On my journey through Southern Phuket, I found myself crossing paths with a truly inspirational individual and personal role model.
When exploring the world of Martial Arts and Combat Sports, two particular sisters stand out from a sea of skilled practitioners and fighters. Those sisters being Antonina and Valentina Shevchenko. These two dedicated fighters out of Kyrgyzstan come from a family history of Martial Arts. The girls’ mother, Ellein Shevchenko, is the President of the National Kyrgyzstan IFMA Muay Thai Federation and a Black Belt, 3rd Dan herself in Taekwondo. It was her wish for her daughters to be actively involved in Martial Arts and what an incredible journey that has unfolded for the Shevchenko family as a result.
Recently I had the privilege of meeting with Antonina and her mother, Ellein, at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket. Antonina is a sponsored fighter of Tiger Muay Thai and spends many months of the year training at the camp, which you can find nestled amongst the streets of Chalong.
Antonina, the elder of the two sisters, is the current Lion Fight Lightweight World Champion, WMC and Phoenix World Muay Thai Champion and is notably a very well accomplished Muay Thai fighter. Her experience in the ring is mirrored by her 39-1 fight record, a fulfilling career that is far from finished, which has seen her travel all around the world to compete.
To understand the way in which Muay Thai is expanding globally as a sport, I believe it’s important for you to visit Thailand and experience the culture of the Art. Upon delving into this culture and doing all I can to embrace it, I have come face to face with some amazing people; Antonina was no exception to the rest. She is such a lovely, warm personality and we chatted over Watermelon smoothies with Ellein, on a warm and very sunny afternoon. To sit for some time and simply talk about the things you love and are most passionate about, with likeminded people, is perhaps one of the most fulfilling ways to enjoy such an afternoon.
Antonina “La Pantera” Shevchenko – Interview
“So I understand you are coming off of a win at Phoenix Fighting Championships, congratulations!” I started. “How did you feel during the lead up to the fight and in the ring? Tell me a little about that experience.”
“It was a great experience, from the day we arrived.” Antonina explained. “They received us well, we had a good hotel and good food. Very nice people and the whole event was strictly organised. I felt they treated the athletes very well.”
“Coming in to this fight I felt very prepared and I felt good, strong. I came to Thailand for the fight camp, a duration of 1 month, in April. My weight cut was not difficult since I fought at 63.5kg for this bout which was easy for me, especially as I was training in Thailand! I had no problems making weight.”
“I knew the girl, my opponent, because she’s a World Champion and I knew she would be very strong. In the fight, I felt she had very good Muay Thai technique, because she was very traditional. She was constantly pressuring during the fight so I had to use my skills, technical skills, to pressure back and that’s what I did. I managed to use some of my favourite techniques, like a spinning elbow, and I knew my hands would help me a lot.”
“Every opponent is different, I like to use a teep to the head but sometimes that doesn’t work with certain opponents so I have to use sidekicks or spinning elbows and back fists. Because of my coach and the way we train, there are different techniques that I drill to make me very versatile.”
“Can I ask, what does Muay Thai mean to you personally? How would you describe the value of Muay Thai in your life and the impact it has had on you?”
“Muay Thai is my life, truly. I started to train when I was about 7 years old. I started because of my mum, and she was a sportswoman herself. She wanted me and Valentina to start martial arts. She took us to our coach [Pavel Fedotov] and we’ve trained with him for more than 20 years now. Muay Thai is everything for me. My whole life revolves around my training, and travelling around the world.”
“I believe it builds within you very strong character, and an attitude where you never give up. Win or lose, never give up and just keep going. Every day, try to be better. Overcome the difficulties, in training there are difficulties and injuries all the time; it’s not all happy moments. Muay Thai teaches you to be a very mentally strong person. Fighting and training is so hard so tell me, what can be hard to fulfil in life if you can walk into a ring to fight? Nothing!”
“You come from an amazing family of athletes and fighters, your mother is also very involved in martial arts, now you and Valentina are continuing the legacy for the Shevchenko family. Can you explain what it was like growing up with a sibling who you trained and travelled with?”
“First of all, I was older so when Valentina started, I was caring for her. She grew stronger and stronger with time though, and now we are caring for each other, and it meant a lot for me to have her by my side through the journey. The way that we think, our philosophy of life and how we want to live, we think the same. We travel often and have competed together many times; through it all, I am not alone.”
“She’s my friend, and my sister. Now we are in different promotions, Valentina in the UFC and I am with Lion Fight Promotions, so it happens in turns for us now! When she fights, I help her to prepare and when she is resting, she is helping me. I love it!”
“I know you have fought and trained in numerous disciplines; how do you feel these different styles have effected your Muay Thai and do you feel they made you a better Muay Thai fighter?”
“I competed in Olympic boxing, Taekwondo and Kickboxing but obviously Muay Thai is my main sport. At the right time and under the right supervision, I believe it is good to experiment and try something like boxing. It helps, of course, because I believe that Muay Thai can help you to win in Boxing and to compete in Boxing definitely helps you in Muay Thai. But yes, you need the right coach which I have, to find the right tactic and technique. I am very grateful for my coach!”
“What drew you to train in Thailand and to train at Tiger Muay Thai? I understand this is one of many trips for you. What do you love most about training and travelling in Thailand?”
“Our coach, I think since 2003, started coming to Thailand. We came and stayed here for a few months at time, for competition. I’m sponsored by Tiger Muay Thai now and I love to train at Tiger Muay Thai because they have everything. You can do Muay Thai, BJJ, Wrestling, Conditioning – you can do it all. I love that you can just be dedicated to training here in Thailand, because I find the atmosphere is very training focused, where everyone comes here to train hard. There are no distractions for me, I can train, eat, sleep, go to the beach and train again. I am treated very well here at Tiger Muay Thai so usually me, my coach and my sister Valentina will come out here when we are in a fight camp and we will prepare in Thailand. I love it!”
“Thailand is the home of Muay Thai, so when people come here they’ll feel something special, no doubt. Now Muay Thai is growing, across the globe, and the technique of traditional Muay Thai is developing world wide. I like the atmosphere here, the training is very difficult, but it’s very good. There are amazing Muay Thai coaches here in Thailand as well with so much knowledge and technique to learn from.”
Besides Muay Thai
“What is your favorite thing to do, outside of the gym? Do you have other hobbies?”
“Travel! We travel whenever we can, and I just love the sea. We often go to the beach. Wherever we are, we are always near a sea, river or lake. I like to shoot with pistols – I compete in practical IPSC and defensive shooting competitions IDPA. I am the Peruvian National champion in IPSC shooting.
[Do you play any instruments?] No, Valentina plays the ukulele and it’s so relaxing. I love cooking though, that makes our coach happy, he likes it when we cook Russian and Asian food for him!”
“What advice would you give to a young, aspiring fighter who looks up to you?”
“I think, most importantly, they have to love Muay Thai. Like, they have to really love Muay Thai. So much so, that they dedicate their whole life to the sport. If they love and can dedicate everything to Martial Arts, they will have what they want. I believe that. You will have what you work hard for.”
“They just need to feel that this is what they want to do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even when they are resting, they need to feel like they want to keep training or just be in the gym. That’s what it is like for me. I am in the gym all the time, but I love it! I love Muay Thai, it is my everything. It has made me so strong, mentally and physically.”
“One more question. Who would your personal role model be?”
“My role model would have to be the Russian Olympic champion gymnast from time of the Soviet Union, Ludmila Tourischeva. I have her biography and I have read a lot about her. She spoke a lot about her training and describes the difficulties that she had and how she overcame those difficulties. Sometimes when it’s difficult for me, I remember her.”
I want to thank Antonina for her time with this interview. It was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my trip in Thailand so far.