Rising star Kelly Faszholz’s life thus far, resembles the award-winning 1976 film, ‘Rocky’. We all know the story of the underdog that shines in an opportunity of a lifetime. Faszholz got her shot at UFC Fight Night 83 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The opportunity was a dream come true and made possible by years of hard work and sacrifice. Behind the Rocky Balboa character is an immeasurable will and determination to succeed and overcome adversity. Kelly Faszholz’s rise to the UFC is no different.
The story doesn’t begin with the UFC. The thirty-one-year-old is originally from Texas, and began her martial arts career at the age of 25. One class at North Texas Mixed Martial Arts hooked Faszholz and the rest is history. Winning numerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments gave her the hunger to compete. Kelly took first at the IBJJF Pan American Championships and second at the IBJJF World Championships. Winning the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Regional Women’s Pro 135 plus division qualified her for the ADCC World Championships where she placed second. Kelly turned her attention to fighting and spent time at Octagon MMA with Coach Sayif Saud. “Kelly is a great athlete with an incredible work ethic,” said Coach Sayif. “She trained hard with the guys and always competed.” Even with all the success, Faszholz needed a break. She was struggling to balance her competition schedule, training, and four jobs. Her lease had run out and she was forced to live in her vehicle. It was time for Kelly to decide where she wanted her life and career to go.
Down but not out, Faszholz learned of the high-level training offered by David Terrell at NorCal Fighting Alliance in California. “Nasty” Nate DuCharme was her contact at the gym. In February of 2012, Kelly made the long trip to Santa Rosa, California with nothing but what was in her car. Not knowing how she would survive financially, her new team stepped up. “Through team connections, I was able to get a job and a place to live,” said Faszholz. “I was surviving.” Kelly’s striking wasn’t where it needed to be and boxing coach Raul Guerra immediately went to work. Guerra instilled solid fundamentals, footwork, and strategy. “The amount of time Coach Guerra personally invested into me and all the fighters on the team can never be repaid,” said Faszholz.
After a successful amateur career, the decision was made to turn professional in June 2013. She defeated Kristen Gatz by submission and scheduled her second professional fight for March 2014. A serious injury in training camp almost derailed Faszholz’s career permanently. She started to move on with her life and found a career. She worked as an assistant at the Marin County Jail in August 2014 and began transitioning into civilian life. The most painful year of the Texas native’s life followed. Kelly’s love for Jiu-Jitsu and faith helped her get through a series of events that led to her low point in June of 2015. An opportunity to fight presented itself and gave her the outlet she desperately needed. “I needed something to focus on, something to strive toward that had nothing to do with what was going on in my life,” said Faszholz. It was around this time she met Mike Hale of Hale Fighter Management Company. Hale is well-known on the Texas MMA scene. He turned his love for the sport into a successful business giving fighters the best opportunities to succeed. They both trained at NorCal and Kelly did not have any representation. “I was having to do everything as far as my career,” said Faszholz. “Mike came in and has done a great job.”
Victories in July and November 2015 set up a fight with highly touted prospect Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s bantamweight title at Legacy 50 in January 2016. The title was vacated by UFC sensation Holly Holm. The fight was scrapped when Shevchenko took a fight in the UFC on little more than a week’s notice. Shortly after, Sarah Moras was forced to pull out of her bout with UFC veteran Lauren Murphy and stars aligned for Kelly Faszholz. Hale phoned Faszholz with an opportunity to fight Murphy at UFC Fight Night 83: Cowboy vs Cowboy. The only catch was she had to be ready in 9 days. There were doubts about making weight but she wasn’t going to turn down the fight. “Be Rocky,” Hale said.
The UFC played a key role in getting all appointments scheduled for Faszholz’s medicals. President’s Day caused major scheduling delays, but the UFC flew the Texas-born prospect to Las Vegas and all was handled with ease. The days leading up to the fight were hectic, yet exciting for both Kelly and Mike. The opportunity was a first on many fronts. It was Hale Fighter Management Company’s first UFC fighter, and Kelly Faszholz was the first female fighter from Texas to grace the UFC octagon. With little time to focus on cutting weight, Faszholz was forced to cut weight later than usual. She made the 135-pound limit and had her sights set on shocking the world.
The three round battle with Murphy was nothing short of spectacular. Faszholz landed a solid right hand knocking Murphy down in the first round. She was bloodied late but fought on. The women exchanged powerful strikes for two and a half rounds with fans roaring for the two warriors throughout. Much like 1976’s Rocky, the contest would end in defeat for the underdog. Murphy finished Faszholz by securing full mount and landing multiple unanswered strikes with just seconds remaining in the fight. Kelly fought as hard and as long as she could, but Referee Bill Bookwalter was forced to step in. As Murphy celebrated her victory, Faszholz kneeled. Her face bloodied from the battle she had just fought against a talented veteran of the UFC. She was not thinking of the punishment she absorbed or the blood running down her face. “I thought of my parents,” said Faszholz. “I knew they would be concerned and I wanted to make sure they knew I was okay.”
Kelly was taken to the emergency room for further observation shortly after the fight. She had sustained facial fractures along with other injuries that required attention. A few family members accompanied her to the hospital and hinted at a possible fight of the night bonus. “At first, I thought they were just being family,” said Faszholz. “Trying to keep my spirits up and support me.” The possibility of fight of the night honors started circulating social media and gained momentum as the night wore on. When it was made official, Faszholz lay in a hospital bed but she was $50,000 richer. After successful facial surgery, Faszholz took time to recover and is now training. She signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC and the FOTN bonus helped pay off college loans and other financial responsibilities. “The bonus definitely helped my financial situation and now I want to be in the gym full-time,” said Faszholz.
In the highly competitive world of MMA, Kelly Faszholz represents all that is good in the sport. Fighters like her and management companies like Hale Fighter Management are underdogs in MMA, fighting for an opportunity. They fight for people sacrificing everything for a chance to chase their dreams. All New York politicians that voted against MMA need to visit with Kelly Faszholz. See for themselves, the talent this woman possesses and sacrifices she is willing to make to succeed. She embodies the true warrior spirit. If you are a die-hard or casual fan, Kelly Faszholz is a fighter you want to support. She fights to make her dreams come true. “I’m not going to stop and as Johnny Cash says, I won’t back down!”