One of the more intriguing names competing in Bellator’s brand new kickboxing/MMA medley in Turin, Italy is Anastasia Yankova -- a fighter-turned-model from Russia who is capable of both. She’ll face Anjela Pink in a mixed techniques bout on April 16 at Bellator 152.
Yankova, who is 25-years old, is a Muay Thai practitioner who is segueing into the cage; so far, she’s gone 2-0 in MMA. She was introduced to the American palate in Houston back in February, as part of the Bellator 149 festivities. To help make the transition, she’s been training with the likes of Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua -- both of whom she credits as her lures to the sport to begin with -- at Kings MMA in Los Angeles.
"I used to watch fights, and after practice would always stay behind in the gym and ask guys to show me different MMA moves," Yankova told MMA Fighting via email. "MMA always intrigued me and I knew it was just a matter time before I stepped into the cage. At the time I had a contract with a kickboxing promotion in Russia so all of my time was dedicated to stand up training, which left little time to explore MMA.
"Luckily, I had a break in between my kickboxing fights and received an offer to try an MMA fight, I had adequate time to train so I took the opportunity, and after that fight I knew for certain I would return to the cage."
Now she’s with Bellator, and she’ll be fighting on Spike TV from Pala Alpitour. In a sport that proudly boasts a key demographic of vibrant 18-34 year old males, Yankova’s first impression of course ran surface deep. She’s blonde. She’s fit. She doesn’t have scar tissue or cauliflower on her ears. She looks like a model.
As an art major, who understands aesthetics and canvases, she’s cool with that.
"All woman love to hear they are attractive, and female fighters are no exception, trust me," she told MMA Fighting via email. "I look at modeling as an art form. Creating something new and beautiful is always fun, especially if it motivates others to get in shape, or get into sports. That's even better."
Yankova is a native of Moscow, and her initial foray into combat sports was in Muay Thai, where she became a champion. Yet the art of eight limbs didn’t offer much upward mobility for Yankova. That’s one of the reasons she expanded to MMA.
"I love kickboxing and Muay Thai, for its traditions and styles of fighting," she says. "But if you asked anyone today who is the number one woman kickboxer in the world right now -- or number one female Muay Thai fighter in the world in any weight class -- I don't think many would know. I think Muay Thai and K-1 missed their opportunity to capitalize in the marketplace.
"Maybe with Bellator getting into the kickboxing business, they will be able to bridge that gap in popularity and talent development of kickboxing and bring it closer to the status of MMA, but for now, the MMA market is much more developed as far as exposure, popularity and star building power."
One of the differences she likes in an MMA bout versus a kickboxing match is the fluidity; there’s no break in action unless a foul has been committed.
"To me kickboxing is more of a gentlemen's fight," she says. "If your opponent falls down, the ref will stand them back up; in MMA if your opponent falls down, the fight does not stop. The fight continues on the ground and it’s your job to gain a dominant position and not let your opponent stand back up unless you want to. The cage is different from the ring, and for me cage means new emotions, sort of like a new inner high."
Yankova will compete as a flyweight. Though she is at liberty to continue competing in other promotions, she doesn’t foresee a need to fight outside of Bellator. She says that there are more than enough events to keep her busy, whether it’s in Europe or in the States.
And though the Pink fight will be her first under the Bellator banner, and only her third professional fight overall, she has a sense of mission that she says begins in Italy.
"My goal is to make this sport more popular around the world and to rid it of silly stereotypes," she says. "On a more personal level, I would like to have exciting fights and of course eventually get the Bellator championship. This drives me."