The landscape of competitive grappling has undergone a profound transformation in the recent past. What was once a sport confined to the shadows, largely pursued by passionate enthusiasts, has emerged into the limelight. Now, there’s a lucrative dimension to jiu-jitsu, thanks to an increasingly expansive audience and a burgeoning interest in the sport.
In this dynamic tapestry, Danielle Kelly’s name is embroidered in bold strokes. Renowned not only for her formidable talent but also for her strategic professional choices, Kelly’s decision to ally with the combat sports promoter, ONE Championship, is particularly intriguing. In an era replete with promotional alternatives, such an exclusive alignment testifies to her confidence in ONE’s vision.
Today, September 29, marks a pivotal chapter in Kelly’s journey — her rematch against Jessa Khan. The stakes? The coveted inaugural ONE women’s atomweight submission grappling title. However, for Kelly, this match transcends personal accolades. It’s about forging a future for women in the sport. Speaking to MMA Junkie, she elucidated her alliance with ONE, saying, “ONE has pioneered the integration of submission grappling alongside its other combat offerings. Their commitment to grappling, especially women’s grappling, resonated with my aspirations.”
Indeed, Kelly’s association with ONE Championship is more than just a professional commitment; it’s a crusade to elevate the division. “I might not officially label myself as ‘the face of women’s grappling,’ but there’s an unmistakable association. With this platform, I aim to amplify the sport, especially for aspiring women grapplers,” she remarked with conviction.
ONE Championship’s innovative stance is particularly commendable. By tweaking traditional jiu-jitsu formats to make them more universally engaging, they’re bridging the divide between traditionalists and the wider audience. Kelly sheds light on this distinction, noting, “Many jiu-jitsu events, despite their rich legacy, are inscrutable to the casual viewer due to their intricate rule sets. ONE, however, champions a more dynamic, MMA-like approach, resonating with a broader audience.”
Yet, amidst the discussions of affiliations and techniques lies a more personal narrative for Kelly — one of legacy, rivalry, and redemption. The clash between Kelly and Khan is more than just a match; it’s an unfolding epic. An epic that has the entire grappling community awaiting its next chapter with bated breath.
Born in Philadelphia, Danielle Kelly steps onto the ONE stage today, determined to redress her previous bout against Khan. And while many view her as the underdog given her last performance, Kelly remains unfazed. At the OFN14 Virtual Press Conference, she candidly conveyed, “The tag of ‘underdog’ pertains to the past. Athletes are ever-evolving. Today, I stand ready, eager to showcase the culmination of my growth.”
Kelly’s ascent in the grappling world is nothing short of captivating. Her face-off with grappling stalwart Mei Yamaguchi in March 2022 heralded her arrival, catapulting her to instant fame, even though the match culminated in a draw. If the current rules for submission grappling were retrospectively applied, Kelly would’ve clinched that victory.
Her credentials might not mirror those of an IBJJF world champion, but Kelly’s achievements are undeniably impressive. Her encounters with elite adversaries like Sofia Amarante, Mariia Molchanova, and Ayaka Miura are testaments to her prowess.
Today, as Danielle Kelly faces off against Jessa Khan, the anticipation is palpable. If she amalgamates her learnings and experiences, her jiu-jitsu could very well be an unstoppable force on the mat.