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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK

World: Europe

Kosovo Kid replaces bullets with fists

Elvir Muriqi fights under the nickname The Kosovo Kid

While his sister and father have been fighting the Serbian army, a boxer known as the Kosovo Kid has been making a name for himself in the ring.

Kosovo: Special Report
Elvir Muriqi, 20, went to the United States three years ago when his family escaped the growing tension in Kosovo.

His father, Ramiz, mother and two brothers immigrated to the US in 1994.

They then got the papers for Muriqi and his sisters to come to New York in May 1996.

When the war broke out he wanted to leave New York and return to his native land to fight for the Kosovo Liberation Army alongside his father, KLA commander Ramiz, and his sister, Elinda.

But they told him he could do the Kosovo Albanian cause more good through boxing.

Fighting for his family

The "Kosovo Kid", as New York boxing trainers dubbed him, gave up kickboxing to concentrate on the fistic science.

It was not the first time a boxer, or an athlete, had used their sport to draw attention to a political action. Who can forget the "black power" protest by US athletes at the 1968 Olympics?

Muriqi boxed as an amateur in his homeland but never had a chance to become known outside Kosovo.

"The Serbs didn't give us an opportunity to fight on the national team," he said.

Muriqi turned professional in New York in June last year.

In his first professional fight, Muriqi flew into a rage with his cornermen after noticing a mistake with his red satin robe, which signified Kosovo was under Serbian rule.

On Thursday night he boosted his profile by winning his eighth pro fight, at Madison Square Gardem.

Support from Albanian-Americans

A posse of fans waving Albanian flags cheered him to a points victory.

Muriqi has displayed such promise that US TV boxing analyst Gil Clancy described him as the "best prospect I've seen in years".

He is in the capable hands of trainer Teddy Atlas, who helped develop Mike Tyson and who guided Michael Moorer to the IBF heavyweight title.

Lou DiBella, senior vice president of the HBO Sports TV channel, says: "He's a great story. If he can continue to win, he will become an attraction. He has the market."

His father sold his cafe in the Bronx 18 months ago and returned to Kosovo to join the KLA and Elvir's sister Elinda joined up in February.

Muriqi told the New York Daily News of his father: "He went back to Kosovo because he had to. He wants to die over there. If I wasn't boxing, I'd be there.''

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