FanSided MMA was invited into the gym of Ukrainian MMA powerhouse Olena Kolesnyk who will enter the 2023 PFL season on Friday.
LAS VEGAS -- If you blink, you might miss Big Shot Boxing but once you step inside, it's a place you won't soon forget. It's one of the cleanest boxing gyms I've seen in a long time, with everything in neat working order. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with boxing-related art and for a moment, I thought I was in an art gallery and not a gym.
In the center of the gym is a traditional boxing ring where Ukrainian Olena Kolesnyk is working with her boxing coach Mark. It's a mix of jabs and jokes with a lot of laughing and even more hard work.
At interview time, Kolesnyk was just 11 days away from fight night and she jokes that she's marking the days like a prisoner in jail waiting for their release. It's just her and Mark, the front door locked and the private training session in full swing by the time I arrived.
“You know, I think I'm kind of a maniac inside," Kolesnyk told me after training was over. "I think sometimes I just enjoy to beat people. Like, you know, it's crazy to say but maybe it's the influence of Sean Strickland, where I trained with him at Xtreme Couture, but I'm just obsessed about this process. You know about these trainings. I just like to be in the cage. I just like to throw punches. I like when people try to punch me. So I like the process. But of course, if I see the sport and momentum right will come. I will not rush but I will throw my punch and somebody go to sleep.”
Kolesnyk is stepping back into the PFL season, this time at featherweight with a former foe and last season's 2022 lightweight champion, Larissa Pacheco as a favorite to make it to the finals. She's fought her twice before, and lost both times, making this season a do-or-die situation.
When I asked her what woman in the featherweight division she hoped to fight if she makes it to the championships, the answer came without hesitation.
“Larissa Pacheco, there is no other answer," she said. "There are no other opponents, there are no other girls. I go to sleep and I see the final, Ukraine against Brazil. So Bom dia, tutu bom. This is the person who I want to see in the final but before the final, I want to enjoy the process of other girls. I truly believe that it will be great for fans, it will be great for the crowd, especially with Kayla [Harrison] not there, two strikers, I'm wild, Larissa is strong as f**k, maybe this is the one girl I respect from this tournament. Hard worker, same as I am."
Speaking of Kayla Harrison, the 2021 PFL lightweight champion and one of the faces of the organization isn't competing in the season format this year. But that doesn't bother Kolesnyk who has her eyes set on other things.
“Well, do you want the truth? I don't give a s**t about Kayla. I just want to be the best this year," she said. "I want to win all the fights I want to shoot all the targets in 10. So for me personally, I just want to win the fight April 7, I want to win [against] Aspen Ladd. Who else comes against me in the cage, no matter. But again, on this level, we're all good. All these girls are good. We're all well prepared. But as soon as the cage closes, you better to watch out, nobody save you, besides the referee of course. Because I'm ready for murder, all of them. My rule is kill or be killed and it's never changed because this is where my insides.”
Kolesnyk will fight Aspen Ladd on Friday in Las Vegas on the main card of PFL 2. The preliminary card can be viewed on ESPN + and the main card on ESPN+ and ESPN2.