When EliteXC makes its return to network television on Oct. 4, Gina Carano will again be featured as one of the promotion’s centerpieces. However, it is her opponent who feels she finally has an opportunity to shine.
Kelly Kobald will meet the unbeaten Carano during the live CBS telecast of EliteXC “Heat” at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.
“I don’t look at this fight as me taking on someone who has become the face of women’s mixed martial arts,” Kobald says. “Gina just happens to be the person who everyone thinks is the top person right now, and she’s a big fighter who’s a good striker, but she’s got holes in her game that I’m going to exploit.
“This isn’t about [Carano],” she adds. “This is about being my fight and my opportunity to show what I’ve got. I just happen to be fighting the most widely known female MMA fighter around. It wouldn’t matter who was across the cage from me. I just want to inflict as much damage as possible on whoever’s across from me.”
Kobald’s manager, Mike Reilly, touts the Minnesotan’s big-fight experience and says she will not be intimidated by Carano (6-0), her reputation or the CBS television cameras.
“This is intended to be a showcase for Gina, but I think it’s a showcase for Kelly,” Reilly says. “Kelly has more experience than Gina and has been surrounded by the atmosphere she’s going to see [on Oct. 4]. She fought on the first two cards at the Target Center [in Minneapolis] and fought for Bodog Fight.
Based out of the same Minnesota Martial Arts Academy that houses former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk and current heavyweight contender Brock Lesnar, Kobald cut her teeth on the smaller circuits. Paychecks were lean.
“Kelly’s been fighting since 2002, and there weren’t a lot of female MMA fighters around when she came on the scene, so she’s a pioneer,” Reilly says. “There are a lot of female fighters now who start their careers in big arenas fighting for good money. Kelly came up like a guy, fighting in small shows for almost no money. Gina has never had to fight in the trenches like Kelly.”
Kobald (16-2-1) admits women’s MMA has come long way since she debuted six years ago, and she sees the sport continuing to evolve and progress.
“There could be more depth in women’s MMA, and I wish the spotlight was more on female MMA in general instead of on just one fighter like it is now,” she adds. “Female MMA hasn’t come as far as some people think it has. It still has a long way to go, but we’re on the right track.”
The 25-year-old Kobald has not had an MMA fight since Aug. 24, 2007, when she dropped a unanimous decision to Julie Kedzie on a Bodog Fight card. It was her second straight loss after she started her career 16-0-1, and she believes the losses came at the worst time possible for her career.
“I had a bad year personally [in 2007], and I lost twice,” Kobald says. “I lost those fights just when women’s MMA was starting to break out. I had my chance in the spotlight [with Bodog Fight], and I blew it. Now I have a chance to do it again. For me, this fight is about redemption.”
Following the loss to Kedzie, Kobald remained on the sidelines as Bodog Fight imploded. Once her contract with the promotion expired, the fight with Carano came together quickly.
“Kelly couldn’t fight for a number of reasons,” Reilly says. “She was under contract to Bodog, and we had to wait until her contract ran out before we could get her another fight. She’s had a good camp and has been getting some good, diverse training.”
Kobald was not as diplomatic when it came to talking about her dealings with the Bodog Fight promotion.
“Bodog [screwed] me over pretty badly,” she says. “They didn’t let me take fights with other organizations, and after I had two fights in the first three months of my 14-month contract with them, I just sat out the rest of the time. I never heard anything else about what was going on, and they never talked to me about any more fights. They just kept stringing us along instead of letting me fight with other organizations.”
Despite her problems with Bodog Fight, Kobald considers the layoff a blessing in disguise.
“While I was off, I was able to just focus on having fun in training,” she says. “To be good at this sport, you have to love it, and it’s been a blessing not to have to train super hard for a fight. I could enjoy my training, and I feel like it’s made my MMA better.”
Kobald’s resume includes six knockouts and eight submissions, so she is equally comfortable on her feet and on the floor.
“I try to be the best well-rounded fighter I can be,” Kobald says. “I have some weaknesses, but I feel like I’m strong in any position. Sometimes, a camp becomes known for having a certain fighting style, but my camps -- [Team Bison and Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy] -- aren’t like that. We all fight differently.
“One thing I’ve noticed when I watch myself fight is that I’ve never really fought the same way in any of my fights. The only consistent things about me are that I’m tough, I strike well on the ground and I hit hard on the ground.”
Reilly beamed about Kobald’s skills.
“Kelly has knocked people out on her feet and on the ground,” he says. “She’s put people away with punches, kicks and knees. She’s submitted people and won submission grappling tournaments. Anywhere Gina thinks she’s going to be safe, she won’t be.”
Kobald does not have any plans following the fight with Carano, though she does hope to be featured again by EliteXC.
“My future is really more up to EliteXC,” she says. “I have a three-fight contract with them. The girls who have lost to Gina have sort of faded away, and you’ve never heard from them again. I hope to put on an amazing fight and have people asking for more of it.
Rematches with Kedzie and former Bodog Fight women’s champion Tara Larosa remain priorities for Kobald. A recent American Fight League signee, Larosa submitted her with a fourth-round armbar in July 2007 and has rattled off 12 straight wins.
“There are dozens of women I’d like to fight, but it’s about who EliteXC wants me to fight,” Kobald says. “I’d like to have a rematch against Tara Larosa, and I’d also like a rematch with Julie Kedzie. Roxanne Modafferi is an exciting fighter, and I think we’d be a good match style-wise.”