In the latest feature interview in Probellum’s ‘In Their Corner’ series, we talk to Eimantas Stanionis about why winning the world title will not just mean glory for him but an entire country as well.
Eimantas Stanionis used to spend longer in the United States in search of the best training, but it became unbearable to be separated from his home for more time than was necessary.
The Olympian could be 5,500 miles away for up to four months at a time, all in the pursuit of his professional dream, but he missed his friends and family too much.
He also missed being on home soil too much.
And it is why, on Saturday night (April 16) in the AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the significance of what Stanionis could deliver for Lithuania has put him in a frame of mind where he is prepared to do whatever it takes, to absorb whatever punishment is required, to beat Radzhab Butaev.
The WBA ‘regular’ welterweight title is on the line and should the 27-year-old emerge victorious then he will become his country’s first ever professional world champion.
Even as he trained in the famous Wild Card Gym in Las Vegas to prepare, Stanionis could feel the support from the small Eastern European country he calls home.
History beckons Stanionis and it has emboldened him.
“Everybody at home is rooting for me and waiting for the fight, everybody wants to see the belt in Lithuania because it would be history,” Stanionis tells Probellum.com.
“Everybody is just waiting for that belt. ‘It’s that time’ everybody is saying to me, everybody counts on me and so I will try and not let them down.”
And when Stanionis says ‘everybody’ he means each and every one of Lithuania’s nearly 3m population old enough to understand what he aims to achieve this weekend.
Stanionis is expected to be fighting in the early hours in Lithuania but for a basketball-mad country (“I can play, but I’m not very good” he admits) who routinely watch their heroes such as Indiana Pacers’ two-time NBA All Star Domantas Sabonis live, keeping unsociable schedules is part of the routine.
“Everybody tries to put pressure on me because I know I’m going to compete for a world championship and so I will try to do my best and of course, it’s going to be an amazing, amazing night and I want to make history, everybody wants to make history,” he added.
“It will be huge for my country and so I have been training extremely hard and preparing and I know I can beat him. We both have two arms, two legs – nobody’s different.
“I have to be victorious, and I have to do whatever it takes to bring the belt back to Lithuania. I need to count on myself and believe in myself. But I’m a realistic person also, and I know it’s going to be a tough fight. We’re both young fighters, undefeated and hungry, and we have this kind of opportunity to fight Spence or Ugas [who fight in the main event in Dallas], so it’s life changing.”
To ease the pangs of homesickness, Stanionis has been able to add a little bit of Lithuania into the preparations for his biggest fight as a professional. His amateur coach, mentor and countryman, Vidas Bruzas, will also be in his corner.
“I miss my friends when I’m alone in training camp,” said Stanionis, who hails from Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas.
“My girlfriend has come over, so I missed her too. It’s lonely to be in training camp, it’s very hard, but for this camp, my friend, Zilvinas, came here to be with me because he wanted to see America, so he came for three weeks.
“Previously, I was, staying in the US for three or four months, then going back, and then coming back for three or four months,” he continued.
“But there was no point in me doing that because I am the family guy and I am a country guy, I have to go home. Mentally, I want to go home. I just, at least, need to be close to my friends and close to my family.
“When I train in Lithuania, it feels better but I don’t have sparring there so I have to make sacrifices to come here because there is no sparring.”
Another sacrifice he insists on making when at home, is avoiding one of his country’s most loved dishes.
“It’s really, really good” Stanionis says, but making the 147lbs welterweight limit is tough enough without making it harder for himself.
“I need to watch my weight, my metabolism it’s not so good like it used to be and I joke with friends and say I smell carbs and I gain weight,” he says with a laugh.
“A traditional dish in Lithuania is called Cepelinai, it’s made with potatoes with meat inside. My mother and grandparents make it and they do it very well but I don’t like to eat it now because I know like how much weight I will gain! It takes a lot of time to take it off.
“How does it taste? Really good, really good. You can find it in a restaurant but if you want to find a quality version, you have to go into the villages.”
Stanionis plans to have the Lithuanian flag draped over his shoulders as he walks to the ring on Saturday, at a moment where calmness and pride, not nerves, will be his over-riding emotion.
“In the professional ranks, from Lithuania, it’s only me and Egidijus Kavaliauskas, we are the two in history from our country, who have got to this level.
“There have been a few other Lithuanian boxers but they didn’t achieve anything close to what we have achieved by fighting for a title, chasing records or competing with the top guys.
“Nobody did that. We have some in England who fight but they do it only for the money.
“I know I have the toughest opponent of my professional career, but I am so calm, I don’t know why?
“I know it’s going to be a tough fight and I am prepared for what he brings but I’m prepared to go through hell. That’s who I am, I feel zero pressure, I feel really good and I just can’t wait to go there and fight. It’s almost time, so I’m waiting.”
And so is an entire country. It must be why, because of their backing, Stanionis is so calm.
To keep up-to-date with all the news from Stanionis in fight week, sign up to the Probellum newsletter or follow Probellum on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook