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Feature Story August 8, 2002
Bitch Slapped
By Seth Wienberg Browse author
Page 5 of 7
"I don't think he's coming back," she says. "They'll kill him if he does."

I ask her where she lives now.

"You see that mattress over there?" she asks, pointing to the corner of Mark Ionovich's office. "That's where I sleep."

Oksana, who began her athletic career in powerlifting, constantly reminds me that she is the worst boxer at Kitek. Her greatest boxing achievement is a third-place finish in the 63 kg weight division of the Russian Championships.

"I am the least talented girl here," she says. "Compared to the others, I'm a beginner, just like you."

Oksana uses the opportunity to change the subject to my interest in boxing, obviously perplexed at my decision to begin fighting so late in life.

"Why would you start boxing?" she asks. "We don't do it because we like getting our faces bashed. It's just that once you start it becomes like a drug: you can't stop."

I tell her that the sport has always fascinated me.

"Well, just remember that it's not a very pleasant sport," she replies.

She should know. Oksana has taken her share of thunderings.

"I was fighting Sveta Andreeva without a helmet one time, and she just decked me," she says. "After training, I came back to the office to go through some papers, and for a half an hour I couldn't remember if I had written the note that lay in front of me. I had to compare my handwriting to determine if I had written it. I've boxed with a helmet ever since."

Mark Ionovich returns from his shower, and we decide that with one sparring session under my belt, it's time for me and go live against someone in the ring. Luckily Mark Ionovich recognizes that pitting me against one of his male boxers would undoubtedly end in a call to 03.

We settle on Oksana as my opponent. With her eager approval, of course. I don't like playing sports against women, as I always feel compelled to hold something back. This, however, does not bother me. It's clear that Oksana is tougher than I am. And, as luck has it, what could me my most humiliating athletic failure ever -- getting KO'd by a dyev -- is to be captured for posterity on celluloid.

It's Friday evening, and the film crew arrives at Kitek to set up. Oksana and Yulia Kiblavi, a former world champion who is in Moscow visiting Mark Ionovich, put their gear on and head up to the gym. Yulia began boxing at Kitek and now lives in Beirut with her Lebanese boxing-coach husband, Sammy Kiblavi.

I am chatting up the telejournalists in the gym, trying to understand a project they are working on, apparently a documentary about the JOURNALIST -- Yulia Frolova from NTV and TV6 -- covering a story about women's boxing. They say it will air in two weeks.

The TV crew turns out all of the lights and installs a powerful stage light directly over the ring. In order to create a properly dramatic atmosphere, they pour a gray powder into a tin film can and burn an entire box of matches in the powder. One of the crew members walks around holding the can gingerly by the edges, evenly distributing the smoke around the ring.

"He knows what he's doing," the sound guy cracks. "He's been doing this for five years."

Oksana and Yulia are to fight first, but after some problems with a blown electrical fuse, Mark Ionovich tells me that he wants me to start. A wave of fear and self-doubt hits me as I consider the prospect of 100 million Russians watching Oksana floor me.

Oksana is dressed in an old-school blue helmet and wearing a mouthguard. I am bare-naked, bez helmet and mouthguard. She climbs through the ropes and into the ring; I quickly follow.

The TV film crew yells out that the cameras are ready, and Mark Ionovich says "Go!"

Oksana comes straight for me in striking position.

This is completely different from my sparring session with Edik. Oksana comes out swinging and swinging hard. I immediately back up. The smoke and intense lighting make for a surreal experience. Everything blurs on the edges, and all I can see are Oksana's blue dukes crashing down on me from both sides. Sensing the ropes at my back, I turn my head, throw my hands up to cover myself and shout: "Wait a second, wait a second! I'm not getting this!" A wannabe tough-guy, but a coward at heart.

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