many techniques include attacking the vital points of the human body. Another important factor is mental stability of the participants, that is, how fast is one ready to react in a dangerous situation. This is a very complex issue and it demands a complex answer.”
Soon you are about to organize seminars all around Croatia. What can the attendees expect?
“One of the reasons for these seminars is the fact that MMA is getting more and more popular and there are new MMA gyms cropping up. And on the other hand, Krav Maga is expanding too. We will try to educate out students, as well as anybody else interested, about both systems through seminars organized by KRAV MAGA GLOBAL – CROATIA that kick off this September in Croatia and in other neighboring countries.“
You are a family man and a father of four. How do you manage to balance all that?
“I have a beautiful wife and amazing four kids. My family is everything to me and they are a big support in everything I do related to Krav Maga because Krav Maga is our lifestyle in a way.“