ST. PETERSBURG — Six time zones and more than 5,000 miles from his birthplace, Radivoje (Rod) Kalajdzic waited for the bell to ring.
The headgear was gone. The crowd was large. None of that mattered to the Derby Lane leadout.
Kalajdzic's professional boxing debut, a knockout of Nyantu Bolo June 3 at the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa, is still the buzz at the St. Petersburg greyhound track. As he celebrates his 20th birthday Wednesday, Kalajdzic will continue to train for his next light-heavyweight fight Sept. 9 at the same venue. The opponent for the native of Zenica, Serbia, has not been announced.
Kalajdzic dropped Bolo with a dynamic right hand, ending the scheduled four-round bout in only 34 seconds. Bolo, 35, a former bodybuilder and MMA fighter, had won his lone previous boxing decision.
"I was supposed to be live on ESPN (that night), but something happened and I was the last bout on the card," Kalajdzic said. "I guess I gave the fans something to wait for."
A year ago, Kalajdzic was hired at Derby Lane as a leadout, responsible for taking greyhounds to the starting box. He had quit boxing, but he returned at the urging of Jim McLoughlin, his agent and trainer who was inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame on June 24.
"I honestly see Rod going a long way and becoming a champion," McLoughlin said. "He is such a great kid, and his composure is amazing."
McLoughlin, a longtime Derby Lane maintenance employee, owns Fourth Street Boxing and Community Center in St. Petersburg, where Kalajdzic started fighting five years ago. A 2010 graduate of Northeast High, Kalajdzic was 19-6 as an amateur.
Kalajdzic moved to St. Petersburg in 1998 when war broke out in Serbia. His uncle and aunt, St. Petersburg residents Jovo and Ljubica Todic, assisted in the relocation.
"A majority of my family, probably close to 50, are here now," Kalajdzic said. "At first, there were 20 to 25 of us that moved, and we all lived in one one-bedroom apartment."
His biggest fans are parents Marko and Sladjana Kalajdzic; sister Vanja, 22; and brother Veljko, 6. Radivoje has a green card and plans to become a U.S. citizen this year. He said footwork, hand speed and arm length are his strongest ring traits. The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder has sparred with fighters such as former super-middleweight champion Jeff Lacy of St. Petersburg.
"I do fairly well with them, and they always tell me that I can be a champion one day," he said. "So I believe I can be."
McLoughlin said Kalajdzic is a dedicated fighter.
"Since Rod turned pro, he trains like an animal," he said. "I told him to take the Fourth of July off. I drove by the gym that day, the door was open, and in there was Rod by himself, training his butt off. That's what separates good fighters from the great fighters. He is hungry to be a champion."