Smealinho “The Prince” Rama may be Canada’s most dangerous man, but he insists that hasn’t come this far on his own.
Rama, an undefeated heavyweight under the Maximum Fighting Championship banner, has his parents, a younger sister, several training partners and three coaches in his corner. But Rama is adamant that it is Vlad Goldenstein, the 20-year-old’s boxing coach and mentor, who has made the biggest impact on his young career.
“He isn’t just a trainer; he’s like a father to me,” says Rama, who was born in Albania and raised in Greece before immigrating to Canada as a teenager. “My parents work all day—we hardly have time to speak—but Vlad works in an office, so I get to talk to him the whole day, so he’s constantly trying to teach me lessons and helping me evolve as a person, which is awesome. Vlad has given me confidence in myself to do this.”
But Goldenstein, an amateur boxer in his native Russia before deciding to call Calgary home 14 years ago, is reluctant to take too much credit for his student’s success.
“He had skills before he met me,” says Goldenstein, 53. “He’s just a naturally talented kid in anything he touches. He just needed guidance, you know?”
Rama, FightMatrix.com’s 2012 male rookie of the year, feels that Goldenstein has led him to this point in his career. But more importantly, Rama, a veteran of hundreds of street fights in his youth, feels Goldenstein has meant even more to him outside of the cage.
“I lived this weird life where I was around criminals and all these kinds of people,” Rama says of his life before meeting his mentor. “I was living in this fantasy world where nighttime was the time to be out and doing whatever you wanted was the way to be.
“He showed me that that’s not the way to live, that’s not the way to be happy.”
Goldenstein, a married father of two, has witnessed Rama’s transition inside—and outside—of the cage firsthand.
“When he came to our gym, nobody would pay attention to him—he always was in a good mood—but nobody would take him seriously,” says Goldenstein, who shares coaching duties with Keegan Hanning, a man known as “Frenchy” and Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor Anderson Goncalves.
“But now, you should see how people look at him. Lots of people want to train with—lots of people don’t want to spar with him because he’s too complicated—but the way people react around him now is totally different.
“He has changed a lot in a good way.”
As it turns out, Rama’s relationship with Goldenstein—which he insists saved him from a life of crime and an early death—almost never materialized.
Rama knew that he wanted Goldenstein training him in some capacity when the two first crossed paths at the now-defunct Calgary Fight Club nearly two years ago—“We just had that instant connection,” he says. But Goldenstein, unimpressed by Rama’s attitude at the time, wasn’t confident that the pairing would work.
“I didn’t want to work with him,” Goldenstein says. “He had kind of an attitude, you know what I mean? He was a very young, cocky kid, all the time talking about how great he is and all this stuff.
“I’m an old-school guy—I don’t like people who talk; I like people who do.”
Rama, for lack of a better word, harassed Goldenstein in the gym, on the street and over the telephone before the two ultimately agreed to meet and train.
About 18 months—and hundreds of training sessions—later, Rama, who is undefeated entering his second year in the professional ranks of the sport, is to meet Mike Hackert at MFC 36 in Edmonton on Feb. 15—a match that will likely make clear who the No. 1 and No. 2 heavyweights in Canada are.
Rama, who feels he is The Great White North's top heavyweight already, is confident, of course, that he will walk away from his next bout with a decisive victory. But with the help of Goldenstein, “The Prince” plans on being recognized as among the elite on the international scene in the years to come.
“I love the MFC—everybody there has treated me like a king from the start—but I want to win the MFC belt, defend my belt, put my name on the company,” he says. “And then go to the UFC and do something great there.”
Goldenstein is more than confident that Rama has what it takes to excel in the sport he has chosen, but he admittedly isn’t as interested in a world championship as his strong-willed student—“although that is the goal,” he is quick to point out.
“What is my goal in this thing?” Goldenstein says. “Just making him a better guy—to help him understand what it means for him to be a better person.”
Goldenstein’s goals aren’t lost on Rama.
“Vlad has taught me how to be a human being, how to live my life and enjoy myself and that a lot of things don’t matter,” Rama says. “Cars and chains and stuff like that don’t matter—they don’t mean a single thing. It’s how you feel about yourself, how your family and loved ones think about you.
“I really had the wrong idea of what I wanted out of this life. I wanted all the wrong things for the wrong reasons. He’s taught me how to be a good human being, a good person and how to be happier.”
Ed Kapp is a Regina, Saskatchewan-based freelance journalist. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations were obtained firsthand.