When middleweight boxer Andrei Mikhailovich walks through the door of his West Auckland home, his macho swagger melts away and he switches into dad mode.
Although he's currently 12th in the world in his division and remains unbeaten, the Russian-born 24-year-old refuses to talk about the sport with his wife Ursh and his two toddler sons, Tarrintino and Arturo. The separation between these roles allows him to be his best self in both worlds.
"You need to know what hat you're wearing," Andrei explains, speaking to Woman's Day ahead of the Burger King Fight For Life, where he'll take on fellow boxer Francis Waitai to raise money for Mike King's mental health charity I Am Hope.
"Sometimes when I come home from training, Ursh has to tell me to calm down because I'm all revved up after I've had a sparring session. The way I view it is when I'm at home, I'm a father. It's a place for me to be quiet with my wife and kids. Ursh is a really good anchor for me."
Indeed, his Vanuatu-born wife isn't a fan of Andrei's alter ego "Renegade", insisting it's his softer side that has her besotted. Ursh, 24, tells us,"We quickly established that separation we have between boxer and husband. He's quite arrogant and cocky when he's the boxer. He needs to be hungry to fight, so the animal side of him comes out."
That "animal side" Ursh talks about was a problem when Andrei was a teen. He'd regularly have "punch-ups" with his twin brother Nikolai and also struggled with drug addiction. But it was severe bullying – which culminated in a cigarette being stubbed out on his chest – that motivated him to find boxing. "I thought to myself, 'I'm going start boxing so I can kick my bully's arse!'" he confesses.
However, Andrei soon found boxing gave him an outlet and a safe space for his anger, and he now has a more mature perspective on his bully.
"Looking back on my career and what I've already done to be number 12 in the world, I've kicked his arse hypothetically," he grins, adding that his success has allowed him to quit his job as an engineer to focus on boxing and his whānau.
"The one thing I value is that actions speak louder than words, so I'm trying to say less and do more with my life."
Born in Saint Petersburg, Andrei and his brother had a tough start to life, living in an orphanage until they were 18 months old, when a Kiwi couple adopted them and flew them to Aotearoa. Though Andrei has no memories of Russia, having children has made him reflect on the brutal reality of those early days.
"When I look at my own kids, I can't imagine being in Russia and having to give them up for whatever reason. That's such a heavy thing to have to go through. But having a wife and kids really filled a void for me. Before I had kids, I was quite cold towards a lot of things, but being a husband and father has really brightened my life."
After meeting at a party four years ago, Andrei and Ursh tied the knot last year – with Tarrin, now two, and Arturo, 17 months, by their sides – and the sports star can't stress enough how much of a pillar his wife is.
"Even though she's knee-high to a grasshopper, she tells me what's up, and has attitude and flair, which I absolutely love," he smiles. "I need someone strong-willed like her."
Meanwhile, Ursh is quick to applaud her hubby's journey. "He's such an honourable man," she says. "It's so nice to see him really grow from when we first started out to now. He's an inspiration to a lot of people, and it's amazing to be by his side and be part of it."
Despite his tumultuous days, Andrei is committed to keeping his tough side for the ring only.
"When I was younger, I used to say a lot of bad stuff in interviews and I still swear every so often, but now I'm more cautious because I know my kids are going to watch me when they grow up," he says.
"I want my kids to see me as a good, solid father and know that I'm doing my best by them."
- CompetitionsSign up to the Woman's Day newsletter and you could win a Saben Tilly bag
Woman's DayAug 11, 2022
- TVJenny-May's breakfast dream: 'I want to be the first woman to do this!'
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyAug 11, 2022
- Real LifeLife after Gloriavale: 'Our nightmare is finally over!'
Woman's DayAug 11, 2022
- Celebrity NewsMichelle's emotional journey from Hollywood to home
Woman's DayAug 09, 2022
- TVJacqui's unbreakable spirit: 'sensitivity is my superpower'
Woman's DayAug 08, 2022
- Celebrity NewsRadio legend Lorna Subritzky's shock cancer diagnosis
New Zealand Woman's WeeklyAug 05, 2022