MMA champion retired, but not out of the ring
Undeterred, she went on to champion women’s MMA participation in South Africa. Having just retired from competitive MMA, she’s moving onto the next chapter.
“I started boxing to keep fit initially,” says Eliasov. “As I got better at it, I asked my coach if I could compete, only to be laughed at. Later, I discovered grappling and wrestling, for which I had a natural aptitude. I started to compete – sometimes in the men’s division as there were so few ladies in the sport – and did quite well.”
In 2009, a determined Eliasov became involved in MMA in spite of the fact that there was no opportunity for women to compete. She faced the challenge head-on, dedicated to finding a way to open the sport to women.
In 2010, her efforts paid off when she participated in her first amateur fight – the first MMA bout for women in South Africa. She went on to become the first woman in the country to compete at both amateur and professional level.
“I’m honoured to have been a pioneer of the sport,” Eliasov says. “Now there are many women competing in multiple-weight categories both as amateurs and pros.
“I’m proud that I helped change people’s views and shatter stereotypes. I gained the respect of fellow athletes, coaches and fans, some of whom had some rather discriminatory opinions initially.”
In late 2018, health concerns prompted a heart-wrenching decision to retire from MMA. “Over the years, I’ve accumulated many injuries. I was told I should stop fighting,” she says. “In the first round of my last fight, my jaw broke quite badly. I also suffered a broken nose in training just before the fight, so my nose was completely smashed by the end of the fight in round four.
“I underwent a five-hour reconstructive surgery for my jaw and nose. If I were to break my nose again, it would collapse completely. I made the decision that the risks of competing outweighed the benefits, and decided to retire.
“It was a tough decision. I was devastated. For an athlete, the end of a career is a significant loss, and it’s been quite an adjustment. However, with time, it’s getting easier to accept that a new chapter of my life has started.”
Eliasov found the perfect way to include MMA in this new chapter. “I realised how much the sport means to me, so I’ve decided to switch to coaching,” she says. “So far, I’m really enjoying being the coach, and I’m excited every time I work with my athletes.” Having also qualified as a boxing coach, she plans to invest time in coaching both disciplines.
Eliasov is also using her expertise to give back. “I’m now coaching at Fight With Insight Gym in Hillbrow. It’s an open-access gym founded by child protection and development specialist Luke Lamprecht. It caters to inner-city children and adolescents, most of whom face significant life challenges. Many of them are refugees, and all face socio-economic adversity.”
She has no plans to become involved in any competitive sport at the moment, and says she’s enjoying life without the constant pressure of training and maintaining a certain weight. Always active, Eliasov stays fit by coaching MMA, running, and boxing for fun.
As a psychiatrist, Eliasov feels that boxing can be hugely beneficial for certain patients, so she’s working on integrating her passions. “There are some exciting plans in the pipeline in terms of using boxing as a treatment for certain psychiatric illnesses, including autism, anxiety disorders, and behavioural problems,” she says.
Reflecting on what she’s learnt through competing in MMA, Eliasov says it’s about pushing the limits of body, mind, and friendships. “I’ve learned how amazing the human body is. That one can defy the limits of biology if one’s mind is strong enough. It’s quite empowering to know how far I was able to push myself mentally and physically.
“I’ve also learned that ‘impossible’ is just a construct of our own minds, and that not taking no for an answer is sometimes the best strategy.
“Through MMA, I’ve met people and made dear friends whom I wouldn’t otherwise have met as they come from different cultures and countries.”