Silver Fox star Danielle Kelly may not be joining fellow American grappling phenoms Tye Ruotolo and Mikey Musumeci on the fight card for ONE Championship’s US debut this weekend – but she’s got more than a few thoughts on what audiences can expect from their performances.
“With the rule changes at ONE Championship for grappling, I’m very curious to see how the rules play out for Mikey,” she tells me. Having seen Mikey’s sister Tammi compete recently, Kelly is quick to point out that under ONE’s submission grappling ruleset, most traditional guard pulls will likely result in resets on the feet.
“Mikey’s a big guard puller,” says Danielle. “He only has a few months to work on his wrestling, and if I’m not mistaken, standing-wise, [Osamah] can probably take Mikey down.”
Not a bad bet to make, considering that the challenger to Mikey’s crown, Osamah Almarwai, is a no-gi world champion out of Atos who’s been closely mentored by his teammates, wrestle-jitsu aficionados Kade and Tye Ruotolo.
“At Atos, I’ve seen a lot of those guys practice wrestling,” agrees Kelly. She expects that, as such, Almarwai would likely favor playing a top position.
However, that’s not necessarily the safest place to be with a guard player of Darth Rigatoni’s caliber. “He’s going to try and do K guard, and take your back from a calf slicer,” she predicts. “He’s really good at those – I rolled with him when I was in Singapore.”
What were Kelly’s takeaways from training with the flyweight king himself?
Danielle chuckles at the question. “So, first thing’s first: I know he looks really small on Instagram – and yeah, he’s small compared to most guys – but when he was standing next to me, he was a lot bigger and taller than me!”
Not a tremendous surprise, given that Danielle herself competes at a mere 115 pounds. “We’re two small people, so every time, we’d just get into a berimbolo or back exchange, and try to take each other’s backs.” She laughs. “We’re literally just spinning like little chipmunks. It’s kind of funny, but it’s really good to have that kind of training.”
“He definitely is the type of person who works on one move a hundred times, and he’s really good at getting those positions,” she observes. “That’s where I get my inspiration. Now, in my training, I want to rep moves out ten, twenty, thirty times, because that’s what he does, and he does it so well.
“Obviously, I’m a girl, and I’m smaller, so he doesn’t try to go a hundred percent with me, but it’s still a good training session, and I’m still like, ‘Wow, I really appreciate this.’”
Interestingly, she’s cautious of predicting a submission win for either Mikey or Osamah, and expects the match to go the full ten-minute distance. “It really depends,” says Danielle. “A lot of Atos guys are really good at pressure passing, and it just depends on the rules. Are [the judges] going to look at who’s initiating the pass, or who’s initiating guard?”
“Mikey’s really good at getting you to expose your back off a leg entanglement,” she adds. “If it becomes a really good entanglement, I think it might go in Mikey’s favor. But they’re also in a cage, and you can’t just pull guard now under the ruleset, so I want to stay realistic.”
Still, she has faith in Darth Rigatoni’s ability to adapt and innovate. “Mikey’s really smart. I think the advantage is still on his side. But [Almarwai] is no slouch either, and he trains with Kade. Anyone who goes up against Kade or Tye in standup has trouble dealing with them. I think it’s a pretty good matchup, though, since it’s going to be so up in the air.”
Tye Ruotolo – who’s sharing the ONE Fight Night 10 card with Mikey – will have his hands full with a submission grappling superfight of his own, against a physically larger MMA star in Reinier de Ridder.
“In my first ever ONE Championship match, [de Ridder] was on the same card, and he went against Galvão,” remembers Kelly. “I know the rules were different back then, but him just being able to go against André Galvão without getting submitted really impressed me.”
For Danielle, the upcoming scrap between Tye and Reinier reminds her of her own experiences dealing with ONE Championship’s female MMA veterans. In particular, her most recent tussle with judo specialist turned MMA fighter Ayaka Miura – who also sits about a class above Kelly’s natural fighting weight – gave the Silver Fox champ a run for her money.
“She was really strong,” remembers Danielle, laughing. “I think my best advice [for dealing with a bigger opponent] is that if you’re going to be in a wrestling exchange, especially under these rules, make angles for your opponent – particularly if you’re the smaller person. In my match against Ayaka, I was trying to create a lot of angles, and eventually, I had a few openings, which helped me sweep Ayaka. So I think if Tye is going in there with RDR, who’s a very seasoned MMA fighter – he’s got more fights than Tye, especially in the ONE cage – [Tye’s] best bet would be to stay in the center and make a lot of angles.”
While wrestling a larger MMA fighter – with an impressive submission grappling pedigree of his own, to boot – may seem daunting, pulling guard on de Ridder might not be the best move either.
“From my own experience, if you’re pulling guard, [MMA fighters] will do a good job of trapping your head against the cage,” explains Danielle. “In my first match [against Mei Yamaguchi], I couldn’t really use my hips or my head, and it took me almost a minute to try for an armbar, but the cage was in the way, so it was hard for me to move my head and angle. So for these MMA guys, that’s really their best bet against these jiu-jitsu guys.”
What does she think that means for Tye? “Tye’s really good at wrestling, and I think with this ruleset, it’s going to go in Tye’s favor,” says Kelly. “I think there will be a lot of wrestling exchanges, and RDR will probably try to work off the cage. I think RDR’s best bet is going to be trying to put Tye’s back against the cage, and then work takedowns against him because he’s a good MMA fighter.
“Tye’s best chance would be to keep himself in the center of the cage, and try to work his submission game […] His best bet would be to go for a heel hook. He has long legs, and he’s athletic, so he might try to do that – or, he’ll take [de Ridder’s] back.”
As for Kelly herself, she looks forward to stepping back into the ONE Circle sooner rather than later. In particular, she’s got her eye on ONE newcomer Tammi Musumeci – older sister to the famous Darth Rigatoni himself. The two women have grappled against each other twice before, and both relish the chance to make their rivalry a trilogy.
“I would love to have a match with her in the ONE ruleset,” says Danielle. “I’m always open to it, if she comes down to 115 because I know she’s competing at 125 right now. But if she can make 115 – I think I’m a different competitor from who I was when we fought almost two years ago.
“With the cage and everything, I think I’d be more nervous about the ruleset than going against [Tammi] again,” adds Danielle. “Having seen her match with Bianca [Basilio], I’m very confident about being able to beat her in that ruleset. It kind of just depends. I need to see Mikey’s match first to see how the current rules play out. But I’m very open to going against her.”
She offers a wide grin. “I want to get her back!” exclaims Danielle good-naturedly. “I hope she thinks she can beat me, because I’m a totally different grappler now, and I’m more focused now. It would be an exciting match, either way.”
Don’t miss this explosive series of submission grappling matches during ONE Championship’s US debut at ONE Fight Night 10, streaming from Amazon Prime Video.