Russian hand-to-hand combat champion Daria Nirkova, dubbed ‘the new face of Siberian MMA’, says the prospect of ‘intergender’ MMA fights and champions is “stupidity” as “men are stronger than women”.
UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion Henry Cejudo recently called out women’s flyweight titleholder Valentina Shevchenko for a fight to determine the world’s first ‘intergender’ champion, prompting huge debate.
Hailing from the city of Kiselyovsk, Kemerovo region, located where the West Siberian Plain meets the South Siberian mountains, known locally as ‘Kuzbass’, Nirkova is a Russian amateur MMA and multiple hand-to-hand combat champion.
RT Sport caught up with Nirkova to talk the differences between amateur and professional MMA, the intricacies of Hand-to-hand combat, and her thoughts on the intergender MMA debate.
You are an amateur MMA champion. What exactly does that mean? How does it differ from professional MMA in terms of rules?
In comparison to pro MMA, the rules for amateur have more limitations, aimed at keeping the athletes safe. The difference is in the equipment. Also any fighter who has competed in pro MMA is prohibited from taking part as an amateur. Amateur is the practice phase immediately before professional, where you choose whether to stay amateur or turn professional.
Recently UFC featherweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo recently called out female UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko for a fight to become ‘intergender champion’. What do you make of that?
I think it’s stupidity, because men are stronger than women in any case. How unprepared she would be! A woman is a woman.
An ‘intergender champion’ – it sounds a little strange and even funny. Do you think that’s fair? What would you have said if you were in Shevchenko’s position?
I don’t welcome it. If I was in her position I would organize a sparring session as a promotion tool, for that purpose maybe. But I would definitely not agree to a fight. For me, everyone has their place, men with men, women with women. It at the very least would not be very aesthetically pleasing.
Is there too much focus on beauty for female fighters, in the same way it’s important for male fighters to have some kind of trademark, such as Khabib Nurmagomedov’s papakha?
I don’t know. Maybe some put focus on that, I personally focus on technique and professionalism. And the measure of beauty is different for everyone – taste and standards also. Therefore in sport, the most important thing is sport.
About your career, what plans do you have for the future? Do you plan to turn professional?
Right now I’m training fully for the hand-to-Hand fighting world championships, which will take place in Germany in October, and then the MMA world championship in November in Bahrain. I have had quite a few offers to turn professional from different organizations, but right now I don’t want to think about it, from the start you need to pass through these steps.
Who do you respect in the MMA world, maybe someone you’d like to face one day?
From the world of women’s MMA I’m a fan of Holly Holm for her fighting technique, but our weight categories are different, I wouldn’t be able to gain enough weight to face her. From men’s MMA, it would definitely be Conor McGregor, despite the fact I also highly respect [UFC lightweight champion] Khabib [Numagomedov] and have my fingers crossed for him.
For those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about hand-to-hand fighting.
The technique is based on learning the fighting moves from boxing, kickboxing, Thai boxing and also from wrestling, Sambo and freestyle wrestling. That means that you will have the ability to punch and kick and also learn to implement wrestling elements into your stance – there are different kinds of trips, throws, and lifts – and in groundwork, like chokes and holds.
By its characteristics hand-to-hand combat is the most universal of martial arts. It is very close to MMA but there are more rule limitations and there’s also a difference in the judges’ point scoring system.
The entire fight is scored on points. Victory is decided by points, aside from knockouts and submissions. Fights take place on a tatami (mat) and the robe is a kimono, we wear gloves for hand-to-hand combat which are also very similar to MMA gloves, and a boxing helmet.
Do you think amateur MMA can become as popular as professional?
I am sure it will, there are also a lot of conditions being put in place for this. On the world stage amateur MMA is very developed, Russia should also strive to that level.
Khabib defends his UFC lightweight title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242 on September 7, how do you see that fight going?
I will certainly be betting on Khabib. I know that aside from his unbelievable fighting skills, he will also dedicate attention to striking. I will actually be going to Dagestan at the end of October to train at Khabib’s gym for my training camp for the world championships.
At first glance Poirier’s chances to win the belt seem minimal. The only thing that can help him is his character. The American has good character. From a technique point of view, Khabib is on a completely different level, but that’s just my personal opinion.
How important is it for you to represent your hometown, your people, and how has your hometown forged you to be how you are – as a person and a fighter?
In actual fact from such a town where I live, it is extremely difficult to achieve anything. Little attention is afforded to it, for instance, fundamentally, there aren’t really any fully equipped gyms. The fact no one will help you and should move forward under your own strength, it shapes and makes you stronger.
What was the biggest barrier for you getting into MMA and what can be done to attract more young girls to go down the same route?
I started training from 13 and I’m now nearly 28. I wasn’t interested in MMA, they asked me to try it once and after the first go I was filled with so much energy by this sport, that I found everything I didn’t have in my life before, I just fell in love with it!
In my discipline there are a lot of girls, they have an example, and therefore their parents try to pass them on to me. But often I hear that in such sports men are alone and the rest of it. I don’t believe that it’s wrong to mix sport and gain attention for yourself as a girl, everything is simply in your own hands and how you want it to be – that’s how it will be.