The RFA Report- “Fire FIGHTER”, RFA’s Kelly D’Angelo

If you’re in high school and reading this: Be good to your classmates. That tomboy or geek you know just might turn out to be a bada**. That’s the case with Kelly D’ Angelo, who fights this weekend at RFA 44: Moises vs. Freeman.

The “small but mighty” D’Angelo grew up as the daughter of a welder and teacher’s aid/florist, “the mom that made sure you had cookies and projects to take to all your school events.” A one-time flag girl for her high-school band never really found athletic success during that time, spending time in volleyball and track and field, doing okay at best by her own admission.

Later, D’Angelo found her passion–being a firefighter, a career that she said she wants to do for the rest of her life. That includes even after having just signed with the Resurrection Fighting Alliance, a top-tier developmental organization to the UFC. It was through the realm of public service that her two worlds would come to intertwine.

“My start with fighting actually came from participating in the local annual guns and hoses which is a boxing tournament where the police box the firefighters, all of their donations go to [The] Backstoppers, which is a charity that helps take care of family’s who have lost a loved one that worked in the field as a firefighter, EMS, first responder or police officer. I had it set in my mind once I became a full-time firefighter somewhere that I was going to do it.”

The pugilist would then go on to meet her future husband and fellow fire/firefighter/paramedic, Jimmy D’Angelo, all while incorporating the other elements of MMA into her game.

“…he gets every aspect of what I’m doing from how I feel after getting home from a busy 48-hour shift to the emotions you go through the week of the fight. He helps get food ready, he has been taking care of sponsor stuff for me, t-shirt sales, picking up extra duties at the house so I can sleep later or get a nap in before training, ticket sales and of course my crankiness after a 4-hour training session. The guys at the firehouse are also super supportive whether it’s holding mitts for me or just standing there and letting me shoot takedowns, I know they have my back.”

Eventually, like most women in combat sports, she was thrown in the mix with men as well, but not after having encountered the common refusal of male sparring partners. Then, like with most women that stick around in combat sports, she earned her place.

“I have been going to Berger’s MMA for over two years for jiu-jitsu and training with some very skilled athletes and have had some great instructors such as of course, Steve Berger, NickSchrock and Jake Hecht helps me as well. I have even competed in NAGA and some local grappling tournaments. I just haven’t had to go to the ground yet in a fight so I haven’t gotten the chance to display it.

I would say the transition has actually been easier because the fight starts on your feet and I had experience with that so really I have been able to commit more time to wrestling and jiu-jitsu. The last 6 months I have also become much more comfortable with my kicks with the help of Elmir Kulosman.”

D’Angelo went undefeated (5-0) as an amateur boxer before duplicating that same record in MMA (with four wins by stoppage), competing most notably for Missouri’s Shamrock FC, Fight Hard MMA, and Cage Championships.

She is the current Cage Championships Women’s 115-pound titleholder, taking the belt in her only fight to last its full duration. D’Angelo is also still a full-time firefighter and a part-time instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy. Including her work as a volunteer, she has served as a firefighter since 2005.

“There is actually a lot that is similar but I think my career gives me a mental advantage. When you’re going to a fire/fight all you know is the skills and situations you have been training for but you don’t know exactly how things are going to happen once you get in there, you just have to have faith in your skills and training.

Going into a fight is actually a lot less stressful though. In a fight I could get a little beat up, in a fire I could die. So I have to say I try to handle the nerves much better than some others do. I’ve been in way worse situations as a firefighter than I know I will ever be in that cage.

Besides….It’s just a fight.”

Update 9/26 at 9:54 pm: D’Angelo has since been moved up to the main card.