Whenever Irina Mazepa learns a new martial art, she tends to master it. The 33-year-old Russian dominated wushu competition en route to becoming a five-time world champion, and flawlessly translated those striking skills into kickboxing, where she ultimately won a K-1 World Title.
Nearly a year and a half ago, she sought a bigger test. Mazepa brought her talents to the mixed martial arts world, debuted in ONE Championship, and immediately proved she belonged in the sport’s major leagues.
“I appreciate the interest in me, and that I am doing justice to my martial arts skills,” she says. “This has been a great experience for me.”
Mazepa may be savouring every moment of this great experience, but it was made possible by a lifelong martial arts journey.
That journey began in St. Petersburg, Russia, the country’s second largest city behind only Moscow. With over five million residents, it is one of the nation’s most modern cities, and stands as its cultural epicentre. For Mazepa, this is home, and she remembers her childhood very fondly.
“I was a good, honest child,” she begins. “When I started fighting, I always fought for honesty. So, I still like to tell the truth and to fight for the truth. I like to learn and do whatever I am doing well, so I just need motivation to do something and I will have success.”
The Russian acquired that initial motivation through the world of cinema. In particular, she was drawn to combat sports after watching a Hong Kong film starring one of her idols – Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master.
That inspiration led her to training in wushu at the tender age of seven. She connected with the discipline almost instantly and developed a deep connection to it.
“I fell in love with the complex coordination of the sport.” Mazepa says. “I have passion for it and feel freedom when I am doing it. I feel like my life is full in those moments.”
Not only has wushu helped her mature physically, spiritually, and emotionally, but it has also led to a monumental career. She is a five-time wushu world champion, and used those immaculate strikings skills to transition into other combat sports. First, at the age of 25 into kickboxing, when she became a K-1 World Champion, and then MMA in 2015.
“I feel that [MMA] is like post-graduate work for me in this sport,” she explains. “So, right now, I have more knowledge than anyone who may just practice wushu.”
Better yet, Mazepa may be working towards a PhD in wushu, as she is simultaneously advancing up the kickboxing ranks and effectively displaying her wushu flair inside the ONE cage.
The Russian made her professional MMA debut in October 2015 at ONE: TIGERS OF ASIA, where she masterfully knocked out Ann Osman in the first round. She followed that up with a unanimous decision victory over Flipino boxing champion Ana Julaton at ONE: SPIRIT OF CHAMPIONS two months later.
For Mazepa, winning means more than having a new title in her trophy case or achieving personal success. Every time Mazepa wins inside the cage, she places the focus on proving the effectiveness of wushu and inspiring new people to practice the discipline.
Preserving the martial art’s heritage is important to her, so much so that the proud Russian, who splits her time training out of Brizon Gym and Hybrid Fighters, regularly gives back to her community as an instructor at Russian martial arts schools.
As a trainer and coach, she enjoys passing along her love and knowledge to the new generation.
“If I can help, I do it,” she says. “I help any way I can.”