Ivan Shtyrkov has cultivated quite a following as the “Ural Hulk.”
Operating out of the Archangel Michael Club in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Shtyrkov owns a 17-2-1 record with 12 finishes. While he has yet to appear on the Ultimate Fighting Championship radar, he has competed in the Rizin Fighting Federation in Japan and continues to delight fans in Russia’s Absolute Championship Akhmat organization. The 32-year-old light heavyweight has not competed since his decision loss to Magomed Ismailov at ACA 115 on Dec. 13.
Shtyrkov discussed a number of topics in this exclusive interview.
Sherdog.com: You have a large following of fans and detractors. How do you handle negativity on social media and where do you get the thick skin needed to deal with it?
Shtyrkov: The first time I encountered a lot of hate was after the fight with Jeff Monson in 2016. After that fight, I came to work and saw the comments under the photos from our fight. I read so much negativity, and it really shocked me how people could condemn and try to humiliate me. These people did not know me or what it took for me to go out there and fight. After that, I realized there was no truth to the hate. People speak without thinking and without respect and kindness to others. I stopped treating public opinion like it was something important that I should listen to. People can tell me things, but the only criticism I listen to comes from my trainers, sparring partners and people who really know me. I haven’t worked with a psychologist. I think I was lucky that my body and head helped me as much as they did. Plus, I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to laugh at myself. I don’t respond to comments on the Internet. It’s a waste of time.
Sherdog.com: Do you think fighters need to work with psychologists or other professionals on their mental health?
Shtyrkov: If you need it, then yes, of course. Professional athletes are always under stress and pressure to some extent or another. I know many fighters who needed help but didn’t seek it and vice versa. Those who found the strength to work with a psychologist after losses saw results from it. Each individual athlete has to figure out whether he needs it or not.
Sherdog.com: Fans in Japan fell in love with the “Ulra Hulk” after your first fight there. Why do you think MMA fans from Asia pay so much attention to appearances?
Shtyrkov: I know that tall athletes are loved in Asia. They are very fond of both Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem. They have an interesting mentality, and appearance seems to be a special indicator for them. I thank Rizin for appreciating my talents and giving me the opportunity to perform there, but we did not have a good experience with them. I was notified about a fight and flew to Thailand for training camp, and three weeks out, I was informed the fight would not take place. Then, as you all know, the pandemic hit and no events were being held. There were events for local fighters, but unfortunately, all the borders were closed. I terminated my contract with them in January.
Sherdog.com: What are your plans for 2021?
Shtyrkov: I recently signed a three-fight contract with ACA. I will continue to compete at 205 pounds and maybe move up to heavyweight but only when I get tired of cutting weight. My weight cuts right now are going fairly normal. I keep up my regimen and nutrition, and it motivates me. I see opportunities at light heavyweight. I want to win the belt in ACA. That’s of great interest to me, and I want to keep being involved in entertaining fights.
Sherdog.com: What worked and what failed in your most recent fight?
Shtyrkov: I had a plan for the fight and expectations, but I was surprised. I left openings. Although I know many people thought I would win inside the first round, it was a mental challenge. Many burn out under such pressure. I recently changed coaches, and we radically changed our training. It has been a great influence. Before, I trained myself because I had a bad experience with coaches. I often went to train at other gyms. I did not have a mentor to help me. Now I have one, and the training process has been radically different. Very soon you will see a new me in the cage, and you will be amazed.