Rudolf Kraj Interview

04.08.06 - By Michael Klimes: Rudolf Kraj is a cruiserweight that I had the great pleasure of interviewing last Saturday at his home in Melnik, a beautiful town approximately thirty kilometres out of Prague. Kraj participated at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 where he won a Silver Medal in the light-heavyweight category. In the final, he lost to the Russian boxer Aleksandr Lebziak. Kraj also won a Bronze Medal at the World Championships at Bangkok in 2003. He turned professional last year and has amassed an eight fight winning streak with six KO’s. Kraj has small hands but they are deceptively powerful as he can launch powerful punches. He has a good left hook and straight right. He is not a bad body puncher either and can move well with the jab. He is, overall, a well rounded fighter.

I asked him a number of questions and he was extremely friendly and hospitable.

ESB: Can you tell us something of your background and how you got into boxing and realised it was the sport for you?

Rudolf Kraj: Well… I got into boxing at fifteen and I don’t know… I tried other sports and boxing turned out to be the one for me.

ESB: What does your training regime consist of?

Rudolf Kraj: It’s tough [Everybody laughs]! In Germany, I train twice a day or rather Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Wednesday only once. On Sunday, I have a break. It’s my work.

ESB: You were at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, what was it like to represent your country?

Rudolf Kraj: Obviously I was an amateur at the Olympics and for an amateur that is the highest anyone can go. It was very hard to get there; even being at the qualification stages at the European Championships was an achievement. When I got the medal, it was perfect and I learnt a lot.

ESB: Does an amateur background help; not only your fighting ability but also your marketability? I am thinking of Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar de la Hoya who won Gold Medals and went to become two of the biggest superstars this sport has known?

Rudolf Kraj: I’ll say it like this, for us in the Czech Republic amateur boxing is difficult. I was the first Czech to get a medal in forty years and there was a lot of furore from that and many people were interested in it. Unfortunately, in the leadership of boxing [in the amateurs], there are a lot of old people who don’t have a lot of prospects or any future. I think it has got worse since I left it and a lot of young boys don’t have any support from the amateur clubs. I think winning the Silver Medal helped me but not Czech boxing. Prospects don’t get help.

ESB: For a long time you had s shoulder injury, could you give us a few details about that?

Rudolf Kraj: It has effected my career in a big way. About half a year after the Olympics my right shoulder was hurt during a competition and I wanted an operation but people kept advising me to just go into rehabilitation. I wasted a lot of time and finally had one in 2003. However, I kept injuring myself and going into rehabilitation for three to four months and I finally had a second operation last year.

ESB: The cruiserweight division has been for a long time in the shadow of the heavyweights and now it seems to be the best division. What do you think about that?

Rudolf Kraj: In the cruiserweight division there are good fights and good fighters but in the heavyweight division there are worse boxers and so the fights have no juice. For instance, Lewis – Klitischo had some quality. However, when boxers are not so good the division will be thin. Also, a cruiserweight is only ninety kilos or I don’t know normally ninety one, ninety two or ninety three. These guys are powerful but they are not penguins.

ESB: Would you be interested in fighting David Haye, Enzo Maccinerelli or Mark Hobson in England? The three best British cruiserweights?

Rudolf Kraj: [Rudolf Kraj releases a warm grin and everyone laughs]. I’ve heard of David Haye and I remember him from Italy and the qualifications there for the Sydney Olympics. He won against some one, I cannot remember who and I remember that he boxed very well. I saw the fight for the European Cruiserweight Championship where he knocked out… what was his name? Gurov! Yes Gurov and he flattened him in thirty seconds or the first minute and in the first round it was finished. He did not see a thing!

ESB: Yes, you got that right, it was a bang! What do you think about the cruiserweights who move to the heavyweight division for bigger purses and exposure?

Rudolf Kraj: I used to box at light heavyweight as an amateur. In the professional ranks, light heavyweights must be under or seventy nine kilos and as an amateur it is eighty one kilos. I was usually eighty five kilos but I had to put on five kilos for the cruiserweights to make it to ninety kilos but now I am normally ninety five kilos or ninety six so I have to pull it back down again. Guys in the amateur league, which ends at 91 kilos, have a normal weight of ninety five to ninety six kilos before matches. They need to beef themselves up to about a hundred kilos. They need a regime of body building. It is about money but also how the extra weight affects the boxer. Some fighters put on two kilos and are slower while others put on five kilos and are fine.

ESB: Do you think cruiserweights move up because there is a lack of respect for them?

Rudolf Kraj: I think it is only about money because the heavyweight division has, is and will continue to have more money.

ESB: Who are your boxing heroes?

Rudolf Kraj: Well…Roy Jones Junior, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson. I love Roy Jones Junior and Mike Tyson. Roy Jones was quick and intelligent and Mike Tyson was tough.

ESB: Maybe this is a personal question but will you ever find it hard to retire?

Rudolf Kraj: Of course, I’ve thought about it in the past and several times. Right now something always hurts like my right shoulder and if it not that shoulder then the left hurts. I’ve said, what can I do, what can I do? I won’t do normal work like office hours, it is heavy. My wife and I have been working on an exit strategy if we need it but I want to keep doing it for the fitness.

ESB: What do you think of other cruiserweights, who are good?

Rudolf Kraj: I have to say I have not seen a lot of them. Who is good, what is his name? The Frenchman Mormack isn’t? O’Neil Bell and I don’t know that other guy – Vasily Jirov? He was the world champion but lost. I think all of the top ten fighters are evenly matched. Everyone has the potential to beat everyone else.

ESB: What do you think your best punches are?

Rudolf Kraj: All of them! [Everybody laughs]. My best punches are a left hook and straight right.

ESB: What do you think of the current state of Czech boxing and its future?

Rudolf Kraj: Its future, I think is catastrophic; we do not have enough people and are not a big enough state to pay for broadcasting and promotion like Germany. Each, promotion company, in Germany, Spotlight and Universum are working together to put three events in Prague in October. This event is a big jump forward. If the Germans had not come we would be nowhere. I think it is building up but the amateur side is in a bad way.

ESB: Do young people have a chance to show off?

Rudolf Kraj: I am hesitant to say because I live and do my training in Germany but youngsters are not interested in boxing because there is not much money in this sport. I fought six times in the Czech Republic as a Czech champion and I was paid nothing. I don’t know what it is like in England but we have had the same people here for thirty or forty years, they wait for their twelve thousand a year pension and just go to the events to stuff themselves with food. I’ve got nothing against them but they give no sponsorship to the amateur boxers or help.

ESB: From the internet, I know a lot of fans and maybe even some boxers are angry with promoters that there are too many champions and weights. There used to be a time when there was one world champion. Would you agree with any of that?

Rudolf Kraj: I used to laugh at Thai Boxing where they had fifty world champions but now there are four associations I think, WBA, IBF, WBO and WBC. It would be solved if we just had one world champion through a tournament but I think it is a business. I don’t think they will do it.

ESB: I don’t think they will do it either. Do you think boxing is in danger of dying?

Rudolf Kraj: I don’t think it is dying but it would be better if we had someone like Tyson because the whole world knew him. We need a heavyweight champion again who everyone knows. People watched Tyson here, even in the villages (here) because they thought there would be entertainment.

ESB: Many fans I know are also annoyed with fighters being undefeated and having a record which hypes them up. In the olden days, it would not matter if you lost a few fights and you learned something important as a result? I am thinking of Joe Calzaghe and Jeff Lacy. Would you agree with that assessment?

Rudolf Kraj: It’s like this, you lose once and you go from Universum.

ESB: Jesus Christ!

Rudolf Kraj: However, I have to say it only happens to the lesser fighters. If you have gone to the Olympics or something a single loss does not matter. It is wrong one hundred percent but on the other hand they have money and this theory that there are a lot of boxers… there are sixty boxers in my stable and so you can choose. They say, ‘We only want the best fighters, not second or third rate.’ If you are good and you got a bad decision or a bad night they keep you but if not you go. They have to see something that shows them that they will get the money back which they invested…it is a business… a business. I don’t what it’s like in England.

ESB: I don’t know but it is a bit shit.

Rudolf Kraj: That Joe Calzaghe is a fantastic fighter.

ESB: Please, I was at the fight and it was superb!

Rudolf Kraj: I didn’t see it but I heard Lacy did not have a chance.

ESB: That’s true and he took a real beating…it was really good! Do you think technology is better and does it help prevent injuries, it might be a better part about modern boxing?

Rudolf Kraj: Everything is there. It is a professional environment. I had what I wanted it in the amateurs but as a professional it is even better. There is electronic equipment, rehabilitation, massages and any problem you go to the doctor in an hour. Whatever you need to be the best is there and I think it should be this way. When it comes to training it can get overcrowded though because there can be twenty or thirty fighters training at a time.

ESB: What is your theme music?

Rudolf Kraj: I have not had a chance to choose what I want. Before a fight I am nervous because there a lot of people are in the crowd I am not sure if they would like it. They ask me before a fight ten minutes before a fight but I am scared. Nevertheless, I like Hip-Hop or rap but it should be something to get a boxer psyched up.

ESB: What do you like to do to relax and take your mind off boxing?

Rudolf Kraj: I spend time with the family and the boy. I have two dogs and I had three but the third one had to returned to the breeder because it was illegal in Germany. I have both of them in Germany and one is an old like a Granny.

ESB: Thank you to Rudolf Kraj and the hospitality of his family in creating a relaxed environment for the interview.

Michael Klimes, Translation: Romana Pašková and Ivana Klimeš.

Much gratitude to Romana Pašková and Ivana Klimeš who were immense help with the interview and without them it would not be possible.

Article posted on 05.08.2006

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