In war, death is never far away and all of life’s routines are interrupted. Even for those not directly involved in the conflict, life changes. For 77 days in 1999, Duda Yankovich experienced what war was like.

Born in Serbia in 1976, Yankovich was in her 20s when Yugoslavia was torn apart by bloodshed. She had already become the youngest karate black belt in Serbia by age 14, had competed on the National team and won championships in the sport in the early 90s and had transitioned to kickboxing, competing on the National team from 1995 through 1999. But, as NATO planes flew over the nation and dropped bombs on Belgrade, Yankovich’s life was changing.

“At that time, it was impossible to compete or train [because] the soldiers were held in the gyms,” Yankovich explained in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “And after that, the country was recovering and I still could not compete. So after everything passed, I decided to move to Brazil for a while, and here I am.”

The highly decorated kickboxer continued to add to her trophy case with numerous championships and gold medals after moving to Brazil. Then she turned her attention toward the world of boxing. Upon turning pro as a boxer, Yankovich rattled off five straight wins by some form of knockout. Eventually, she ran her record to a perfect 11-0 and captured the WIBA light welterweight title. However, in her 12th bout, she collided with Holly Holm, widely considered the best female boxer in the world. Holm, fighting in her native Albuquerque, handed Yankovich a TKO loss and relieved her of her championship belt. It would be the first of four consecutive losses in the boxing ring for Yankovich.

Yankovich (Alan Oliveira/Sherdog)

Now, Yankovich’s focus has shifted to mixed martial arts. The striker trains with Team Nogueira and has fought twice since making the transition. In her pro debut, she was submitted by Jessica Andrade in the first round of their Bitetti Combat 12 match-up.

“I was winning that fight until she got in a good position on [the] ground…where I was not that good,” Yankovich said. “That loss made me train more and get better.”

The Serbian bounced back in her sophomore effort with a submission win of her own against Daniela Cristina at Bitetti Combat 14. But at 36 years of age, time may be running out for Yankovich’s chances at accomplishing a similar level of glory in MMA to what she achieved in karate, kickboxing and boxing. Just don’t tell her that, though.

“In our days, the athletes last longer and many of them get better with years,” Yankovich explained. “I am still not done as an athlete, and MMA is something [that] I admired but did not have an opportunity to train. Coming to the Nogueira’s gym, it was not easy to avoid. [It] happened so naturally.”

Yankovich is far from the only kickboxer or boxer to make the move to MMA. In fact, the lady who knocked her from her throne in the boxing world has also transitioned to the sport recently. Could Yankovich avenge her boxing loss with an eventual MMA fight against Holm?

“I don’t have desire to get revenge,” the Serbian fighter admitted. “I don’t mix emotions and work. She was better at that time and she won, and if I meet her in MMA, I will fight, that is what we do.”

Right now, however, Yankovich and Holm are in two very different places. The latter is under contract with Legacy FC, whereas the former is set to step into the Invicta cage on July 13 at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. Yankovich’s opponent at Invicta FC 6 will be Miriam Nakamoto.

“She is a good fighter, has good kicking techniques, and experience, as I am as well,” Yankovich said of Nakamoto. “It will be a good fight.”

Like Yankovich, Nakamoto is relatively new to the sport of mixed martial arts. But also like Yankovich, Nakamoto has a history of championship titles. In her case, those honors come in the world of Muay Thai. With such lengthy resumes in the striking arts, will these two stand toe-to-toe for three full rounds?

“I don’t know, but with two strikers it is always a good fight,” the former WIBA champion said. “Both of our strengths are striking, so I think we both pose a big threat to each other.”

Nakamoto would already be 2-0 had her victory against Jessamyn Duke not been overturned due to an illegal knee to a downed opponent. The fight offered very little for Yankovich to learn about her upcoming opponent.

“I saw the fight,” Yankovich said. “I could see that she was comfortable defending the takedown, but that made her not kick that much. [There was] not much to be seen, short fight.”

When a war ends, people move on. They rebuild and return to the routines of everyday life. For Yankovich, winning has always been a part of that routine. She reached the highest levels in karate, kickboxing and boxing. Now, all that’s left for her is to do the same in the world of mixed martial arts.

Duda would like to thank her manager, Chris Vender, and Team Nogueira. She would also like to thank her trainers, all those who helped her, her physical trainer Claudio Pavanelli, nutritionist Miguel Vieira, and her sponsors: Idea Nutrition, Maxx Cursos and Analitica. Follow Yankovich on Twitter: @YankovichDuda

Top Photo: Duda Yankovich (standing) battles for position (Alan Oliveira/Sherdog)