As the sport of submission grappling witnesses an exponential rise in global viewership and participation, two of its most skilled artisans, Danielle Kelly and Jessa Khan, are set to redefine the game. On September 29th, at the much-anticipated ONE Fight Night 14 event in Singapore, they will vie for the inaugural ONE atomweight submission grappling world title. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and both athletes are acutely aware of the historical weight of this encounter.

“Danielle Kelly is a student of the sport,” proclaims the 27-year-old American grappling ace. In an interview with the esteemed combat sports outlet, Sherdog, Kelly elucidates her nuanced understanding of her adversary, “I feel like she’s gonna be really aggressive. You know she does really well when she’s in control… If you just settle with what she’s giving you, she’s gonna be strong from that.”

In a unique dynamic, this clash is not only a duel of skills but also a narrative of redemption for Kelly. The two jiu-jitsu black belts previously crossed paths in February 2021 in a no-gi matchup outside the ONE Championship umbrella, where Khan emerged victorious via decision. Since that formative contest, Kelly has been on a quest for redemption, which she considers as more than just a rematch but a redefinition of her professional arc.

Kelly, an affiliate of the Silver Fox BJJ academy, comes into this bout riding the momentum of consecutive wins. Her most recent accomplishment was a unanimous decision victory over Japan’s Ayaka Miura in February. Her fight record displays an impressive litany of wins against the likes of Cynthia Calvillo, Roxanne Modafferi, and former UFC strawweight women’s world champion Carla Esparza. Kelly’s professional journey has culminated in a ONE Championship contract where she currently holds an undefeated record of 2-0-1. 

While she’s extensively prepared for the bout, Kelly still retains a sense of caution. “So I feel like she might beat me, and try to put me against the cage and pull guard on me, like Tammi Musumeci did with Bianca Basilio and against Amanda Alequin,” she remarked, hinting at Khan’s tactical versatility and her preparation for every imaginable scenario in this consequential fight.

Jessa Khan, on the other hand, is a rising star with an already illustrious career at the age of 21. While she is preparing for her debut under the ONE Championship banner, she is no stranger to the championship gold. Khan is coming off a monumental victory, a gold medal at the 2023 IBJJF World Championship in June. Prior to that, she was the Cambodian flag-bearer at the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, where she also claimed a gold medal.

“My game is not about stalling,” Khan articulated during an interview with Alex Wendling, summarizing her high-octane approach to the sport. “Yeah, I mean, my game is not about stalling or like playing safe or like just going fighting at a slow pace. That’s never really been my game.”

Khan is not merely focused on the tactical elements of grappling; she’s aligned with the philosophical ethos of ONE Championship. The organization’s ruleset is structured to encourage intense action and deters stalling. This aligns perfectly with Khan’s natural game, which is focused on pursuing submissions relentlessly until the final bell tolls.

The world will be watching as these two athletes with intersecting yet distinct career trajectories face off. While Khan could solidify her burgeoning reputation as the best female grappler in the world, Kelly could redefine her legacy with a historic title win. Both athletes have acutely prepped, with Khan focused on an aggressive, unyielding game, and Kelly assiduously studying every aspect, every nuance, and every scenario that might unfold on the mat.

They are not just fighting each other; they’re battling for a place in the annals of submission grappling history. The inaugural ONE atomweight submission grappling world title is more than just a belt; it’s a marker of historical import, a designation that will echo through the annals of the sport for years to come. And whether it’s Khan’s youthful exuberance or Kelly’s quest for redemption that prevails, September 29 promises to be a watershed moment in the ever-evolving narrative of submission grappling.