With a record of 7-0-1, Finland’s Katja Kankaanpaa, makes her US debut at Invicta FC 5 on April 5th.
Facing fellow undefeated prospect Juliana Carneiro Lima, Kankaanpaa wants to establish herself firmly as a factor in the Flyweight division. On April 5th, the world will learn who Katja Kankaanpaa is, and why they call her “The Killer Bunny!”
Corey Smith: How long have you been involved in MMA, and how did you get started in the sport?
Katja Kankaanpaa: I started to train MMA about 7 years ago. Before that I did Karate but submission-wrestling started to interest me more and more, which led me to MMA. The first couple of years I focused more on submission-wrestling and I thought that I’ll never compete in MMA. But eventually I wanted to test my skills in competition, and I’m still on that road.
CS: What is your favorite discipline to train? Which aspect is more work than fun?
KK: It’s hard to say any specific discipline, because I really like to train everything! Maybe that’s “the thing” for me in MMA; that the training is so diverse and I won’t get bored with it. It only depends on the day whether or not I’m having fun with training. Luckily those days happen rarely, when I really hate to drag myself to the gym to work my butt off.
CS: You hail from Finland, which seems to be rather rare in the world of MMA. How popular is the sport in Finland?
KK: MMA is still pretty marginal sport in Finland, but the number of newcomers grows steadily year after year. The media coverage is better than what it used to be, but there’s still a lot of work to do. We need fighters who are entertaining and who have a good personality, so it’s easier to get the sport more well-known here. There’s really good MMA-events all around the year, such as Cage, Fight Festival and Botnia Punishment.
CS: What is the level of popularity for MMA in Europe? What countries seem to produce more fighters than others?
KK:United Kingdom is a really strong MMA-country in Europe, and they have a lot of great fighters. Cage Warriors FC is a big and well-known organization in Europe. MMA is a growing sport in Europe and UFC has visited in England, Germany and Sweden, and they have always had sold-out arenas. England is probably the biggest marketing area. Of course East-Europe with the lead of Russia is another story and there is the M1 organization, for example.
CS: I’ve read that you generally have to train with men, because women in your weight class are hard to find in your area. What are the advantages and differences of training with male fighters, but obviously then competing against a female opponent? Where do you train?
KK: Yes, usually I have to train with men and they’re bigger than me, because it’s hard to find guys who are as small as I am. Training with men definitely has its pros and cons. I have specific training partners and they know me really well. They know how to train with me in a way, which is beneficial and hard for me but also keeps the risk of getting hurt at minimum. Because men are physically stronger than women and their level of strength differs, they have to train more technically with me in some drills. There are a few female-fighters in Finland who I train with and I always try to finish my training season with them. The problem is that we live in different parts of Finland, so if I want to train with them I have to travel a lot.
KK: I train at two different gyms, in my hometown at MMA Seinäjoki’s gym and in Kauhajoki, at Kauhajoen-Kamppailu-urheilijat gym where my MMA-coach is Jarkko Latomäki. It takes me about an hour to get from Seinäjoki to Kauhajoki.
CS: Where did your nickname “The Killer Bunny,” come from?
KK: We have a bunny who is 8,5 years old and her name is Alice. She’s like a dog to us. She’s housebroken and when we are at home she can run and jump around the house. The thing is, that she can’t stand other female bunnies. Once my husband and I were visiting one of our friends who also have a female bunny. After we got back home I said to my husband that we have to change our clothes, so Alice won’t smell the other bunny. Well, my husband didn’t change his jeans and it didn’t take long before Alice noticed the smell and she attacked my husband and he got bit in his ankle! Ever since we’ve called her Killer Bunny, and eventually it became my nickname too. The difference is that I won’t bite.
CS: Your fight on April 5th, at Invicta FC 5 will be your first fight in the United States. What does fighting in the United States for the first time mean to you? When will you arrive in the United States?
KK: I will arrive in US with my corner men on Monday (April 1st). This really is my first time in the US and I’m very excited about that! I hope that me and my opponent will have a good and entertaining fight and that after the match it will be clear to everybody who Killer Bunny is.
CS: This will also be your first fight under the Invicta banner. How has your experience with the company been so far?
KK: I have heard only good things about Invicta and our cooperation has been really good so far. They have been very professional in all they have done, and I’m grateful for the opportunity they have given me.
CS: How familiar are you with your opponent on April 5th, Juliana Carnerio Lima? Have you been able to view any film of her previous bouts?
KK: I have seen some of her fights on YouTube, I have watched on what kind of a fighter she is but that’s about all I know. I don’t watch many videos, I just want to focus on my training and prepare myself for the fight. It’s my coaches’ job to watch all the videos, in my opinion.
CS: On the day of the fight, do you have any superstitions or routines that you have to perform? What is your mood like on fight night?
KK: I have no rituals or anything like that before my matches. When it’s time to warm-up, I usually start to focus more on my match and everything else disappears around me. Then all I can think about is the fight ahead of me.
CS: Most fighters would list the weight cut as the hardest part of being a fighter. Setting that aside, what do you consider to be the toughest aspect of being a fighter?
KK: For me, it’s the lack of time. I have so little free time because I also have a day job. Sometimes it’s hard to schedule my life with work, training and family.
CS: Outside of the gym and the cage, what do you enjoy doing for fun? What helps you unwind after a long day of training camp?
KK: I just like to be at home and spend my free time watching movies with my husband, for example.
CS: Lastly, MMA is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Who would you like to thank?
KK: I would like to thank my manager, coaches and teammates, who have taken very good care of me and trained me towards top condition! Special thank goes to my husband who has encouraged me to go forward. I would like to thank all my fans and sponsors too!