As Anastasia Yankova’s second Bellator foray approaches, the Russian fighter has figured prominently into the California-based promotion’s marketing campaign.
Whether it’s a presence on social media or showing her face at the organization’s numerous events around the globe, the Russian muay Thai champion is becoming a well-known figure despite having just one Bellator bout under her belt thus far.
“I’m seeing the results of Bellator’s promotion already. I’m going into my second fight in Bellator, but I have people showing up at the gym with my pictures wanting me to sign them,” Yankova told Sherdog.com through a translator. “There are people recognizing me at the airport, just in random places.
“[Recently] we went to do medicals and all the girls at the doctor’s office wanted to take pictures. Not just to take pictures but because they actually knew me and they were excited to see me,” she continued. “Obviously all this work that they’re putting into it is paying off really fast. I’m honored, I’m flattered, I’m overwhelmed. But it also brings a lot of responsibility on my part, which the only way I can show is by training and fighting hard.”
If Yankova continues to win, her combination of looks and fighting prowess could help her follow in the footsteps of her MMA idol, Gina Carano, the former Strikeforce and EliteXC star who left the sport to pursue an acting career when Hollywood beckoned.
Yankova has no trouble expressing her admiration for Carano in English: “For sure, Gina Carano is the best of all-time.”
Yankova has three professional MMA wins on her resume thus far -- including a first-round submission of Anjela Pink at Bellator 152 in Italy -- and will make her second promotional appearance against Veta Arteaga at Bellator 161 in Cedar Park, Texas, on Friday night. It will mark the 25-year-old’s first bout in the United States. Although her career has received a decent amount of fanfare thus far, she isn’t sure what type of reaction she’ll get on fight night.
“The biggest difference that I can think of is that we’re fighting in the U.S., she’s American, I’m not, and I’ve always had the crowd behind me,” Yankova said. “I like that energy. So it’s a little bit of an unknown. Is the crowd gonna be cheering for her or is the crowd gonna be cheering for me? It’s not gonna affect the outcome of the fight. A fight is a fight.”
The Moscow native has spent time training for her upcoming bout at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., as well as AKA Thailand. The experience has been both beneficial and motivating.
“I’m overwhelmed with the opportunity that I have to be able to train with such a great team. My coach, Mike Swick, is somebody whose career I’ve followed before I knew him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and he’s just been absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “Just being in a camp and looking over and seeing people like Daniel Cormier, Luke Rockhold, Cain Velasquez and Khabib [Nurmagomedov], all these top fighters and champions. I feel like I’m part of a truly legendary gym. You go in the training room and you see pictures of all these champions that this gym has produced, it’s phenomenal. For me to be a part of it is absolutely amazing.”
Yankova eventually hopes to add to the AKA collection of hardware. While Bellator has not yet created a 125-pound women’s title, Yankova plans on establishing herself so that when a belt is introduced, her name will be at the top of the list of contenders.
“Every fighter’s dream is to become a champion because that means you’re the best and everyone else wants to come after you. I’m no exception. There isn’t title in this division yet. Obviously there will be at some point. What I’m focused on is making sure that I fight hard, I train hard and I show with my performance that I deserve to be the first person to fight for it,” Yankova said. “From there, I want to win the title, I want to hold on to it for as long as I can. I would like to be the first woman to win the title in this division. I would like to be the first Russian woman to win a title in a major MMA organization, period.”