By: Michael StetsAnastasia Yankova
(3-0) is a star in the making. The undefeated Moscow, Russia native won her promotional debut at Bellator 152
in Monza, Italy back in April and will have her first Stateside battle later this evening at Bellator 161
Yes, Bellator's newest women's flyweight is gorgeous, but I will spare you "not just another pretty face" rhetoric. In fact, I've always found that line to be condescending anyways. How about, she has talent as well as beauty, which combine for a recipe known to have great success.
It's when you speak to her that you notice she has what it takes to become a total package and one of Bellator's most popular athletes. She has a presence that immediately commands the room's attention when she walks in, yet disarms you with a gentle smile and a genuine vibe while engaging in conversation. Did I mention she is still learning the English language? She has to work twice as hard to learn English on top of getting the most media attention she's ever had in her career simultaneously, but she handles it all quite gracefully.
In the cage, well, she's not so nice, and she takes care of business rather quickly: three fights and three submission victories. Two of which took place in the opening round. In her first Bellator fight, she submitted Anjela Pink with an armbar.
"I trained hard for that fight," said Yankova, who faces Vera Arteaga
in Austin, Texas later tonight. I worked really hard and the fight ended up being short and easy. I just hope that moving forward I can continue to do the same. I want to have tough training camps and easy fights.
Yankova, 25, began training karate at just six years old after convincing her parents to allow her to go. She became a Russian muay thai champion in 2011 and holds an impressive kickboxing record of 11-2. However, she left that sport behind to focus on a career in MMA in 2012.
She splits her training regimen up at Boxing Academy in Moscow under Alexander Sidorin and also currently trains at AKA Thailand under Mike Swick and AKA in San Jose, Calif., which is home to Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold.
While growing up, Yankova drew inspiration from the show "Xena Warrior Princess, " the hit show that starred Lucy Lawless in the lead role and aired from 1995-2001. Women in combat sports have only made huge leaps in growth within the last few years in the U.S. so as you can imagine, Yankova's career is one of exception and not quite the norm in Russia.
She explained why Xena was such a big influence on her as a child.
"When I was little, women in film seemed to be portrayed as a housewife or someone that took orders," Yankova explained. "But Xena, she did the opposite. She was independent strong and she made her own decisions. She didn't always make the right decisions, but she always fought her way back. She was just very tough and that was uncharacteristic of how women were portrayed at the time. I feel like I'm similar to Xena because I don't conform to the standards. I make my own and I can fight through adversity."
Her opponent at Bellator 161, Arteaga (2-0), holds a purple belt in Brazilian jiujitsu, which is a martial art Yankova is still learning. Yankova is aware of where her strengths lie and what her weaknesses are heading into her fourth professional bout.
"Veta Arteaga has a really good ground game," she said. "She's been training for a long time. I think she will have the advantage on the ground with the submissions. From what I've seen she hits pretty hard too. She doesn't hit as hard as I do, but she hits hard so that is something I have to be careful of.
I think this is a really good matchup. It's an interesting matchup. I have to impose my will and I have to go out there and fight my fight in order to win. If the fight ends up hitting the ground, I could be in some deep waters. I definitely feel like I have an advantage in the standup against Veta. I have more experience striking than she does. I think I have a better chance of winning this fight on the feet."
Yankova is excited to fight in front of a U.S. crowd for the first time and fully confident she will leave the Bellator cage a winner later tonight. She credits keeping her composure and emotions in check during battle as one of her biggest attributes.
"I'm never intimidated and I don't get sucked into the emotional stuff. A lot of female fighters can get emotional and let their emotions take over during their fights, but I don't do that. I've always been very levelheaded. I've been here before. I have a lot of experience. Most of my experience is in kickboxing, but a fight is a fight. Every time I walk into a fight, I have no doubt I'm going to walk out there a winner. I always know what needs to be done to win the fight."
Soon young female Bellator fans will be looking up to Yankova and empowered the same way she was by "Xena: Warrior Princess" as a child.