by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
(Photo courtesy IFL)

Call it stereotyping, but when someone thinks of a chess prodigy, they more often than not think of a spindly, geeky individual who wouldn’t be very at home in any athletic endeavor. But that’s where Peter Kaljevic is different.

A master chess player originally from the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, Peter defected to the United States 20 years ago and turned his love of strategy from chess to combat sports.

Racking up over 100 fights in various striking disciplines, mainly Muay Thai, Kaljevic has naturally shifted towards MMA and is set to make his debut, along with his Chicago Red Bears team, at the IFL’s event this Friday in Atlanta, Georgia.

So how does a chess prodigy from such a turbulent region as Montenegro end up in the IFL as the lightweight representative of the league’s newest team? As Peter puts it, it’s a story that could be home in any number of Cold War-era political thrillers.

“I was in America to play a chess tournament in ‘84 or ’85 at the Waldorf in Philadelphia, and I just never went back,” explained Kaljevic. “I stayed for the tournament, and then I left the team; they were [actually] looking for me for a while.”

Peter continued, “I stayed with my uncles here, but for a little while I had to live on my own. I was doing a lot of kickboxing, especially Muay Thai, and as soon as I got to know some people here, promoters, I started fighting.”

Even though he began his fighting career after moving to the US, Kaljevic says that fighting has been a life-long passion, and inspired by a martial arts legend.

“I’ve been doing Karate since I was 6-years-old or 7,” said Peter. “Pretty much I liked Bruce Lee movies, like Enter the Dragon, that was the first movie I had seen. It gave me something to look forward to, and then I started from there.”

As for how seemingly opposite pursuits such as chess and MMA integrate, Kaljevic feels they are a natural extension of one another when it comes to strategizing.

“It’s something also with a lot of set-up, a lot of moves thinking ahead, worrying about this and that, and it actually works for MMA,” explained Peter. “You have to think of what your opponent is going to do, his moves, just like in chess. It’s not just brawling without thinking.”

With his extensive striking background it might be easy to forget that Kaljevic is also an experienced MMA fighter. To his credit he has an IFC Lightweight Championship reign under his belt as well as fights against top MMA talent such as Rich Crunkilton and Melvin Guillard.

Even with that said however, things have not always gone smoothly in Peter’s career, and thus he’s extremely pleased to be part of an organization such as the IFL, who prides itself on being a top-notch, fighters-first promotion.

“This is the best thing that could happen to a fighter, that’s what I think,” exclaimed Kaljevic. “Because in other federations I was fighting boxing, kickboxing and just pretty much they treat you like nothing.”

“They give you a little money, a little change, and if they can’t beat you, sometimes they rob you on the scorecards or something’s going to be ‘fixed.’ Even knockouts can be questionable. I’ve been robbed in all but about three or four losses of my fights in kickboxing,” added Peter.

Coming from a background that solely focuses on individual achievement, Kaljevic enjoys being part of the new team-based concept of the IFL.

“I love fighting in teams, because we all train together and we help each other with stuff,” commented Peter. “If somebody’s weak in one point, we can always help them in that area. I come from a striking background, among the best fighters in the league, and so they can help me on the ground, to fix whatever weak areas there are, if there are [weak areas].”

Turning his attention to his scheduled opponent on Friday in Atlanta, Erik Owings of the New York Pitbulls, Kaljevic is familiar with Owings, and anticipates an extremely competitive fight.

“I saw him at the [IFL Finals] at the Mohegan Sun in December, where he won a decision,” admitted Peter. “I’m expecting for him to want the whole fight on the ground. Like I said, I don’t mind being on the ground, but I’d like to stand-up and work my striking.”

“If I am taken down, okay, I’m committed to the ground too. In the back of my mind though, it’s going to be standing up and striking. He’s a good, strong fighter, I respect everybody that steps in the ring, but I’m not worried about anybody,” added Kaljevic.

As familiar as Peter is with his opponent on Friday, he’s actually more acquainted with the Pitbulls’ head coach, MMA legend Renzo Gracie.

“I used to train there [at Renzo’s academy] before, he’s been my friend for a long time,” explained Kaljevic. “We’re friends anyway, but when you’re in the league you have to face them [your friends] sometimes. I wasn’t on his team, but I had to be on somebody else’s team.”

Peter further commented, “When Renzo sees me he’ll probably be a little bit worried [laughs], but what can you do? It’s a business, a sport and sometimes you have to face your friends, we’ll go drink or eat after the fight together, that’s the difference.”

And as for how he feels his Igor Zinoviev-coached Red Bears team will do, Kaljevic admits they may be new, but they have just as good of a shot at being successful as any other team in the IFL.

“One of the good things is that they [the Pitbulls] don’t know much about our fighters,” said Peter. “But, we are a new team; we haven’t worked together too much because it’s a short period of time, but I think we’ll do well anyway, and take it from here.”

“I am expecting to win over Renzo’s team, whether it’s 4-1, 3-2, or whatever, that would be very possible,” continued Kaljevic.

Peter concluded the interview by wanting to thank the IFL for providing him an opportunity and by wanting to urge fans to check out he, and the Chicago Red Bears, live in Atlanta on Friday or on TV in the very near future.

“I would like to thank the IFL for having me to fight for them,” commented Kaljevic. “That’s the best thing to ever happen for me, even in my late career, it came at probably the right time. I like fighting for them, they treat the fighters nicely, and all the best is what I have to say for the IFL.”

Peter concluded, “To all my fans, I want you to come see the IFL on February 23rd, watch my fight, and if you can’t see it live you can see it on FSN. It’s going to be a great fight, win or lose; it’s going to be the best fight. Anything can happen, this is MMA, but I’m expecting to go very good.”