Bellator 301 winner Denise Kielholtz reflects on how MMA put her in ‘dark place’, then pulled her out

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CHICAGO – Denise Kielholtz already was a successful kickboxer when she took home gold for Bellator Kickboxing in 2016.

Now seven years later as a crossover combat sports athlete, Kielholz (8-5 MMA, 8-4 BMMA) reflected on her transition into mixed martial arts, thanks to a promotion which soon may no longer exist.

“Exactly this weekend, six years ago, I fought my very first Bellator MMA fight,” Kielholtz told MMA Junkie and other reporters after her Bellator 301 win Friday at Wintrust Arena. “I was already the Bellator Kickboxing champ. Six years ago, I fought my first MMA fight and I won. Now, I’m six years further. I’m fighting on this card in Chicago and I feel like everything tonight is history. For me, it’s just a pleasure to be in it and be on this card. I’m thankful for everything Bellator has done for me. Now I don’t think about anything further than Bellator because Bellator is really in my heart.”

Kielholtz, 34, had a fairly seamless transition into MMA as she won six of her first eight bouts en route to a title challenge vs. Juliana Velasquez in July 2021. The bout served as the Bellator 262 headliner. Kielholtz lost via controversial split decision.

Many viewers and even Bellator CEO Scott Coker disagreed with the decision. Kielholtz struggled with the loss – and the two defeats that followed.

Looking back, Kielholtz admits the first three-fight losing skid of her career put her in a “dark place.” Kielholtz did a deep-dive into self-exploration in order to enter the win column again – and come out a better person.

“MMA is so tough,” Kielholtz said. “I respect everyone who’s been on this stage and fighting there also. I’ve been on a rollercoaster. It’s been really good things. I fought for the title. Then, after that, I was in a really dark place because I lost a couple of fights. Then, I came back. I fall and then I came back. That lesson that MMA has taught me is making me a better person for the future in my whole life.

“I’m forever thankful for MMA that it brought to me this experience. I really fell really hard and I was in a really dark place. I came out and today with my second win, also with my new coach. I’m just looking very brightful [sic] for the future.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Bellator 301.

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