Danielle Kelly Chats Previous Sambo Experience, Breaks Down November 18 Clash Against Russian Champ

While Silver Fox standout Danielle Kelly may be best known as one of Brazilian jiu-jitsu’s most exciting budding talents, she’s actually a sambo gold medalist as well. “This was about nine years ago – my old jiu-jitsu coach told me one day that there was a sambo tournament this one weekend,” she tells me. “And he thought I would be perfect for the tournament, since there were small girls.” Kelly laughs. “And being little Danielle, of course I was like, ‘Yeah, sure, I’ll do a sambo tournament!’”

At the time, Kelly had minimal understanding of the sambo ruleset. However, the combination of her high-level jiu-jitsu experience – and time spent on her high school wrestling team – ultimately earned Kelly a gold medal finish in her first ever sambo tournament. She followed it up with strong performances in subsequent sambo competitions, earning wins over several specialists in the sport.

It’s experience that should serve her well in an upcoming atomweight clash at ONE on Prime Video 4, where Kelly will be going toe-to-toe with Russia’s Mariia Molchanova, a multiple-time sambo world champion, in a submission grappling matchup. “I have trolls who are like, ‘Why don’t you just compete in sambo against [Mariia]?’” Kelly grins. “Well, I’ve competed in sambo. You can look it up on YouTube.”

“I haven’t decided yet [whether to pull guard or wrestle],” says Kelly. After all, she was impressed with Kade Ruotolo’s title-winning performance against another sambo champ, Uali Kurzhev, but also gives credit to Kurzhev for successfully taking Ruotolo down at one point with a well-timed foot sweep. 

“Kade’s opponent actually did pretty well, just being a strict sambo person,” says Kelly. “He was fighting out of a lot of stuff, and he was in danger at the beginning, and he got out of that – so I give credit where it’s due. [Mariia] might be the same way. It’s going to be really hard to just take her out right away. But with that being said, I feel like I’m a couple steps ahead of her.”

Though in the realm of pure sambo, Kelly might not quite boast Molchanova’s level of competition experience, ONE Championship’s submission grappling ruleset is designed to test what the promotion values in grapplers above all else: the ability to finish an opponent.

As such, the Silver Fox star remains confident that she outstrips the Russian in several key areas of the game: “Just watching her matches, I feel like my takedowns are much better, I feel like if I get to the ground, if I sweep her, if I get into a leglock exchange, I’m going to be way ahead of her.” 

“I’ve been mixing up a lot of things,” Kelly shares. “So, I think that whatever she gives me, I’m going to be a step ahead.” 

While Kelly vs. Molchanova isn’t a title bout, Kelly is hopeful that a strong performance in this match will draw more eyes toward the card as a whole – and build more interest in women’s submission grappling on the ONE stage. 

Though a women’s atomweight belt in submission grappling may still be the subject of mere speculation, Kelly knows that a win on Friday might just set her up for a title shot – and she’s already thinking about potential opponents for that battle. On her wish list? AOJ’s freshly crowned IBJJF Pans champion, Jessa Khan, who joined the ONE grappling roster over the summer. Kelly would also love to face ONE’s current atomweight MMA queen, Angela Lee, in a submission grappling showdown. 

“I feel like Angela’s gonna be the contender,” says Kelly. “I’ve also faced Jessa before, and I felt like I wasn’t a hundred percent in that match, and I think [a rematch] would make a lot of sense.”

Kelly expresses a lot of admiration for Angela Lee’s submission chops – that is, in an MMA ruleset. Pure jiu-jitsu, however, would be a different story, in Kelly’s opinion. “I give her maybe a C+ on her jiu-jitsu game,” says Kelly. 

Would Kelly ever want to fight Lee in MMA, or in a potential special mixed rules bout? Kelly demurs with a self-deprecating laugh. “I’d have to take a couple other fights first!” she exclaims, grinning. “I’ll talk smack on [Angela’s] jiu-jitsu, but in MMA, I don’t even have a fight yet!” 

“It feels great to be back,” says Kelly of her upcoming Friday night matchup. “It’s gonna be really exciting, and I’m looking to submit Mariia in under two minutes.” She smiles. “I’m giving her an extra minute, to be nice.” 

Don’t miss Kelly vs. Molchanova at ONE on Prime Video 4 on Friday, November 18 at 8 PM EST, streaming via Amazon Prime.

For more content on Danielle Kelly, follow her on Instagram, and check out our previous interviews with her below:

From Taking Down Schoolyard Bullies to ONE X Debut Dominance: Get to Know Danielle Kelly

Danielle Kelly Weighs in on Mikey Musumeci vs Cleber Sousa: “This Match Will Be Something to Study”


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