After decades spent coaching martial arts, Pavel Fedotov needs to be as no nonsense as he can be. His job isn’t something to be taken lightly, and people can get hurt, so the more blunt he can be, the better it is for his fighters.
So when talking about one of those fighters, Valentina Shevchenko, before the biggest fight of her career on Saturday against Amanda Nunes, Fedotov isn’t about to say that the moment young Valentina walked into his gym he knew she had championship potential.
“When her mom brought Valentina in my gym, I had many adult students who already were part of the national team,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t pay much attention to her. They were children who saw training like playing.”
The child soon became a child prodigy, and what made Fedotov pay attention to Shevchenko wasn’t her technique, but her toughness.
“After several years, when I started to feel that she and her older sister Antonina were taking training very seriously, I started to pay much more attention to them,” he said. “Valentina was a brave little girl. She could fight without fear with girls and boys who were heavier and more experienced. Sometimes, a strong punch could stop her. But she would stand up and start to fight again. Sometimes, she was crying, but still fighting again and again with the same intensity. It was dangerous for her and I tried not to put her with big boys, because when she punches them strong, they started to get angry and could hurt her. But she didn’t know how to fight with half-power in trainings at that time.”
More than 20 years later, Shevchenko’s fighting fire has not dimmed, and it’s helped take her to the top of the mixed martial arts world, one win away from a world championship. As for Fedotov, he’s been there with his fighter every step of the way, and along with Antonina, a renowned kickboxer, the trio aren’t just fighters and coach, but a family unit.
“Pavel is always leading me and he’s never stopped,” Shevchenko said. “He was in martial arts all his life. He spent all his time thinking about different techniques and different tactics for the fight and he’s never stopped. He’s always looking forward. This is why we are training a lot and me, him and my sister are one big team. But it’s not only martial arts and sports. It’s life together because we travel and spend good times together; so it’s more like a family.”
Training. Colorado. June 2017 #MyCoach #PavelFedotov #ufc213 #teamBullet @pavelfedotov_procoach
A post shared by Valentina Shevchenko (@bulletvalentina) on Jun 24, 2017 at 3:34pm PDT
That kind of loyalty is rare in any walk of life, let alone in MMA, where fighters often change coaches on a whim. That’s not the case here.
“Old schools of martial arts are about having loyalty,” Fedotov said. “Coaches need to have loyalty for the student and students to the coach. But certainly, it’s good luck to have a good student and a good coach who trust each other. That reliability is the first thing that’s most important in sports, business or any relationship.”
That familiarity has also aided in making Shevchenko’s camp for Nunes as business as usual as possible. Yes, it’s the main event of UFC 213 and has a championship belt up for grabs, but Fedotov says the prep for July 8 isn’t much different than it has been for previous fights.
“For the last fight, we prepared in Houston in the Gracie Barra and Houston Muay Thai gyms. That was the first part of the preparation and the second part was at 303 Training Center in Denver, Colorado. And now it’s all the same, with the only difference that at the beginning of preparation we started in Thailand at Tiger Muay Thai Gym in Phuket.”
Notice that Fedotov isn’t one of those coaches that makes his fighters stay in one gym with the same training partners for fight after fight. Instead, they get better by getting different looks from around the globe.
“Every gym is another world,” Fedotov said. “Another atmosphere, another technique, more sparring partners, more experience. When a student is just starting their way, it’s better to stay in one gym and hear one coach. But when a fighter reaches a certain level, better for them to travel and try different gyms with many different partners to sharpen their skills constantly.”
The proof of this method is in the 29-year-old Shevchenko, a 17-time world Muay Thai champion with wins in 14 of her 16 pro MMA bouts. So it’s clear that she can fight, but can she handle everything else that goes along with a bout of this magnitude this weekend?
“Valentina has more than 20 years in martial arts,” Fedotov said. “In her life, she has had several hundred fights in different styles. That’s why she knows how to control her emotions and besides this, she knows very well how important it is to concentrate on real things before the fight. And concentration on training is first.”
Pavel knows best, but he is keeping it cool when asked what seeing Shevchenko win a world championship in the UFC would mean for him.
“We are doing everything to take this belt,” he said. “It would mean a lot for me, the same for Valentina. UFC today is the top of martial arts fighting organizations, so winning the belt in UFC means a lot for every coach and fighter.”