By Przemek Garczarczyk
How do you win three Golden Gloves tournaments, become a professional boxer and then one day just switch your career to be a world class, Elite Management model? Enter Derek Zugic from Chicago. “All I wanted to be growing up in Chicago was to be a professional fighter, a people’s champion. Then one day, there’s a couple of cameras in my training gym, and just like that I’m in a Toni Braxton video,” said 31-year-old Zugic, who now spends him time modeling for Armani and Prada, and not knocking out his rivals in the ring.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood maybe prepared you for boxing, but not modeling. Derek Zugic: No doubt. I guess I was a violent person, street fighting when I was young, dodging bullets, getting into knife fights. I have to do something with my skills and realized that let’s show what I can do in the competition. I won the Chicago Golden Gloves three times, in two different weight classes, was four-time Illinois State champ, was nationally ranked as a cruiserweight and light heavyweight, was a US National Team member. I had everything in my arsenal – power in both hands, great jab and all this, being a 6 foot 4 inches tall, worked perfectly well for me. Boxing is a brutal sport, when you go into the ring it’s kill or be killed. You have to have this mentality. On a different level, but this sport perfectly prepared me for my current job…
After your two pro fights – both wins – you decided to move your training camp to California. For your boxing career it was the beginning of the end. Toni Braxton walked in… DZ, laughing: You can say that. Not in person of course, but they were looking for some people for Toni’s music video, and they wanted me. Just like that, I was right there in Hollywood doing commercials, thinking less and less about boxing.
Did you have to lose your bad boy image? DZ: Not really, but for the first time in 15 years, I could not shave my head. They wanted me with hair. You would think that knowing my past, I will maybe get some modeling jobs, video shots involving boxing but this is not the case. I see those guys in various ads, looking all mean, with gloves on, but they don’t even know how to hold the hands properly. Of course, I could whoop their ass any day of the week. I’m just laughing, not complaining. I have lot of haters who did not believe in me when I started this journey, but now I’m the one who is hanging out with most beautiful women in the world on tropical beaches.
You thinking sometimes about what could have been? DZ: Of course, hard not to when you spend most of your life in the gym, hitting the bag. I still love boxing. Respect it the most out of all sports and I use to say when you put Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones jr and Bruce Lee together, you get Derek Zugic. But it’s gone now, I realize that. The only way for me to use these skills would be acting, maybe doing dome flick with boxing aficionados like Mark Wahlberg, Sylvester Stallone. This is what I would love to do – maybe even sooner than later.