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Woodbury MMA fighter gets back in the cage

Kelly Kobold works out with a group they call the "Lethal Ladies" at Spartan Martial Arts in Oakdale. Pictured as part of the Lethal Ladies on Wednesday, Aug. 16 included (left to right) Nicole Klein, Kelly Kobold Schmitz, Jordan Niccelatti, Hillary Waroline, Lauren Landry, Rebecca Nestingham and Tira Hubbard. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Kelly Kobold (blue) grapples with Faith Tuttle during a class at Spartan Martial Arts gym in Oakdale on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Kelly Kobold had reached the ceiling in her mixed martial arts career when she decided to retire in 2011.

Kobold had fought in about 25 MMA bouts between 2001 and 2011, becoming a top-ranked fighter in the world during her 10-year career.

"I fought on the biggest stages that were available at the time," said Kobold, a resident of Woodbury. "When I started, it was still a little underground. It was illegal in some states."

But it was in 2011 when Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White said women would never fight in his MMA organization. Without a chance to compete on MMA's biggest stage, Kobold decided to retire and focus on getting a full-time job and an opportunity to play with the Minnesota Valkyrie of the Lingerie Football League.

"I thought, 'Well, alright. Time to hang it up. I'll start coaching and working on my nine-to-five, my career, getting a 401K going and settling into married life and running a business here,'" she recalls.

However, with the rise of Ronda Rousey and other women fighters, White quickly pivoted to allow women fighters in UFC starting in 2012.

With this door to the UFC now open, Kobold this week is getting back into the ring after a seven-year hiatus.

"I've been watching very closely what's going on in the women's side of the sport," Kobold said. "This is my chance to get back in there, so I'm going to take it."

Kobold is coming out of retirement for a fight Friday, Aug. 25, at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake. The event will be held under the Legacy Fighting Alliance, and Kobold is scheduled to fight Christine Stanley in the women's flyweight 125-pound class.

Today, Kobold works as a manager at the Metropolitan Council. Her last name is now Schmitz, as she married local trainer Tom Schmitz but still fights under the name Kelly Kobold. The couple now runs nearby Spartan Martial Arts gym in Oakdale.

Getting back into fighting shape requires dedication, and Kobold spends anywhere from three to five hours a day at the gym. She hopes the bout will help inspire other women who are considering an attempt at MMA, or other versions of combat sports like jiu-jitsu.

"I want to open some doors for the women in the area," said Kobold, who is 34-years-old. "We've got some 14-year-old girls who have aspirations of being UFC champions to 45-year-old women who just want to go out and compete in some jiu-jitsu competitions and get better. I think my goal here at Spartan and getting in the cage is to show them that yes, us middle-aged suburban ladies, we can still do this. We can still compete."

With the continual rise in MMA's popularity, Kobold has watched as the quality of the fights has also grown. Women have also started to train for the sport at younger ages.

"I think we're starting to see these young women in the promotions who have been working that long at their respective sports to get here," Kobold said. "So you're going to really see some quick turnover with belts and just skill progression with women as well."

Kobold continues to train at Spartan Martial Arts with a group of women they have named "Lethal Ladies." When she steps into the ring, she plans to not only fight for herself but to provide inspiration for her fellow training friends.

"I have an end goal in mind, and I know that to make that goal I'm going to have to put that goal in," Kobold said. "I know I'm not just working for me. I'm working for everybody here at Spartan, and for our Lethal Ladies."