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Invicta FC 33’s Anastasia Nikolakakos talks about accepting, not conquering, nerves ahead of Invicta debut

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Canadian atomweight Anastasia Nikolakakos set up her Saturday night fight with Ashley Medina.

Dave Mandel, Invicta FC

After being perfect so far in her pro MMA career, Anastasia Nikolakakos (2-0) will test herself in the Invicta cage on Saturday night. The atomweight fighter, who is based north of Toronto, takes on Ashley Medina at Invicta FC 33 in Kansas City, MO.

Nikolakakos’ entry into the world of martial arts came when she was just five years old, at her father’s karate studio in North York, Ontario. However, Nikolakakos’ parents divorced while she was young and this put a halt to her karate lessons.

In high school Nikolakakos played on just about every sports team the school had. But she wasn’t doing any martial arts and that meant she felt like she was missing out.

“I was missing my martial arts,” Nikolakakos told Bloody Elbow. “I’ve always loved — not fighting — but the actual art of martial arts.”

To fill that void Nikolakakos turned her attention to the school’s wrestling team. Though it was for boys only. Annoyed by this, she and her twin sister approached the coach and asked, “Why is there no girls’ team?”

The wrestling coach was reluctant to work with girls, but he gave in and the Nikolakakos twins were able to work the mats from grade 9 to 12. In wrestling Nikolakakos found something she was not only passion about, but something she was good at, too.

Early on Nikolakakos considered going all in on wrestling and targeting the Olympic Games. However, after graduating high school she wasn’t sure what direction to take her athletic career.

While still training in wrestling, Nikolakakos had a chance encounter that would set her on a path that would eventually reach mixed martial arts.

“I met a friend, who is one of my best friends to this day, in the gym and she said, ‘Wow you move so well, what do you do?’ I said, ‘I’m a wrestler.’ She said, ‘That’s amazing. Why don’t you come and try jiu jitsu?’”

Nikolakakos joined this this friend in BJJ classes, which were being run by Paul Abel and UFC veteran Jason Saggo. She trained under Abel for a number of years until he moved from Ontario to Prince Edward Island on Canada’s East Coast.

While looking for a new home to train in fight sports, another friend invited Nikolakakos to join her boxercise class at Grant’s MMA in Toronto; home to Elias Theodorou and Sean Pierson.

Nikolakakos took classes at Grant’s, not expecting to do much more than stay fit. However, her coaches there said they recognized real talent in her. After that they convinced her to consider fighting pro.

Nikolakakos was awed, but told them that she wanted to graduate from post-secondary education first. “Then I’ll fight for you, I promise,” she said.

That was six years ago and ever since Nikolakakos has been training in boxing, muay thai, BJJ, and wrestling at Grant’s MMA. She took three amateur fights in 2015/16 and went 2-0-1. Since turning pro in 2017 she’s won her first two fights.

Despite training for six years and having five fights under her belt, Nikolakakos is still getting used to being considered as a cage-fighter. “It sounds so weird when people call me a fighter,” she said. “I always think of it as crazy.”

On her journey so-far through MMA Nikolakakos said one of the biggest lessons she’s learned is how to handle her nerves.

“People always say, ‘Aren’t you scared to fight? Are you ever nervous?’ And a lot of people say, ‘Oh I’m not nervous. I’m good, I’m just hungry.’ They’re ready to fight all the time,” said Nikolakakos. “Truth is, I’m always nervous. I’m always nervous going into a fight. It doesn’t matter how well I prepared myself, I always feel like in a fight anything can happen. But what I’ve learned is that, confidence comes from having a great team and having great teammates pushing you every day.

“So having people like that in my corner has not made me fearless, but kind of helped me ride that wave of being nervous and then accepting that aspect of never knowing what’s going to happen. And then you get over that and you just go to work and you perform.”

From a more technical standpoint, Nikolakakos said her three years in fighting have taught her what her fight game actually consists of.

“I didn’t know what my game was before,” she said. “Was I better at wrestling? Was I better at grappling? Was I better at stand-up? What was my personal strength? But now, I know myself as a fighter better than ever and I know what I like to do and I know what I have to do to win fights.”

Nikolakakos cited her movement as one of her biggest personal strengths. The other, she reckoned, was her mental approach to MMA.

“Some people like to bang it out, not to say I can’t do that, but I want to be smart about it. I would like to have a brain after this. So I look at it like a game. It’s a game of chess for me. I’m not always going to be the better fighter, I’m not always going to be the stronger fighter, so I look at it like a game of chess and try to figure out how am I going to beat this person?”

On Saturday Nikolakakos meets Ashley Medina (0-1) in the Invicta cage. Medina’s name and record is about all Nikolakakos knows about her.

“My coaches know about her,” said Nikolakakos. “I don’t. I don’t like to watch my opponents. That’s just me. I leave it up to my coaches and they know that. They’ve known that for a very long time. A lot of people aren’t like that; they’re like, ‘I need to study my opponent’ and that’s fantastic if that’s what works for you. Personally, I don’t like doing that because then I end up worrying about what she’s doing. I want her to worry about what I’m doing.”

Nikolakakos added that on Saturday night, she’s not looking to make a statement. She just wants to win. You can see if she’s able to manage that by tuning in to UFC Fight Pass at 10:00PM ET. While you’re there you’ll also catch an atomweight title fight between Jinh Yu Frey and Minna Grusander, Amber Brown versus Alesha Zappitella, and Kay Hansen versus Sharon Jacobsen.