Svetlana Kulakova: Female boxing champ in the sport for men

This post is also available in: Français (French) Русский (Russian)

By Elena LYSAK

Svetlana Kulakova (from the Russian Kulak meaning “fist”) won the Women’s World Super Lightweight Boxing Championship (WIBO) title on 3 December 2016 by defeating Prisca Vicot. She is a multiple time European and World Champion in Kickboxing.

No less important than being a professional fighter, she is a loving mother and wife. In this interview, Svetlana introduces us to the world of female boxing, talks about the role of men in it, explains how she gets ready for difficult fights, recommends cool exercises that champions do, tells how she organizes her day, how to bring up kids that make world records, why being happy is so important for success, and much more.

“When I am in the ring I can see how dumbfounded my opponents are”

Topics of this interview include

Svetlana Kulakova Boxing Champion
Svetlana Kulakova: Women’s World Super Lightweight Boxing Champion 2016
  • Pre-championship training
  • Main boxing fights and titles
  • What is shadowboxing
  • Kulakova’s winning team
  • How Svetlana met her husband
  • How to raise a sports champion
  • Boxing school
  • Boxing techniques
  • Exercise with Svetlana
  • What she eats for breakfast
  • Why she doesn’t procrastinate
  • How to be happy and successful

Svetlana, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for this Skype interview.

You are welcome.
I am participating in the boxing training camp to prepare for the next Championship. I am staying in the city of Tuapse in the Krasnodar region of Russia. We are out in the mountains over here. We have started with an Endurance training cycle to improve general strength and fitness foundation.

My daily workouts include climbing up the mountains, loads of pushups and pull-ups, and a lot of shadowboxing… y’know, the “Rocky” movie style. Have you seen it?

Yes, I did, a few times. What is “Shadowboxing”?

Oh, that is by far my most favorite exercise. I am moving around while throwing punches at my imaginary opponent. My imaginary morning opponent is different from my imaginary evening opponent.

I eventually get back to shadowboxing many times during the day, even when I talk to my husband, or now when I am talking to you. It is so amazingly beautiful!

Shadowbox is like a dance to me. Each fighter has an own dance. I would even say that my whole life can be nicknamed “Shadow Boxing”.

There have always been so many supportive people in my life. I am so grateful to them, to each for a different reason: a few kicked my ass at the right moment, which is also important, you know. And besides boxing, there also is kickboxing in my life!

Svetlana Kulakova Boxing and Kickboxing Champion
The winner is… Svetlana Kulakova!

So true, you became the female kickboxing champion of Russia in 2008, and you got the European title later in Ankara. Russian kickboxing experts praise you a lot.

Kickboxing is my home, I grew up with it. I owe so much to the Russian Kickboxing Federation. Should they ever need anything from me or ask me a favor, I would be on the jump to help them. That’s because they have always enormously supported me.

Kickboxing is where I am from, it is so “me”.

Yes, I have got the Champ’s title in kickboxing but kickboxing is not recognized as an Olympic sport. There is no big money there.

Boxing is a more classical kind of sport. All famous fights are boxing fights.

They make more movies about boxers than about kickboxers.

 

Let’s talk about boxing then. I would like to congratulate you on winning the World Super Lightweight champion title on 3. December 2016 in Moscow by defeating Prisca Vicot.

Thanks. That’s a super cool title but there’s gonna be a mega-super-cool title sometime later. I am determined to participate in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That’s just gonna be the coolest of them all.

The training I am doing right now is a part of the preparation program for 2020. It should ensure me the path to the Russian Olympic Team 2 years before the Olympics.

And until then, I am going to get some dough under my belt. My fights kinda feed me, y’know.

The Champion’s Title can be challenged by other contenders, right?

Sure thing. If there is anyone ever interested, they can contend for the Championship title 6 months after it’s been won. It’s just that there are no such dimwits around. Yep, no one would dare! My manager is actively looking for the right opponent of my level.

“No dimwits to fight me” – it’s a fun way to put it.  Are you that frightening?

Nope, but you know, everyone keeps saying:

“Give me extra dough if you want me to fight Kulakova.”

I would love to fight but they won’t come!

My opponents who are in the same rank or stronger, are

Svetlana Kulakova fighting in the boxing ring
Svetlana Kulakova: I like to perform!

often very busy. And on my side, I am not interested in fighting those who are weaker than I.

Let me give you an example. I rank 4, and my main opponent ranks 2 on the World ranking list. I had a draw with her, so I am preparing for the “second” round. And this is probably the main fight on my list today.

Got you! Many famous athletes are said to have a special quality, or something typical about them. What do they say about you in the boxing world?

They often say about me: “She is such a beautiful girl, she won’t do much harm.”

But that’s just the first impression. Later on, when I’m in the ring I can see how dumbfounded my opponents are. They realize that they got me slightly wrong.

Maybe it’s because I am a mom but there’s something inside me saying: “This ring is my territory, and there’s a female stranger who is trying to do something to me right in my house!”

The thing is, the ring is my home, I’ve grown up there, I know every little detail. My opponents feel like intruders.

So, I remember a German girl. We were fighting on 22 May 2015. And there she was, seemingly cool with the shit lot of titles and 11 knockouts. We got in the ring, started fighting. And I just punched her, a jab, a jab, a hook! She got into defense and didn’t let me beat her during the fight.
And after the battering, she just vanished from sight without saying “Goodby”.

But my main fight took place in December 2016 when I was boxing with Prisca Vicot. Wow, she is a really cool chick!
I found out later that she is a French gendarme! And really, she is as cool as a cucumber.

That’s interesting – your opponents are so different. What is your training process before each fight?

I’ve got a team of dedicated coaches working with me. Their job is to research the girl I am going to fight. They find out who she is, how I should fight her.
We start with a general strength and muscle growth training period, followed by the Special Endurance training period, and then we start sparring – we do 100 rounds. So, in female boxing you have 10 rounds in the fight, each round takes 2 minutes. I have to do 100 training rounds to get ready for the bout.

Is it going this way all along the year? Or is it for a certain limited period of time?

Just before the fight.
The length of the pre-championship training period depends on how difficult the fight is estimated to be.
The fight with Vicot was a serious one, I’ve been training for 4 months to fight her. There had been four other pretenders but we decided to pick Vicot as my opponent.

How many people are working in your team?

I have 2 coaches, an endurance coach and a technical coach, and the 2 masseuses. Both are the girls I chose, I don’t feel comfortable with male masseurs.

“I started hitting knockouts after I met my husband”.

Svetlana, I know that your husband also happens to coach you. Did you meet at work? 

Svetlana Kulakova Women's World Boxing Champion
Svetlana Kulakova with Igor, who is her husband and her coach.

We’ve been together since 2006. We met in the gym during my pre-championship training for the European Championship. We fell in love. Then we started working out together, and then we got married.

Shortly after I met my husband, I had a period of great knockouts – 4 girls K.O., one after the other.

In a way, I had been so fussy before I met him, and then everything just got into the right place.
So we got all that, and then our daughter Katerina was born in 2008. That’s how it was.

Who is taking care of your daughter when you travel?

Katerina’s grandparents from my husband’s side helped us to raise Katya when she was little, but they are no longer there. May they rest in peace.

My daughter is already 8 years old, she is more independent now, she is into sports too. And it’s not just about boxing, she loves all kinds of sport.

Svetlana Kulakova with her family
Svetlana Kulakova with her family

I often get asked whether Katerina is going be a professional athlete. Well, I am sure that she will become on Olympic champion one day, but I don’t know in what discipline.

It is up to her to decide!

Katerina could be good at boxing. She is left-handed, and she has a strong punch, this runs in her genes. Look at her mom and dad!
She is a big, heavy-weight child. When I have to loose weight before my fights, I can wear Katerina’s clothes! She is very strong-willed too.

Did she inherit her obstinacy from you?

I don’t think we have passed any “wonder” genes but of course, her

Svetlana and her daughter Katerina
Svetlana and her daughter Katerina

we were young and strong when she was born. I was 25 and Igor was 27 years old.
We want to have more kids but later, after the Olympics. And then I’ll move on to become a coach.

Are you planning to open a Boxing School?

Sure thing! I totally want to, and Igor, my husband, is already working on the project. We have already admitted a few young athletes to train in our school but it doesn’t have my name yet. We’ll do that once I stop doing fights and become a coach officially.

By the way, the NTV Russia (a Russian Television Channel) is shooting a documentary about me. This is part of the series they are making about famous people. The first two films were about brothers Bondarchuk (Russian filmmakers), the second one is about the Tchadovs brothers (Russian actors), and then they picked me to be their third protagonist.

“None of my victories can be compared to my daughter’s birth!”

Svetlana, you are the star!

Stop it. You know, whenever I go to the Beauty Salon, the girls over there keep asking: “Sveta, when did you realize that you were famous?”

And my answer always is “Cut this crap!”

Waking up famous, it’s rather about singers – you wake up one morning and find out that the song you have written made to the top of the charts. It is different for athletes – you have to keep working out, that’s it.

But I guess, the day I got the Olympic Gold, I will be able to say: “Yep, that’s awesome!”

Svetlana Kulakova Boxing Champion in the ring
Svetlana Kulakova in the ring.

What do you feel when you win?

Well, I can’t tell whether there is a moment to feel the victory.

I get to analyze my fight, what I got right, and what I didn’t, and whether I achieved all goals, it’s more into that direction.

The thing is, all my victories are insignificant compared to the birth of my daughter.

I used to be so ecstatic when I became the World Female Boxing Champ but it’s quite different now.
I guess being a mom makes you look at things differently. I wake up, live

Svetlana Kulakova with her daughter Katerina
Svetlana Kulakova with her daughter Katerina

my life, have fun.

As for the fights, they are about following your coaches’ instructions, keeping calm, maybe having a laugh from time to time.

 

 

 

I like to perform, that’s for my favorite audience, for my fans.

Who are your fans?

Everyone! Adults, kids, men, women, young athletes’ moms, trainers… Oh you know, one of the trainers asked me: “Svetlana, can you share your recommendations on training girls?”

Seriously, it is difficult to train girls. We have hormones! We can screw someone’s brain out when we have PMS. Well, we are women.

Are you saying, a woman can’t always be in control of her emotions?

Nope. It’s impossible to always control everything.

Though boxing is different.

Every fight is a show, it’s a celebration time for me. I won’t allow myself to get into a bad mood.

The first day before the fight is for press-conferencing, the second is about weigh-in, and the third is the day of the fight. And this is a real festivity.

What do you feel the morning after the fight?Svetlana Kulakova Boxing Fight

You may not believe me but the night after my important fight in December, that’s when I got my title, I wrote my priest that I wanted to see him. His reply was: “Svetlana, I am here for you!”

I was overexcited. My family was already sleeping. I couldn’t sleep all night. And I got to the Church at 7 am.
I had a blooded, black and blue eye after the fight. The Father told me the mess attendees thought that it may have been my husband who abused me and that I possibly needed help…

Well, I talked to the Father, we rang the bells, and I started feeling better.

So, you are religious. What age did you get baptized?

Yes, I am with God.

I got baptized when I was 11. It’s a good age but I didn’t quite understand what it was about. I started really getting into religion around the age of 32.

I had different periods in my life, changes, illnesses but religion helped me to get through everything. And the Father was very supportive.

What is the Father’s opinion on boxing? Does he judge you for sort of physically hurting people?

The Father asks not to hit too hard, but not to hit too poorly either…He is the right kind of the Father. We get along well. And you remember,

My surname is Kulakova, I am Kulakova: Svetlana “The Fist”.

“If you hear someone screaming out loud during the fight, that’s gonna be my mom!”

You are Svetlana The Fist! The origin of your surname Kulakova is derived from the word “Kulak” meaning “fist” in Russian. This is quite symbolic for your career choice. Did you have many boxers in your family?

My father was into boxing. He did a few fights in our town. He is surely quite proud of me now but I can’t say he was particularly supportive of my choice when I started.

It was rather my mother who supported me. And yet I prefer not to invite her to my fights, she is so sensitive. If you hear someone screaming out loud during the fight, it must be my mom! Given her age, I prefer to protect her from strong emotions, she is better off to follow the fight on TV, it is not that real.

Does she worry you would get injured?

Yep, she does. My mom thinks that another girl can kill me. She is worried about my pretty face, worried about scarring.

She doesn’t see me training, she doesn’t know people I work with, she has no idea how well prepared I am. She is just a normal mom.

Will you be as anxious when your daughter Katerina starts boxing?

I am sure Katerina’s dad would never let her out to fight until she is perfectly ready.
I am dead sure that Katerina will be prepared when she gets in the ring.
She was accepted to participate in a Junior championship, but my husband refused. He decided it was a way too early. He is a professional coach, he knows his shit.

Svetlana Kulakova with her husband Igor and her daughter Katerina
Svetlana Kulakova with her husband Igor and her daughter Katerina

Many parents wonder how to raise a Champion. What is your answer to them?

Being a champion is not only about winning in sports. It is also about being a good person. It also means to be strong, independent, and being able to keep cool in any situation.
Therefore, you should start teaching decision taking to your child very early, right in the infancy, taking baby steps, going from something easy to something more difficult little by little.

This is the way we are training Katerina. We try to avoid giving her solutions, we rather try to teach her how to find them.

Was it the way your parents raise you? How did they contribute to your success?

My parents brought me into this world, they gave me life. That’s the main thing they gave me. I figured out the rest myself.
I can’t think of anything particular. I believe I was learning from their mistakes.

For example, my mother never faced any of her failures in life. She was aware of them but made no effort to become better. She wanted her daughter to live it out the right way, so it is me who always wins.

If someone says to me that something is impossible, well, I see it as a challenge, it drives me to prove the opposite.

Being a professional boxer requires hard work and great concentration. What is your way to stay highly focused?

How do I stay put? I always get to think of my very first fight.” One of the referees stopped me at the entrance to the ring and asked:

“Are you gonna be hit, or is it you who is gonna hit?”

This is the most important question to answer before an important event, you have to decide

You have to decide whether you want to win, or you want to loose.

This is my concentration secret.

Svetlana, you often talk about “Smart” boxing in your interviews. What is that?

“Smart” boxing is about punching at the right moment when your opponent is not ready, even if you don’t know how to knock-out.
You have to prevent your opponents from doing what they want. There’re many talented boxers out there but everyone can be “studied through”. That’s what my coaches do – they analyze my opponents to get me prepared when I am in the ring.

My husband has multiple ways to do boxing. I am trying to learn from him. That’s what the “Smart Boxing” is about – your ability to know your opponent.
I also have to represent my team well. They work hard to prepare me, that’s why I want to fight intelligently.

Do you believe that men and women are complimentary in sports? Is it easier to train with a man?

Dunno. I have been working with women before, in fact, the head of the Russian team was a woman, I liked her a lot.

But then, there are so many men at the helm, they control the female boxing, and they want to have the money.

Our girls didn’t bring anything from the last Olympics. You know why? That’s because we still have the wrong men at the top. This whole system is rotten, it is not working properly.

Is it wrong when men are in charge of women?

Not exactly. Men should be in charge of women. We just have the wrong men in charge.

We need to look for new kind of guys who would fix the system and re-build female boxing.

Like in the case with female Rugby. Look where they got, their trainer brought them to the Olympic Gold!

Getting away from boxing, do you find that it is normal that men have more power that women? Shall we fight for gender rights, do we need to change things?

This is totally normal. Like being married, you know, think of the meaning of the word itself (– the etymology of the Russian phrase “being married” can be translated as literally being “behind the husband”. In traditional circles, it is used to imply that a woman needs to follow a man.)

There’re some questions that are up to women to decide but then, we should want to give the right to make global decisions to our men. We surely have our own opinions. We may point out if a husband is not right about something but we would do it in a delicate and feminine way. We have our secrets. For this, we are women.

“I am trying to laugh and see the bright side in the worst situations”

Ok, let’s talk about women’s secrets.

Oh, you mean mani-pedi?

OK. Let me show you off my beautiful nails, my lovely nail polish. Ops, I’ve just got an injured finger, see how deep cut it is?

Svetlana Kulakova, one of the most beautiful female athelets
Svetlana Kulakova, one of the most beautiful female athletes

Svetlana, you are full of contradictions, a perfect manicure and a bloodily hurt finger. I noticed that you always look good when you get in the ring. Your hair is done, you are made up. What about other females boxers, do they take care of their looks?

At my level, all girls take care of how they look.

All cool girls, I mean, the professionals, all of them are beauties.

I don’t do simple kind of fights at my level. Every time I provide action, I give a part of myself into the show, but I prefer to avoid injuries.

Talking everyday beauty. What is your beauty routine?

I just go to a cool Beauty salon. My cosmetologist is always worried when she sees the state of my face after the fight. She is very concerned about scarring but she is super cool.

You know who her clients are?
Naomi Campbell, Maria Sharapova, and well, myself, Svetlana Kulakova.

Svetlana, please tell me about the daily schedule of a World boxing champ.

I wake up early at 6 am. If I don’t have any scheduled training, the first thing I do is to brush my teeth and drink water.

I follow my nutritionist’s recommendation to drink 2 glasses of cold water first thing in the morning.

And then I do my morning workout. 50 pushups, 50 sit-downs, stretching, it’s a must. I can’t do without it.
And then I make breakfast and wake up my husband. Sometimes, I treat him with a coffee in bed.

Can you recommend any efficient exercises the champions do that can be included in everyone’s workout?

Svetlana Kulakova shares her workout
Svetlana Kulakova shares her workout exercices.

The easiest exercise I can recommend is to lay down on the bed, pressing the upper body to bed and lifting straight legs at 45 degrees.

Another good one is the “Little Chair” – press your straight back towards the wall, bend your knees at 90 degrees. Stay in this position for some time, say 30 seconds to 1 minute.

This is a very good exercise because many muscles are involved, and the risk of injury is low.
You should also try to exercise regularly and control what you eat during the day, including your snacks.

What do you like to have for breakfast?

I love eating things that are not recommended by my nutritionist!
I love having a sandwich, a piece of a dark rye bread with butter and cheese. I don’t like caviar but they make me eat it regularly because boxers need a good salt intake.
I would normally have a caviar and a cheese sandwich for breakfast. And a cup of black coffee with a scoop of ice-cream.
Why ice-cream? I just like it this way. It’s yummy. So,

This is my breakfast combination: a red caviar sandwich, a cheese sandwich, a black coffee, and a scoop of ice cream.

Every Saturday we try to do something together as a family, like bringing Katerina to her theater class. And when we get out I always get some snacks such as bread cakes, apples, chicken breast. Then we would go to the cinema. Or go to see my mother. We like to do ice-skating in winter too.

Svetlana, how do you fight procrastination? Do you postpone things?

Oh, that thing happened to me. Once. Someone asked to record an interview and to say hello to the tournament participants, and I never got to do that. They seem to be cool about that, though.
But besides that one, nope.

I always get to do everything I planned.

Do you have a habit you’re particularly happy about?

Drinking 2 glasses of water first thing every morning, trying to limit eating sweets just for the weekends. And besides,

My most important habit is to stay positive. I like to look at the bright side in any situation.

Our life is so gray, I prefer to stay upbeat.

Any bad habits?

I can be very controlling as a mom. I go like “Do as I say right now!”
Our Dad is a good guy, and I am a real tyrant.

Mind me before the fight! Everyone is better to get into hiding and put their helmets on.

If I have to lose weight, well, everyone has to lose weight!
So everyone gets down and keeps quiet, and just tries not to annoy me. But then I change, of course. I thank them, I kiss everyone. But I become a bitch before the fight. That’s the way I am. I am trying to change but it seems not to be in the realm of my control.

Besides, I am always late. Everywhere. For the meetings, for shootings.

But never for the ring. I am always in time for the Ring!

“Woman’s Success is the Motherhood.”

Are you successful?

Yes, I am! I don’t make millions but I consider myself successful. My friends love me. My family loves me, this makes me happy.

Is being successful for you equals to being happy?

Yes, that’s what success is for me. It’s when everyone is healthy, no

Svetlana Kulakova: Success and happiness
Svetlana Kulakova: Success and happiness

turbulences, and there’s a good balance in my life, that’s the biggest happiness for me.
Ok, it may happen that my daughter is not doing something the way I want to but even in that, I try to see something positive. My daughter’s success, that’s the biggest happiness.

Can you give an advice how to be happy every day?

The most important thing is to wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror and tell that you are going to be happy.

You open your eyes, and you start smiling.

Or right in the evening before going to bed, visualize the way you want to be the next day. And when you wake up, try to put on and wear this visualization of yourself the whole day. And then you stay like this. You always wear it. It works. I tried!

Where can people find you?

Svetlana, thank you very much for this interview!

Interview Notes, Links and Resources

Svetlana’s Fights (Video):

Movies about female boxers you might be interested:

Women’s boxing:

Boxing organizations:

WBO

Svetlana Kulakova’s Fights and Titles:

Boxing techniques:

Shadow Boxing

All photos are provided by Svetlana Kulakova

Translation: Natalia Yurevich

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