Elena Tverdokhleb Interview

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Elena Tverdokhleb was born in 1973 in Kiev, Ukraine. She is a Kickboxer, boxer, wrestler and extreme fighter and she is a world and European kickboxing champion in 1995 and 1997.

1. Elena Tverdokhleb can you tell us briefly about yourself?

I am 29 years old, have master degree in law – graduated from the faculty of law in the National Shevchenko University. For the moment, I am a team leader of a legal department in a joint-stock company.

My hobbies are hand-to-hand combat. I’ve been training in boxing and kickboxing since 1991.

2. What are Elena Tverdokhleb’s best achievements and titles?

Amateurs (the most important titles):

  • 1992 – X European amateur kickboxing championship WAKO, silver medal;
  • 1993 – IX World amateur kickboxing championship WAKO, bronze medal;
  • 1995 – X World amateur kickboxing championship WAKO, golden medal, champion;
  • Winner of many international and national tournaments;
  • Permanent Ukrainian kickboxing champion from 1992 to 1999.

Professionals (the most important titles):

  • 1995 – Winner of the European professional kickboxing championship WAKO, Kiev;
  • 1997 – World professional kickboxing champion ISKA, Milan, Italy;
  • Winner of many international tournaments.

3. What are the reasons why Elena Tverdokhleb has chosen combative sports, quite unusual activities for a woman? What encouraged you to participate in them?

Since I remember myself I always participated in sports: from various games to fields and tracks. As soon as female judo appeared in the USSR in 1980s I went there and I reached quite good results: two times I was Kiev champion, several times – prize winner of Ukrainian and international tournaments but all that was not exactly what I really wanted. At last, in 1991 I was lucky to meet a boxing trainer and I realized that boxing and kickboxing are just for me. I was particularly lucky with my trainers – the best in Ukraine.

4. Do you feel yourself as a special woman; do you stand out among ordinary non-combative women? Is it visible for other people that you are a fighter?

“Special” is not precise word for that – I really feel myself as a self-confident person. What actually distinguishes me from other people is my good physical shape, which is visible, and people often ask me if I participate in shaping. In fact, the only thing that might stand out is my broken nose but you will be surprised because it was broken as far back as being me in kindergarten.

5. Do you recommend other women participating in combative sports, in particular, your daughter (if you would have her)? Do you consider contact sports not to be typical for an average woman all the same?

Of course, single combat is not typical female activity so far and it would be stupid to recommend combative sports to all women. Ability to participate in them depends on a person’s particular features such as psychological stability, will power and physical skills. Many females wish to do that but just few are really ready. When we decided to create a female extreme fighting team we discovered that among 10-15 girls who wanted to fight just one or two girls had some physical or combative skills and were psychologically able to withstand a real fight. I would recommend participating in combative activities only that girl who feels enough courage to fight a real opponent. Otherwise, aerobics, dancing and gym will be much more useful for her.

Why women never participated in combative activities during centuries (except some episodes, which can be considered as queer events)? What was changed recently in our life, which pushed women toward the world of physical combat?

“Never” seems not to be right but today the life has been significantly changed.

6. Elena Tverdokhleb, you are experienced in several forms of combative sports: boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, hand-to-hand combat (extreme fighting). Can you characterize each combative sport and its particular features?

I respect all sports equally.

Boxing is an art and traditions and I think it requires talent more than all the other sports. That’s probably why it’s the most popular combative sport. This is boxing that is my basis for kickboxing and extreme fighting. But as an application, boxing is second to more varied kickboxing and extreme fighting and to wrestling as well.

Kickboxing is relatively young sport but it is good as an application especially kickboxing with low kicks (kicks to legs).

Extreme fighting seems to be the most applied and varied combative sport, it isn’t restricted by one technique but accumulated the most efficient wrestling holds and boxing/kickboxing punching and kicking techniques.

7. Is hand-to-hand combat different from extreme fighting (“ho hold barred”)? How dangerous is this combative contest? What do you think about women participating in it?

On my understanding, this is different terms for one thing. Hand-to-hand combat, extreme fighting, pancration, pride… this is a science of surviving in a real fight where struggle is not for scores but for the victory although the athletic version is restricted by the rules.

8. What is the most enjoyable for you, wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, extreme fighting?

Boxing is the sport number one for me, I love this art but I also visit wrestling gym – extreme fighting is just derivative from wrestling and boxing.

9. What kind of emotions does Elena Tverdokhleb feel when you manage to deliver a good punch to an opponent’s face? Do ambivalent feelings appear?

When boxing you don’t feel any ambivalent feelings because the goal in boxing is to deliver as many severe disorienting punches as possible, and I am sorry, face is the most appropriate place for that.

10. What do you feel when winning over an opponent, knocking her out, inflicting a trauma? Do you feel joy, triumph, regret, and other emotions?

I just feel joy of the victory but a normal person will never enjoy someone’s trauma.

11. What do you feel when you are knocked down? Does some fury arise against the opponent or intentions to beat her up?

I can’t answer for certain because I have never been knocked down neither in boxing nor in kickboxing but I know for sure that fury, revenge motivations and beating up desires impede thinking and constrain a fighter – one usually wins who fights without special emotions.

12. What is the difference between men’s and women’s contests in each combative sport? From emotional, technical and physical perspective? Are the differences going to be diminished the future?

The least difference is technical – the best female fighter now practically is equal to male ones. But from emotional, physical and psychological perspective, the difference is as big as the difference between men and women in general. I hope these differences will remain; otherwise it would be boring if everyone suddenly becomes a man.

13. Sambist Andrey Romanov said in his interview: “I don’t understand all this fury, which is clearly sensed in female wrestling. Sometimes this fury seems to be perceived”. Do you agree with that?

Can’t agree and I am sure that Andrey Romanov doesn’t belong to classicists.

14. What does Elena Tverdokhleb think about mixed combative competitions? Is it appropriate for men to box or wrestle with women even for training? Is it possible at all that women can be on an equal footing with men in boxing?

It’s good and normal if we consider training but a woman can’t box with a trained male boxer, that’s the Nature, and we shouldn’t go against it – it would be too expensive for a woman.

15. Would you like to test yourself in a real competition with a man?

It was long ago and I don’t like to recall that but I did this stupidity three times – I don’t want to clarify the details and the circumstances. Fortunately, my opponents were not athletes, just guys from the streets; otherwise they would maim me. What really shocked me was that the guys truly intended to beat me up without any excuse for a girl. I didn’t have any reasonable explanation of their brutality. It ended with blood, lost teeth, broken nose and damaged ribs. And although this adventure finished more or less safely for me, since that time I didn’t want to tempt fate.

16. Could you clarify who was the victim? Is it possible that the guys took it into their head to settle up with you? Or you “punished” them, using your fighting technique?

Fortunately, the guys became victims because they were dilettantes in boxing and tipsy in addition. If I were the victim, I wouldn’t even think about boxing any longer. That doesn’t mean each of them got teeth knocked out, broken nose and damaged ribs. The first one lost a tooth, the second got his nose broken, and the third had ribs… It was terrible minutes for me too.

17. How come this idea to fight with guys even appeared? Where did you dig them out? On what terms those fights were arranged and what was their motivation?

Regarding “how the idea appeared”. It was long ago, in early 90s before being in college I was working up in an athletic show. The idea unexpectedly came to mind of the show host. Of course, the man thought that the people around were civilized and the guys would took that as a joke but the semi-drunk idiots appeared in the ring desiring to send me to hospital. The host was shocked because it was impossible to joke with them. There are some moments in the life you don’t want to recall.

18. Does Elena Tverdokhleb believe that women should do whatever men do? What do you think about feminism?

In sports as well as in any form of activity women should be able to do whatever they can and like. But I have a negative feelings about feminism – in my opinion, it’s stupid today. Especially some representatives bewilder me who want to try on “riding breeches of a commander in chief” not taking into account neither advisability considerations nor their usefulness in that role.

19. Is it important for you to look good during the contest or you forget about that when boxing? Are you afraid your face to be damaged? Do you care about this kind of problems at all?

Looking good is definitely important for a woman in any time. As an example you can consider the fight for the world champion title between Regina Halmich and Alina Shaternikova. Halmich was definitely not in the best shape and Alina accomplished probably her best match but the decision was not on favor of Alina and I would explain the reason why. Of course, the organizers took into account potential and experience of Halmich as well as her appearance (no matter how strange it sounds to our female boxing specialists) – her photographs appear not only on sport magazine covers but also on “Playboy”. After all, this is a business in the civilized world. It was obvious for everyone who saw the fight how more impressive Halmich looked not just because of her better appearance but also because of her fashion uniform that emphasized her advantages as a woman. At the same time, Alina lacked an esthetic appeal – she wore awkward long red men’s briefs and a ridiculous bandage that looked out from under the briefs (heavyweight male boxers usually wear that). A shabby top that puckered with wrinkles because of either improper size or bad material finished this terrific composition.

No doubts, the referees unconsciously preferred Halmich because of her appearance. And business consideration plaid a role: more likely that any publisher will place a picture of that female champion who looks better.

But the result of the match might be different if Alina and her managers took care of representing her properly. I am wondering if Alina and her trainer thought about this component of her failure.

20. Don’t you consider boxing or extreme fighting to be dangerous for women? Don’t you think that it might be harmful for a female body (particularly for breasts) and for the ability to have healthy children in the future? What about brain damage?

I learned by my experience that boxing and extreme fighting are barely more dangerous than any other sports: handball, basketball, soccer, rugby, sambo, judo, karate… I could continue this list. Women’s ability to inflict damage by punching and kicking is significantly less than men’s ability, so there is little probability of harmful consequences.

21. But how did Elena Tverdokhleb manage to treat those guys who got lost teeth, broken nose and damaged ribs just using your “weak punches”? You were a young girl that time, weren’t you? And what damages might get a girl who would be more fragile than those guys?

First of all, even a boy can knock a tooth out, break a nose, etc. It’s very unpleasant but it isn’t harmful too much for health. What really dangerous in boxing and kickboxing is very powerful and destructive punches to head which cause the most of lethal cases in the ring. This is the main reason why boxers sometimes become disabled. Any boxer can confirm that. The punch strength of a male boxer varies from 200 to 1000 kg!!! Such a punch is enormously strong and 200 kg is normal for a boxer weighing 60-70 kg. A women punch is much weaker; if a female boxer punches with 100 kg it’s considered as a super-punch! Usual punches are 50-60 kg. Now this seems to be clear. For your information: in order to get an opponent knocked out, inflicting a 16-20 kg blow directly to the lower jaw is enough.

By the way, I thought (by my own experience) that a punch to the nose is the most painful.

It’s quite unpleasant but a blow to the liver is much more dangerous for a boxer.

22. Still I want to ask one more question regarding this subject because this matter disturbs “narrow-minded” people and opponents of female combats. So what if women’s punches are much weaker. That just reflects the fact that women themselves are weaker and a weaker punch respectively would be sufficient to inflict damage (brain, for instance).

Cranium, brain and bones have equal solidity for men and women. That’s why, as a matter of fact, female boxing and kickboxing are as safer as female blow is weaker than male blow.

23. Well, you mentioned that a good 16-20 kg punch is enough for knocking an opponent out (this is for men or for women, by the way?). But even the average women’s 50-60 kg punch substantially exceeds the knockout limit and technical skills of female boxers are almost about those of male boxers already (your words).

16-20 kg is enough for the both, men and women, but the punch must be just perfect and localized. If it were easy to get that punch all bouts would stop at the first round, however, the most of bouts last 5 and 10 rounds and quite few of them stop with knockouts.

24. And what about direct strong punches and kicks to breasts or kicks to lower parts of a body, where very complex and important female organs locate.

Breast protectors are used in female boxing and low kicks are allowed only to legs rather than to crotch.

25. Does Elena Tverdokhleb consider boxing to be brutal?

Not brutal but violent.

26. Who is the hardest opponent for Elena Tverdokhleb (in general and in particular)?

Never thought about such a question, probably I never met her yet.

27. Which your bout was the most interesting and exciting?

Probably, the most memorized fight I ever had occurred in Milan when I fought for the ISKA kickboxing title. The reason is the following. Eurasian kickboxing federation offered me to fly to Milan for demonstrating 5-round bout and I was warned not to be heavier than 58 kg. Since that fight was supposed to by demonstrating and just of 5 rounds long, my husband and I left for Italy in a week prior to the fight in order to see Rome and Vatican where we spent a couple of days. Then we moved to Milan where walked through all historic places there including famous La Scala theater. The bout organizers approved our curiosity.

So, a day before the “demonstrating match” they announced that a 10-round fight for ISKA world title would occur with the world ISKA champion Rita Turizi from Italy. In addition, we found out a couple of more things – that low kicks would be allowed and that my opponent’s weight was 64.4 kg whereas mine was just 58 kg. They told us that it was our personal problems because they notified Eurasian kickboxing federation in advance and it turned out to be true – they just “forgot” to tell us. While weighing we were surprised by physical development of my opponent, some men might envy her muscles and she took off almost all her clothes in order to show 64.4 kg, so the weight difference came to more than 6 kg. I didn’t refuse to fight because in that case I wouldn’t get paid even for the fly. They counted on her victory because my titles allowed the fight for the world title to be sanctioned.

But they were completely disappointed because everything happened, as they didn’t expect it would. She sat on her “fifth extremity” just in the first round and she got knocked down twice in the second and third rounds. After the third round she gave up and declared her defeat. Since that time, I haven’t been invited to Italy though.

28. When that fight with Turizi was held?

I took place on October 25, 1997 in the sports arena “Lido” in Milan.

29. What did you use to manage to defeat her so striking? Technique, punch/kick strength? What type of punches or kicks (to which part of her body) knocked her down?

I have much better boxing schooling and I have significantly stronger kicks and punches, especially punches. In fact, I didn’t feel her punches and kicks whereas those I conducted shocked her. First time she fell on her “fifth extremity” after my frontal kick to her belly and the two other knockdowns were the results of punches to the head.

30. Is there a fighter who Elena Tverdokhleb’s particularly wants to compete with or it doesn’t matter for you whom to fight?

I am being interested in female boxing news and I would say that I couldn’t see in my weight category any opponent in Ukraine and Russia who will be able to beat me if I am in good shape.

31. What would Elena Tverdokhleb say about Julia Voskoboynik? How do you estimate her boxing skills – you seemed to meet her in the ring a few times?

When I was considering some female boxers to get a sparring partner I noticed that Voskoboynik was a bad boxer: not punching, having limited technical skills; in other words, she wasn’t good even for serious sparring although she had been in the business for several years. I happened to box with her twice – 3 rounds in the European championship in Poland in November 1997 the another bout – in Moscow in 1998. It was funny and annoying but it was her hand, which was raised there. In fact, the Russian team seems to be the only team in European and World championships, which shamelessly discusses bribery of athletic officials in order to reach desired results – it, became already “the talk of the town”. Some kind of specific Russian “patriotism”. As to the Moscow tournament, there is no doubt that the only requirement for a Russian boxer to win there was just not to be knocked out by the end of a 6-round bout. So, it was quite enough just to be running backward even without contacts with an opponent. In case of Voskoboynik, though, I had a chance to close the books on her in the “one way” bout in the open tournament in Lvov in Spring 1999. Maybe she has been changed since that time?

32. Some additional information about history of female boxing. What would you say about Zulfia Kutdoussova?

I know Zulfia Kutdoussova very well, she is much better that Voskoboynik but, to put it mildly, her “specific” technique is poor and her punches are too weak for professional boxing. Probably, in America she would be able to learn more but for the moment I wouldn’t expose her to the light for a serious bout. I always defeated her in our kickboxing fights. In December 1999 we had a demonstrating boxing match with her as an event during the election campaign for Moscow region governor. After the match I honestly told her trainer that she was not going to defend her world boxing title. That’s what really happened (actually, I was invited to spar her in order to prepare her to that fight). As a matter of fact, originally the organizers intended to invite my friend Agneshka Rylik from Poland but she was aware of Russian “way of life” in sports and declined the invitation. Then the organizers urgently turned to us – just 5 or 6 days prior to the competition. At that moment I hadn’t attend the boxing gym for about 3 months due to my legal business, so I took an opportunity to pull myself together. By the way, all specialists came to the opinion that it was the best fight in that tournament including men’s ones. That’s my brief comments to the “history of female boxing”.

33. It looks like female boxing and freestyle wrestling are becoming Olympic sports. What do you think about that? Do you hope to participate in Olympic games?

Probably female wrestling will become an Olympic sport but as to female boxing it’s unlikely, at least by 2004 because time-to-time the Olympic committee discusses excluding even male boxing from the Olympic games.

34. Would Elena Tverdokhleb participate in combative sports if you don’t get paid?

Just training for myself but it would be weird to participate in professional tournaments for free.

35. You have a senior position at work. How do people around you perceive your hobby? Don’t they consider you as a queer bird?

They perceive it very well and in no way do they consider me as a queer bird.

36. Do your parents approve your enthusiasm in boxing?

Of course, they approve and support me and they are my fans.

37. Do you consider physical superiority of men over women acceptable and natural? Would you imagine that your husband or boy friend is weaker than you are?

God created the world in this way, so it has to stand like that. As a real man, my husband is much stronger than any woman is but he will never fight a woman, of course.

38. Does Elena Tverdokhleb think that a man must be gallant and attentive toward a woman even the woman is a fighter?

No doubt.

39. Are you aware that some men and women turn on by watching female single combat and by participating in it? What about you? If you admit the fact, what do you think about it? Do you understand why it happens?

I don’t think it’s abnormal if men feel sexual excitement by watching women’s single combats and if women feel the same by men’s contests. I won’t comment the other part of the question.

40. Do you like watching physical contests? What is more exciting for you, men’s or women’s competitions?

Yes I do. Men more excite me but women’s matches interest me too.

41. What is your opinion about erotic and show contests, such as professional wrestling, catfighting or foxy boxing?

My opinion is that as long as people want to pay for such shows they have rights to exist, not less than the Olympic sports. Life is beautiful because of its diversity.

42. Does Elena Tverdokhleb consider women’s contests for men’s amusement to be humiliating for women?

I wouldn’t pose the question in this way. All athletic contests are held for audience, otherwise what for. And no difference, who is spectators, men or women.

43. Are you wrestling with women or men just for fun?

Yes, why not.

44. Have you ever participated in real brawls with women? Do you consider them as acceptable under some circumstances? Would you be able to fight a woman over a man?

No, I have never participated in brawls with women. I think, it would be possible only under exceptional circumstances but men don’t belong to them.

45. Have you used your fighting skills for self-defense against male attackers?

Not in daily life.

46. What is your hobby (besides combative sports)?

I love reading, cooking and doing something for housekeeping.

47. What do Elena Tverdokhleb think about creating a women extreme fighting team? How would you select participants?

The idea of a female team is quite old. This doesn’t require gathering all members in one house. But girls should be strictly selected on the basis of courage, will power, appearance and physical development. Each girl must be training at least in two combative sports: kickboxing and wrestling. And, of course, she should look like a shaping contestant.

48. Female extreme fights are being more and more widespread. There are a few places where such fights are conducted: California (extreme catfighting), Russia (St. Petersburg – club “Red Devil”, Moscow – pancration federation) and, of course, Japan. Are you planning to participate in those tournaments and compete for titles there? If not, why?

My girl friends and I have been to California but not in order to see “Extreme catfighting” – I guess it’s no longer running. We know about the club “Red Devil”, friends presented me the videocassette “Cage Fighting Women”, recorded on a tournament in the club. I think we would win the bouts with Dutch women, at least first two. Unfortunately, appearance of the Russian fighters might be better. But the leg protectors and two 3-minute rounds sound like high school athletic event in a high school. But then, you shouldn’t establish your rules in a strange monastery though.

I can’t say anything specific about the Moscow fights though but the Japan tournaments are serious. I got an invitation there but it didn’t suit me because they don’t have weight categories and the most fighters there have 70-90 kg and I am much lighter.

49. Does having a baby-son affect your future plans? (We take an opportunity to congratulate you with this important event). Did you think about leaving the sports?

Thank you. I am raising my son but I will start training soon and I will see. I don’t want to quit the sports so far.

50. Who is Elena Tverdokhleb’s fans and audience?

Ukrainian television audiences who watch the competitions as well as some fans in Europe and America.

February 2001
We express our gratitude to Farid Fatratov for his assistance in getting organized this interview.