Denise Kielholtz vows to claim her crown against Juliana Velasquez at Bellator 262 after years of sacrifice

Denise Kielholtz

Kielholtz aiming to dethrone the undefeated Brazilian (Picture: Bellator MMA)

Denise Kielholtz hopes to crown 23 years of sacrifice when she takes on Juliana Velasquez for the Bellator flyweight title on Friday.

The Dutchwoman is a former kick boxing champion but has demonstrated her rapidly growing skillset since transitioning fully to the world of MMA, winning her last four fights with Bellator to earn herself a title shot.

The 32-year-old still has her lethal kickboxing instincts, as demonstrated by her 43-second knockout win over Great Britain’s Kate Jackson last October, but four submission wins from her six victories in the Bellator cage underline her rapid progress.

Working with head coach Bob Schrijbe, Kielholtz has reinvented herself with the dream of becoming world champion now in sight.

‘The kickboxer is still in me. But now I feel I am a more complete MMA fighter,’ Kielholtz told Metro.co.uk.

‘Maybe four fights ago, I was a kickboxer but also an MMA fighter. When I made the decision to leave kickboxing behind, that was the end. When I made that transition I knew I had to totally focus on MMA and I see myself growing as an MMA fighter – that is why you are seeing more submission wins and my fight style changing.

‘We are now totally in a complete MMA story. Before when I was still kickboxing and using some MMA mixed in, it was like we didn’t really have a plan. Now, we have that plan. And you see in my last four fights, that plan works. And with this plan, I want to be the next world champion.’

Kielholtz has emerged from a camp where she went ‘over the limits’ but the intense weeks and months leading into fight week have left her feeling at peace ahead of her clash with Velasquez at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut.

The fight serves as the realisation of a dream. Having taken up judo at the age of nine, Kielholtz missed out on doing what other girls her age did in back home in Netherlands, training and travelling for competitions, living in a different world to many of her friends.  

Denise Kielholtz

Kielholtz has a 6-2 record (Picture: MMA)

‘When my manager told me I would be the next challenger, I had tears in my eyes,’ she said. ‘When I was nine, I started judo and later started kickboxing. I was not like the normal girls.

‘When I was young, I went to training camps and did things the other girls my age would never do. I only trained. I loved it, it has been the biggest part of my life and always has been.

‘This belt will be the crown of all those years of hard work and all the tears, all the work I did from when I was nine years old. It makes this title so much more special. everything has come together, from judo, to kickboxing and now MMA. This title crowns all those years.

‘Especially when you are a young girl, 13, 14 years old, all the other girls are going out, playing, having a good time. But I always had to train, I couldn’t go out. I can’t go to this party because I have a competition at the weekend. You see a lot of children at that age, the sport is not their life because they still want to do these things with their friends and family.

‘But if you are that young and you already have that motivation, where you leave the parties and go train or fight at a competition, that is how you form yourself as a person. All those sacrifices that I made in my younger years, that is all the dedication and love I have for the sport and that is why I put everything I have into this fight camp and for this crown.’

Kielholtz is aiming to become the first woman to stop Velasquez with the Brazilian on an 11-fight winning streak having dethroned Ilima-Lei Macfarlane last December.

While recognising the size of the task at hand, Kielholtz does not see Velasquez as her toughest opponent to date and believes many of those who have fallen to her southpaw opponent have made life easier for her.

‘You see with the other girls she fought, they were impressed with her fighting style. They made big mistakes. She has never fought someone like me, I’m not impressed by her fighting skills when she is standing on the ground because I already fought a lot of girls like her, girls her size and also southpaws who can hit really hard.

‘Her fighting style is not something new for me. But I think I will be new for her. We will find out how she reacts when she comes up against someone who is not impressed by her.’

Bellator 262: Velasquez v Kielholtz, is live on BBC iPlayer from 10:30pm BST on Friday, July 16

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