Kallia Kourouni Interview: Pink Tyson overcame depression and that was just the beginning!

In her first major interview since winning the WBC International Championship in Mexico, Kallia Kourouni talks to Fitshop about battling depression, she reveals her next step challenging for the WBC Silver belt, and working with Mayweather Sr.

Interview by Angelos Rouchotas

She is the pinkest fighting machine out there. She is involved in dance and theater, but in the same time she is flattening opponents in the ring and wins one title after another at international level in boxing. Kallia Kourouni states that she is just getting started after her triumph in Mexico at the home of Dayanna ‘La Guerita’ Gonzalez. Victory which won her the WBC International title in the super featherweight category.

kallia kourouni is sponsored by fitshop for more than ten years

She even achieved it with a Technical Knockout in the seventh round after a series of 22 punches! The Mexicans couldn’t believe their eyes and sought an explanation in the Spartan fighting spirit, which Kourouni proudly declares that possesses, as she originates from there.

The elite Greek fighter has pursued her dream in Germany, England and now lives and trains in Las Vegas, pursuing a career in the USA.

” Everything has come from my hands and boxing,” she says after returning home from the USA. “Money has never been a priority in my mind. But surely since I turned my hobby into a profession, I am feeling blessed. Thank God, I get paid quite well. I certainly have not reached the level of Mayweather, but that is the goal of my manager and my team. My goal is to acquire many titles and I have a long way to go to achieve it. The higher you go, the paying check follows accordingly. It is a kind of recognition of your success. I feel blessed, but I never focus on that.

The Champ is… pink

On March 28, Kourouni got the greatest victory of her career, against Gonzalez, reaching her record of 14-2 & 4 KOs. In fact, on the day of the weigh-in, the Mexican appeared overweight for the super featherweight category. Disadvantage with which Kallia has learned to live and feed from:

” On the day of the match my opponent was like a heavyweight. I weighed around 61, she was definitely 65+. I was anxious regarding my weight because I am a professional, it is a matter of dignity, I would not want to embarrass my team. I felt bad about my opponent’s behaviour, because I hadn’t drunk water or eat for 48 hours. I got my period the day before, which is a woman’s nightmare because you gain weight whether you like it or not. So I was deprived of food and water to be correct in weighing. In the end I was even lower. Besides, I like to fight with heavier opponents because they are slower.”

Kallia had been at Tijuana for four weeks, in order to train with Miguel Reyes and Mario Mendoza. In addition, she had the opportunity to meet the great Jackie Nava, a boxer who was an inspiration to her in an early age. However she rejects the word idol and the reason has to do with… Michael Jordan:

” I don’t have idols. Role models and people I admire, yes. Since I practice an individual sport, I am a little selfish willingly or not. If you want to succeed in such sports you have to be your own hero. You may have as role models people from other sports that you value. For example, I am inspired by Michael Jordan . It does not matter if he is not a boxer, he is a great inspiration to me. His mentality, his character and generally as an athlete. His devotion.

One of these inspirations is Jackie. It is difficult for a woman to admire another woman. But I believe in myself and I like to recognize a woman either she is beautiful, or successful in her work, a good mother, or a successful boxer. Jackie is one of them. She is 41 years old, much older than me, so before I even started my career when I watched her games on YouTube, I said ‘wow’. When you train and have a woman next to you for whom who you feel awe, you say that I am doing something right. Because great athletes in any sport do not like to share the same space or time from their training with someone lesser. So it was a sign of acceptance and recognition of my value. It was an early triumph before the fight”.

Fighting the ghost of depression

However, the most important battle in Kourouni’s life was not given in the ring. None of the 14 opponents she levelled came close to brought to her knees as the scourge of professional sports: depression. Just when she was about to take off her career and make the leap to WBC, Kourouni suffered a cruciate ligament rupture. She was forced to stay many months out of action, away from home and her family.

” I was a little hesitant to talk about depression at first. Especially for my family because in Greece, as it remains a taboo subject. When you have learned for years to have a routine, training eight hours a day, and suddenly you are on a couch, you do not walk well, you are on crutches and you can not run… This threw me psychologically to the ground. So I started eating, as I love good food. But I always had been restrained. My body was changing. I take part in the 58kg category and I usually move to 62-63kg, but at that time I reached 75 “, she stresses, as she is now trying to raise awareness for the ‘monster’.

” I was suffering from severe depression, panic attacks, anxiety. I brushed my teeth by force and not every day if I did not have to meet someone. I did not even want to take a shower, except to eat and cry. Fortunately I met a very good Greek psychiatrist in Brighton, where I live. At first I went to a psychologist, but they referred me to a psychiatrist so that he could prescribe me pills to sleep on. I could not even sleep. I may not have slept for two days in a row.

We talked, I started with some light pills, so I could sleep. If you say that, they call you crazy ‘did you take crazy pills?’. This lasted for about five months. But when I started training, I saw that the pills had a bad effect on sparring. I looked at myself in the mirror and said that if you want to be a champion, you have to do a restart.

When I returned to training, my appetite did not return. Of the two pills which I used to take at night, I reduced them to one, but even that made me drowsy and my sparring was awful. It was not something a boxer could put up with. I had to stop, even though my doctor was wary. For the first three weeks when I quit, it was like quitting drugs. My body was addicted, I was sweating at night, I had terrible nerves. Like someone with cocaine addiction, I had these symptoms. I set a goal that I had to return to competition and win the biggest fight of my life. Mental health is the worst disease. I hit my knee, I had surgery, but it does not heal like that. Many get over it, some live a life of depression”.

I was thinking of retiring

After she stopped the treatment, Kourouni started to find herself again. The victories followed one another and the recent one was her third after injury.

” I feel not so proud of the WBC, but especially because I came out of a big nightmare. Because we have seen athletes like Tyson Fury and many others who had gone through something similar, started drugs to curb it.

Fury had said he was on the verge of suicide and called his father at the last minute. It is a disastrous disease. I had never reached this level, nor did I have such thoughts, but I had no interest in life or training.

Before talking to the psychiatrist I came to want to retire. I have been in what I am doing since 2010. No holidays, no time-outs. There are many sacrifices. It comes a time when you say to yourself ‘you are 29 years old and you have not done anything, you have not lived’. I loved and hated boxing at the same time.

As time went on, jealousy began to surface. In a good way, though. I saw athletes succeed from whom I considered myself better. Jealousy does not make sense if you want to retire. So I realized that boxing was not ‘dead’ inside me. I am very competitive, without wishing anything bad for anyone. That woke me up. “

I was preparing my ring attire with my grandmother

Americans are always trying to tie a fighting sport to an interesting storyline and a person that people will be interested in. The battle of “Money” Floyd Mayweather with the cocky Conor McGregor was promoted as “the biggest battle in the history of martial arts” because of the interest that the characters of the two attract, not exclusively for their (undeniable) athletic ability. The same perspective was seen in the USA for “Pink Tyson”, Kallia’s nickname. However, a pink fighter did not go unnoticed and given her special appearance, she did not always make a positive impression.

The way I dress is very popular in America. They appreciate a peculiar character, when they see it. I always had been like that, but in Greece I came across a lot of criticism, as in England. We are more conservative and do not have a professional level in boxing. So when I started in 2010 and made my own attire, there were no people to make you custom clothes. I was preparing my clothes with my grandmother when I was still competing in kickboxing. They were telling me that I was resentful, that I was a clown. During the weigh-ins when I was sponsored by a lingerie company and wore their underwear, the same. I just wanted to state who I am not to provoke. I’m a girl and I want this to come out loud. Being a war machine in the ring, does not mean I am a peasant outside it. However, people were not ready to accept me.

Even my teacher George Mallios or my mother, who said ‘Zambidis is wearing plain black shorts, what are these you are wearing’. Mallios was bothered by my hair. ‘You are a fighter, you are not an artist’, he used to say. And I replied ‘no, I’m an artist and I can be a fighter at the same time’. Even now I receive criticism. There are other athletes who are more conservative, this does not indicate anything about our abilities.

Taylor is an accomplished athlete, more conservative. It does not mean that because Kourouni dresses up like that, she is not a good athlete. Check the records, the titles, the wins. You will no longer focus on appearance. I used to be told to give up boxing and become a model. Now I have proved that you can do everything. Like a woman who can be a good mother, husband and professional.”

The inspirer of Pink Tyson

Kourouni’s first step abroad, took place after a National tournament in Cyprus, where Germans located her and invited her there to be tested. It was there that the famous ‘Pink Tyson’ stuck to her.

” The nickname was coined by my first manager,” she recalls . “My brother bought me the tickets to fly to Germany for ten days try-out. On my first appearance there, they saw me in pink clothes and looked at me strangely. I would spar with a European champion who looked at me as if I was a clown. At some point she stopped and Mr. Reiner laughed. He told me ‘you are so pinky but heavy hitter like Tyson: you are Pink Tyson. That’s how it went down.

In England I was told to change it. However, it is so catchy that in the gyms abroad the coaches call me that so as not to be confused with the Greek name Kallia”.

Dance, theater and boxing gloves

Who said that a top athlete should be dedicated only to their sport and not try anything else? Kourouni proves that her nature is not limited to the ring and she has Ronda Rousey as an example.

” I grew up in Mani. I am always a bit angry. On the other hand, I am an artist inside. Especially now that I’m in Las Vegas I want to chase the artist dream, find a manager. Great athletes like Ronda Rousey and others have not finished any drama or dance school like me and they have done quite well. So if my name grows stronger in America, I want to make the most of my studies in dance and theater. My manager pushes me into this because he thinks that it fits very well with my personality “.

Kourouni’s personality is such that it helps her not to think about the pain or the possibility of defeat before entering a battle.

” I am just worried. I have never competed in Greece and I am always the underdog. I am anxious not to be wronged if a match is judged on points. I am not invulnerable, but I am fearless. I do not care if they hit me. I have received so many punches from men in sparring already. So I do not think I can feel pain from another girl. Getting in the ring with a better one and losing is part of the game. Many times you do not even lose to someone better. Tyson and Ali are legends and have lost to some who were no better. It happens. The fear is not to be wronged, not to be knocked out. I just want to win. “

Nevertheless, it often happens that she does not see the face of her opponent in the ring, but people who did not believe that she could get where she is today.

” Myself, the work I have thrown in and the uncertainty that various people have created in me by challenging me”, are her motivations. ” I shut them up. There is no greater pleasure than this, no matter how much money you make. I like to prove people wrong. I had a list from 2010 for this. A coach in the National when he had me written off, for example. But he eventually admitted he was wrong. Of these 12-13 people, nine have admitted it. But even if 3-4 others haven’t, I know I have proven them wrong. And they still haven’t seen anything. “

Next goal the Silver belt!

Asking Kallia what is that they have not seen, she does not hesitate. As she does in the ring, she strikes immediately, revealing exclusively to Fitshop.gr that her challenge for the WBC Silver belt is next.

” I will fight for the WBC Silver title. I found out after the match. The president told us that I am very good for International, so I will play in Silver. And if I get that as well, I will fight against Harper, who holds the WBC Gold. It is a huge reward. This victory is a great gift, a gift I worked for. There was no better feeling than for the official WBC referee to stop the fight. My opponent was 5-3, she had never been KOed. The way it happened, with so many punches. And after my manager informed my for the next step… “.

at MAYWEATHER’s gym

Mayweather‘s impression

Kourouni had though more news. In Las Vegas she trains at the Mayweather gym, where he had the opportunity to meet him.

” In the US, everything is completely professional. Here I had Mallios, Gidakos, Kritikos as coaches. You will make fun, you may drink a coffee with them. There is just about training. Mayweather’s gym is highly professional. But when you grow up in Nikea, Athens and suddenly you find yourself in Las Vegas meeting Floyd Mayweather personally, the change is unbelievable.

When I met Mayweather, even though he knew nothing about me and who I was, he told me ‘you are a star’. I asked him how could he tell. “I see the way you are dressed, how you move,” he replied. ‘Mark my words’.

Upon her return to the States, Pink Tyson’s relationship with Money is likely to become multifaceted, as she is in talks to be trained by his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr:

” We are in talks, perhaps have his father as coach. I fit better with older coaches. It gives me more confidence. This cooperation will be a gift from God. It has been discussed with my manager, but we will see when I return to the USA “.

In five years…

Kourouni has pierced the ceiling of Greek boxing and does not stop exploring new perspectives. Starting on May 15 and her bareknukkle debut at BYB where she has agreed for two matches. Her fight against Christine Stanley will be for the World Lightweight title, with the two of them fighting with bare hands! And not only that…

” I will make my professional debut in MMA this year. Most likely Inficta or Bellator. I do not rule out the UFC, because I train at the Extreme Culture in Vegas, which is the largest gym, with many famous UFC fighters”, she comments about the cage she aspires to meet soon.

Having already achieved so much and with the best to come, can Kallia predict what new heights ‘Pink Tyson’ can reach during the next five years?

” I feel like I’m still in the beginning. I want to become undisputed, to get all the titles in my category. But I am multiweight, so I would like to get titles in different weight classes. Either at 135 where Taylor is, or at 150 against Clarissa Shields. I want to fight against the best, I want to beat the best “.

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