Only two years ago, nobody knew Václav Mikulášek (alias Baba Yaga) – a kid from Ostrava, bullied so hard as a child that it made him take up martial arts. Although his beginnings were humble, now he’s known to win most of his matches in the first round. Losing his last match in December to Karlos Vémola only gave him more motivation to carry on. In his interview with LP-life.com, this former bouncer and cook confesses what MMA means to him, as well as his backup plan for when he’ll have to quit it.
Do you know, who else shares the Baba Yaga nickname?
There’s that John Wick movie.
But my nickname didn't come from that movie. Everyone thinks it did, but I'd had it even before the movie came out. My friend, who made the „Oktagon“ clothing – that’s a Polish brand, nothing in common with the octagon I fight in – used to tell me I looked like a bogeyman, like a Baba Yaga. And that we should use it for some merch. It stuck with people, they like it, I approve of it, too.
First who came to my mind when I heard your nickname was John Wick, the guy who killed three people with a pencil.
I love that movie, but really, there’s no connection.
In an interview with you, I've read that you don’t consider yourself handsome.
Take a look at Miloš Petráček, that’s a handsome guy. Or Matúš Juráček. They’re the „models“ of MMA. Compared to them, I’m a monster.
That’s an awful thing to say about yourself.
At least I’m honest.
But I don’t think you’re a monster.
I don’t think much of myself; it’s better that way. Or maybe I’m doing it on purpose, like a woman saying „I’m fat, I’m ugly“ to make everyone say „Come on, you’re beautiful“ (laughs). No, I’m kidding. That’s just how it is – like the ears, we were talking about that with the guys (Ed. note – MMA fighters often have deformed ears).
That’s right, I don’t like that on MMA fighters. Those ears are awful.
There’s no point in getting it fixed, though. The surgery costs 16,000 CZK per ear. No point doing that, while I’m still fighting.
How does your usual day, your training look like now, in the times of the coronavirus pandemic?
Same as always. I’m going to have a match at the end of April, so I’m preparing already. In the meantime I was helping David Hašek prepare for Milan Ďatelinka; we all were. I finished my almost year-long preparation for Vémola and more or less got back on that train again. I get up in the morning, go to training, take a nap, have lunch, then back to the gym in the evening.
You and Vémola were provoking each other in that match pretty hard. How do you feel about fighting/losing to him in hindsight?
It was all so tiring, the training took 8 months, which was mentally exhausting for me, not to mention all the media hype. Not that I cared about it, it’s just that every day someone called to get an interview or coverage. Some of them you can’t refuse, others you’ll say OK, maybe later, and they keep calling on and on, it’s neverending. Sadly, I let myself get carried away by that, now I think I should have accepted his first offer, to fight in a different weight category, I was in my best shape back then.
But, you know, it’s easy to be wise after the event. I lost, I did almost nothing at all, it just ended how it did. About what I said after the match... I think that in the cage I was the bigger man about it, I congratulated him and all. But what everyone reacted to was the press conference afterwards, where I was vulgar to him and talked to him the same way he talked to me.
So why were you vulgar?
I don’t like people who enjoy to humiliate me unnecessarily after I’ve already said they won. I never humiliate anyone. I’ve had enough of that in my childhood, and I don’t know why should I let him do that. We’re only human, both the same, what makes him something more? He won, fair and square, I admitted that, no excuses. I would never make excuses, even if I went to that cage with a broken arm, I wouldn’t say a thing.
You seem to put a lot of emotions into everything.
That’s just who I am.
I suppose it carries over from your childhood?
I guess so.
Haven't you thought about doing something about it? Maybe going to a therapist?
I used to go before, for other things. I’ve had my problems, but I believe I've calmed down a lot. It’s not what it used to be, if people knew the old me, they’d surely think I’m a complete spaz (laughs). People know me like this, they know who I am. Those who like me don’t care, they know I’m always like this, that I don‘t change for the camera. I know that Karlos is a completely different person away from the camera. Once they start filming, he’s a different man.
Arrogant. It’s what people either love or hate him for. I never change, I don’t have a camera face. I’m the same 24/7, that’s who I am.
Do you ever visit your childhood home in Bohumín?
Sure, every weekend.
Do you still have any friends there?
Of course, I have lots of friends.
That’s great, I thought they were mean to you, bullying you even, and that made you work on yourself.
A lot of people gave up on me super quickly, just because my performance wasn’t up to par with other guys. Many people disliked me, and they still do, but that doesn’t mean I have no friends at all; I still have some left.
You already had problems in elementary school...
Yes, I was bullied a lot. But it’s still nothing compared to what other people went through.
I can’t imagine coming in front of my school and getting beaten up just because I have, say, big ears.
Or because you don’t fit in. I don’t find that as anything extreme today. I’ve seen it many times in other people, even children told me about it.
What did they say, what happens to them?
A child comes to the school gates, and there’s the „alpha“, the kid running the whole show. He’s having a bad day, got a whooping from his dad, or yelled at by his mom, something’s missing in his life. It all comes from the parents. Either he’s a spoiled brat, or something is wrong in his family and he takes it out on the others. When I was in therapy, we talked about it, he explained it to me. This is just how it works. Or someone is just plain mean and enjoys hurting others. I’m from Bohumín, after elementary school, everyone went to high school to Bohumín as well, I was the only one to go studying to Ostrava. I lost contact with everyone, started working as a bouncer at discos. And when they began to appear at the discos, I saw how they behaved, and it was even worse than at school.
How do such people behave at a disco?
They were all „hi and hello“ at the door, that was while they were still sober. Then it got the same like at school – breaking glasses, calling people names, yelling at waitresses, and all of that so pointless.
You said you got stabbed with a knife in a street fight. Who did it to you?
I got stabbed in a bar, they stabbed me in the arm, it happened in Ostrava. A guy was yelling at a waitress, so I took him to the side, talked to him and he didn’t listen to me. He pushed me, so I grabbed him by the throat, slammed him into a wall and suddenly I’m feeling something hot.
What did you feel at that moment?
Nothing, I was shocked. Pure shock.
These people you had conflicts with, they see you now being successful and popular. Have you ever gotten any kind of hindsight reaction from them?
Some of them, yes. But not all of them. Some have reached out to say – we were just kids back then, we were young and stupid, sorry, I’m rooting for you now. Those people I forgive, I always say to myself, whatever, can’t turn back time. What difference does it make, if I beat him up now, the reality won’t change anyway. Some are happy for me, they shake my hand and say they didn't expect this, that's a reaction I like. As for the rest of them, they sit at home, wallowing in their issues, and that makes me even happier – to see they’re mad about it.
You said your most beautiful memory was of your whole family being together. When did it go wrong with your dad and why?
My father was always a bit different. He was adopted, he has Polish parents.
Have you ever met your Polish grandparents?
No, I've never met his real family.
Was he aggressive?
In the beginning, he wasn’t, not at all, he was normal. Then I took up box and sports, and at that moment he turned weird. Even when I won something, he would still belittle me that I was doing it wrong and taunt me. There even was some violence towards my mom. Kids often get some savings from their parents when they’re eighteen, so my mom was saving money for me and he withdrew it all, without telling me or her. He was a gambler, he played slot machines. He was beating my mum, and at one point, something snapped in me and I beat him up because of her. Then I went to Ireland and my mom called me there, that she’s in a hospital, that he came to her workplace to beat her up.
He battered her so hard that she ended up in the hospital?
Did he at least go to jail for that?
No, he just got probation.
And you haven't seen him since?
I haven't seen him in ten years, and I hope I never see him again.
This kind of people, if they see their family member being successful and popular, they try to get in touch, take some advantage of it.
He knows there’s no point.
Such history must have a great impact on your image of your future family. Do you even want one?
I definitely do. We all want someone to carry on our bloodline. My sister already has a kid, and I want some, too.
What are you doing about it?
So far, nothing (laughs).
But there’s a lot of girls in MMA.
And that’s my problem exactly. I’m already hard to get along with. If I’m in a relationship with a woman, she doesn't have it easy with me – if I dislike something, I don’t hold back, I have a temper. Not gonna lie, none of my breakups was the woman’s fault, I’m always saying all of them were my fault. Back when I was younger, I cheated, but now that I’m older, I see it differently. It seems so pointless, like why, if you want to build something with someone, why build it on lies. I know they say that the best relationships are those built on lies today, but it seems like hogwash to me. I used to be a bodyguard for wealthy people, their wives. I know how they behave, what their lives look like. Money isn‘t everything.
What type of woman do you see yourself with? There’s plenty of girls circling around you.
I admit there’s been some interest in me, but that’s not because of the real me, Vašek. It’s because of Vašek Oktagon.
Do you think it’s all about your fame?
Definitely. If they had met me seven years ago, when I weighed 140 kilos and there was no Vašek Oktagon, I doubt this type of women would even look my way.
You were 140 kilograms?
Yes. I liked to eat. I lived in England, I’m a trained cook.
But that’s sexy, if a man cooks.
Lots of girls say that. I never worked in fast foods, I cooked in hotels and nice restaurants, because I enjoyed it. Then I got injured, didn’t train for a year, and English food is a pain, full of calories.
What kind of injury was it?
Well, not really an injury, it was a little glitch in my adrenal glands. I was completely done for after a moment of any exercise.
How are your kidneys today?
It’s a birth defect that I accelerated with brutal weight loss. I lost over 50 kilos, so I accelerated this defect as well, one of them is basically defunct. I have to watch it now, go to the doctor’s for follow-ups. They threatened me I’ll have to have surgery, but I dodged it for now.
Do you mean a transplant?
Yes, they said it would be better that way.
But that would put you out of MMA.
They say to me all the time, on many different doctor’s visits, that MMA is out of the question. I understand their point of view, that they’re trying to find the best solution for every person that won’t be threatening for us. But for like 90% I think that’s rubbish, the patient should do what he feels he can handle. When I went to a different specialist, he said it was okay, so I went with that.
The main thing is how you feel.
Exactly. Sometimes I really feel like quitting, when it hurts a lot. I had to take heavy, very unpleasant meds. Somehow I got over all of that, I found my way, how to keep it all within a norm of sorts, to not overdo anything. I don’t drink at all, I haven’t touched alcohol for over a year almost.
But you said before that if I gave you a million crowns, you would get drunk.
That’s just a momentary dream of mine (laughs). I can do four shots, tops, that’s all, and they have to be mixed with a soft drink. I haven’t drunk for more than a year, I went cold turkey.
What will you do when there’s no more MMA for you?
I’ll open a restaurant.
Hopefully, we’ll be out of the pandemic then.
Hopefully, we'll be out of the pandemic and I’ll be awfully rich (laughs).
You will get awfully rich from MMA?
Definitely not from MMA, more like from the cooking.
How comes? I thought MMA fighters earn tons of money.
That’s absolutely not true, that’s a lie.
But that’s what draws all the girls to you, we’ve already been through that...
They’re stupid. They don’t see the reality. There’s that moment of glory, it’s nice, we all know it. But since the beginning I accepted it can be over as quickly as it came. I don’t want to be living off the story how I was the Octagon guy. That’s hooey. One day they’ll forget me anyway, they forget everyone. How many today’s children know the name Emil Zátopek?
So you’re going to have a restaurant and tell customers stories of your matches like Rocky Balboa?
I think that at the time I’ll have it, people will have already forgotten. But maybe they won’t. That would be nice. But I don’t make such big plans. I’ll leave it up to fate.