“She’s here and she’s a riot!”
The “she” he was referring to is Irina Alekseeva, the 32-year-old newcomer seated next to him, running her hand through her bouncy, vertical hair just a few days ahead of her debut opposite fellow judoka Stephanie Egger.
Had I not spent the morning combing through Alekseeva’s Instagram page and its many playful videos, I might not have been prepared for what was about to transpire, and may have been thrown off by Nagorny’s initial declaration-slash-warning. Alekseeva sits next to him, exuding personality and playfulness without uttering a word, and as soon as she hears the first question, we’re off to the races.
“I want to splatter her across the cage,” begins Nagorny, funneling Alekseeva’s words back to me as she smiles, winks, and generally mugs for the camera to his right. “I want to smash her in.
“I want to make sure to get my 50 grand and the money for the fight as well, then go back home to Russia and just sit there, lavishly enjoy all my riches. Then, with the little money that is left over, maybe come back here for a month, train some more, smash whoever else is in front of me, get another 50 grand, and just keep going that way.”
Decked out in her UFC Venom fight kit, Alekseeva listens intently as Nagorny translates each question, locks in to provide a thoughtful response, and can’t sit still while he speaks.
She laughs and slides off camera as he relays her response about her penchant for dancing and whether it will be on display this weekend.
“Everything depends on how the weight cut goes,” he says as she bobs and weaves in and out of frame. “Everything right now in my head is about the weight cut. With the weight cut, my mood is directly affected by it, so if the weight cut goes well, my mood will be good.”
While there is no question that Alekseeva is a naturally engaging and charismatic individual, part of her uncontainable energy likely comes from the fact that she hasn’t competed in 18 months and is finally on the eve of making the walk to the Octagon for the first time.
Just 4-1 as a professional, Alekseeva last competed in October 2021, securing a unanimous decision victory, and signed with the UFC several months ago, but the combination of delays in securing her visa, a shoulder injury that forced her under the knife, and finding a date to make her debut, have kept her on the sidelines longer than she would have liked.
“It took a long time to get my visa and then when I finally got my visa, I had shoulder surgery, so I had to recover from my shoulder surgery, which took a little time,” Nagorny offers in response to a question about her time away from active competition while Alekseeva chomps on the UFC logo on her top; the hyperactive sidekick always trying to get a laugh while the translator conveys her thoughts. “Since December, we were trying to get on some sort of card, but they couldn’t find anything for me.
“I was ready to fight from December, but it took a while for me to get a spot on a card, so now we’re here and now we’re ready.
“For now, everything is a little blurry because the weight is not in place yet, but once the weight cut is done, that’s when I’m gonna have a different feeling,” he says, as Alekseeva pulls the collar of her shirt down sharply, revealing the words “Love Me” inked across her sternum in block letters. “But I’m still taking this as just a brawl — I’m gonna come out there, throw fists, and I’m gonna get hit hard.
“Once that’s done, I’m gonna take in the experience and everything that has happened.”
Because of her background in judo and general fighting style, Alekseeva carries the nickname “Russian Ronda,” a nod, of course, to former UFC bantamweight champion and Hall of Fame inductee Ronda Rousey.
Sports history is riddled with up-and-coming athletes saddled with similar nicknames that wilted under the pressure, unable to manage a modicum of the success their namesakes achieved while constantly being reminded of the lofty expectations that come with such a moniker.
But Alekseeva has a great perspective on her nom de pugilism.
“No pressure on me whatsoever,” begins Nagorny, offering up the fighter’s thoughts on her nickname while she bats her eyes at the camera and tries to strike a serious pose before ultimately cracking. “I’m enjoying this! I like that my nickname is ‘Russian Ronda’ and because of that, people are already in love with me, they want me here, and I didn’t even do anything and they’re already showing me so much affection.
“If I come out there and I show a great fight, they’re gonna love me even more. They’re gonna love me now and in my next life, whatever that may be.”
In reality, people might fall in love with Alekseeva regardless of her efforts against Egger this weekend, as she has the kind of magnetism that automatically makes you smile. She’s playing for laughs and amusement as we work through the questions and responses, trying to pull my attention from Nagorny's translations each time he begins to speak.
But her genuine excitement to be here, competing on this stage, just a handful of hours away from finally stepping into the Octagon is undeniable, as well, and if all goes according to plan this weekend, Alekseeva will have the kind of great performance that will make people love her even more.
“I’ll come out and I’ll f*** her up!” Nagorny says as the debuting bantamweight finally sits still, looking straight into the camera after being asked how she achieves a victory on Saturday night.
And after that?
“We’ll go to a club, we’ll dance and party and drink some beers,” he adds, translating her response in real time, because she keeps changing her mind in regards to her celebratory drink of choice. “No — martinis! No — limoncellos.”
Irina Alekseeva is here, and she’s a riot.