His tatoos, his origins, his religious faith, « his » Judo, his « stars », his champions, his randori with Teddy (Riner), his « cauliflowers »… Toma Nikiforov tells us about him before competing at the World championships in Budapest (August 28th – September 3rd).
The Belgian Judoka of Bulgarian origins, 2016 European runner up and bronze medallist at the 2015 Worlds (-100 kg) is known for his amiability and his joviality in life, for his fighting spirit on mats. Let’s get enlightened…
By Ludovic Mauchien
The Budapest World championships are on the horizon. Let’s take this opportunity to better know Toma Nikiforov, 24 years old. Colourful character, like his Judo, the 2016 European Silver medallist, and 3rd at the 2015 Worlds after an epic struggle against Frenchman Cyrille Maret, is born in Belgium of Bulgarian parents who had just settled in Schaerbeek.
Judo is his great passion, his driving passion, his way of life. But Toma Nikiforov finds also his gas in other essences. The family, Bulgaria (he reds and writes the Cyrillic), the religious faith (he is an Orthodox Christian)… The Adidas Team member enlightens us…
Do your numerous tatoos mean something special ?
My tatoos mean a lot for me. Each one has a specific meaning. They are all symbol. It’s like a trip back to my origins. They are based on Bulgaria, where I often go, on my family, who mainly still live there, on religion too. Because I am also religious, I am an Orthodox Christian. That’s the reason why I have a cross in my back. That’s why I also have an old Bulgarian god sign on my chest.
I am not going to the Church every Sunday mais I always wear a cross on me. I am religious but not 100% devotee. That’s not possible anymore nowadays. I just do my best to be a good Orthodox Christian.
« Happy and proud to have my beautiful cauliflower ears »
What is your connection with Bulgaria ?
That’s indeed my 2nd country. I never lived there but, when I am there, I am absolutely not considered as a foreigner. The people are proud of me. They look at me as a star, even more than in Belgium. Sometimes, I don’t like it because I mostly go there to have fun, to see my friends and my family.
I speak the language like a true Bulgarian. I write and read the Cyrillic. I was raised as a little Bulgarian boy. I am not different than people who live in Sofia. Life is quite tough there. I am still happy to live in Belgium and to go back there et to do sometimes a bit of a reality check.
It seems that you are proud of your ears. Why ?
(He laughs) Because, for me, that’s the signature of fighters, judokas, wrestlers, rugbymen. When you are a fighter, when you practice a combat sport, you have your nose or your ears broken.
At its base, my ears are quite big and stuck out. My cauliflower ears are quite extreme, that’s true. I had them young. They are clobbered but, in any case, it’s a complex. On the contrary, I am happy and proud to have my beautiful cauliflower ears.
« My models : Inoue and Iliadis. I used to watch them on TV »
What is your vibe in Judo ?
The direct confrontation. For example, in tracks and field, they are in a corridor, they cannot touch their opponents. In Judo, That’s really a struggle. To fight with agression while following rules that lead you to respect and self control, is what most turns me on. Even if it is sometimes quite difficult for me to respect it because I am pretty much an impulsive guy.
My father was a judoka. He put me in and I loved it right away. I am in Judo since I was a little child. That’s where I get my vibe.
Do you have any models in Judo ?
Yes, of course, I have some, like the Japanese Inoue in the -100 kg division. He is a legend. There is also Iliadis. When I was young, I used to watch them on TV and I followed them on Internet.
Today, I watch each competition on my computer. I learn from everybody, from each category. If I see something interesting for me in the –66 kg division, I take it and I try it. It works, it’s fine. It doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter.
I really try to benefit from each category, from each Judoka of any weight division, in order to improve my Judo.
Are there some Judokas that amaze you ?
Yes, Urozboev from Uzbekistan, who won a bronze medal in the Olympics in -60 kg. He plays on both sides. He is really someone that amazes me at the time.
There is also the Georgian in +100 kg, Okruashvili. He also plays on the right side and on the left one. He is an off the charts +100 kg ! Because he weighs more than 110 kg, he is very fast and, despite all this, he is very powerful.
« Teddy Riner is a Martian ! The pleasure is great to fight him »
You didn’t say Teddy Riner ?…
(He laughs) Teddy Riner is a Martian ! He is not a human being ! I did a randori with him, in Houlgate (August 7th-14th). In fact, it has become so much the norm that he is an amazing champion, that people don’t say it anymore. He is so impressive, he is an alien for so long now ! He is 8 times World champion, 2 times Olympic one. It would not be possible anymore to complete such a record.
Indeed, for someone who weighs around 140 kg, the way he moves, the way he positions his body, the way he carries out his movements… Everything is perfect. He doesn’t make any mistake. So, yes, he is very impressive !
How is a Randori with him ?
That’s a pleasure, of course, because his Judo isn’t closed. With his Judo, you know you will fall down but you will also be able to attack, because he is tall and he cannot close all the holes around him.
You know you are going to have fun and, meanwhile, you feel that he enjoys a lot making some randoris. Moreover, I think he likes the way I do randori. I am not the type of fellow who waits and makes tactics. I am more like running into my opponent to play an open and fun randori.
But you have to be very well warmed up because he is very powerful ! If you don’t watch out, you can quickly be injured because of his weight. But the pleasure is great to fight him.
« I love rugby. That’s not a martial art but it’s a fighters’ sport »
Do you watch some other combat sports ?
I love rugby. That’s not a martial art but it’s still a contact sport. It’s a fighters’ sport. I respect that sport a lot. I watch it on TV with my dad. We are crazy about it. Besides, I also watch Boxing and K-1. From now on, I also watch more and more Taekwondo because many Belgians are good in it. Sometimes, I watch some MMA when it’s not too boring. I like it but, sometimes, the fights got too much on the ground. You have to be a true specialist to understand. I prefer when they have a standing up barney.
What would be your advice(s) to a kid who wish to become a champion ?
My best advice would simply be : « have fun and fight, attck ! ». That’s all I can tell him.
To follow :
Toma Nikiforov : « It’s totally crazy ! Nobody should be understated »