Empire Fighting Championship has quickly cemented itself as one of the premier combat sports promotions along the Gulf Coast. Owned and operated by ex-UFC / current BKFC brawler Jason Knight, Knight’s older brother, and two of their childhood friends, Empire Fighting Championship looks to hold its third event this Saturday, August 31st, in Ladies of War – an action packed card exclusively featuring female fighters, with proceeds benefiting the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence.
Competing on the card is World Fighting Championships’ Kelly Ziemba taking on Rebeka Rotenberry. Ziemba, a California native who spent over 5 years living in New Orleans, currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, training with Xtreme Couture and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu. She returns to the Gulf Coast this weekend and looks to remain unbeaten in her young mixed martial arts career. MMA Tribune got to talk with Kelly yesterday about her path in combat sports, and how she’s been preparing for her fight this Saturday.
You lived in New Orleans for over 5 years. What originally brought you here?
“My stepmom grew up there, and I always wanted to live in the south. I wanted to know what it was like living somewhere that I didn’t grow up, so I called her up one day and asked if I could move down there. At first, she didn’t think I was serious, but I was 1000% serious.”
“I like the drive that you’re required to have in order to push past limits where you feel like you’re going to break.”
And how did you end up in Vegas?
“I got a job working for WFC, and the job was out here which required me to relocate – so here I am.”
What got you into fighting?
“I started training the day after I moved to New Orleans. I started with Krav Maga. It’s really self-defense fighting. I started there and fell in love with all aspects of it. Krav is a very inclusive self-defense program, so you’re striking, you’re grappling, you’re defending against chokes and weapons. And as I continued to train there, I fell in love more and more and became an instructor.
Then, I started looking for additional options for grappling, and some friends of mine were doing BJJ at Mid City MMA, and it kind of spiraled form there.”
After arriving in Vegas, what made you decide to continue your training with Xtreme Couture?
“They have a really good program based around striking and wrestling, which is what I’m interested in. They also have a large amateur team, and they practice at night. Initially I was like, ‘oh hey, they wrestle and have a night program.’ So I walked into the gym and got a really good vibe. I clicked with the other members, and it stuck as soon as I arrived.”
“Who doesn’t enjoy punching someone in the face after a really bad day at work, right?”
How about 10th Planet?
“I was going to open mat at 10th Planet on Sundays because Xtreme Couture is closed, and I fell in love with it there. The people there are phenomenal, the coaches are great. So I’ve got the best of both worlds, splitting time between those 2 gyms.”
What do you like most about fighting?
“I like the challenge that it presents. I like the drive that you’re required to have in order to push past limits where you feel like you’re going to break. Being a smaller female, and especially being a female in general, you always grow up with this idea that you need a male to do something for you, or that you’ re inferior in some way – just the usual stereotypes that go against women.
And when you’re fighting, you’re in these precarious situations, where you’re overcome with strikes, or you’re in a position where you can get submitted. You work your way out of it, succeed, and go past it, improve your position, it’s a fantastic feeling. To show yourself whatever limits you put on yourself, you can supercede, that’s the best part. And, who doesn’t enjoy punching someone in the face after a really bad day at work, right?”
“I mean, she’s a kickboxer, you know – I think she’s going to want to keep it standing the entire time. She’s not going to want to grapple.”
What do you feel is your biggest strength?
“Probably my jiu jitsu – you know Mid City MMA, Shawn Gayton was my first instructor. If you want some good jiu jitsu, go to Mid City MMA.”
Who are you fighting this weekend, and what do you know about her?
“I’m fighting Rebeka Rotenberry from The Garage Kickboxing out of Alabama. I know that she’s making her amatuer MMA debut, and that she’s a kickboxer. They sent me her latest kickboxing match when they were matching us up. I mean, she’s a kickboxer, you know – I think she’s going to want to keep it standing the entire time. She’s not going to want to grapple. I don’t think there’s anything super remarkable about it. She’s going to
have to work in that transition from kickboxing to MMA, but I think it’s going to be a good fight.”
Do you have anything lined up after this fight?
“I’d like to fight again 1 more time this year. We are trying to work out a kickboxing match right now, closer to the end of the year. I just want to stay active. I would definitely like to fight a few more times, maybe consider going pro after 6 months, if we can find more fights. Now that I’m in Vegas, it’s easier to match. We had issues when I was in New Orleans finding opponents, so I’m hoping to find more fights as an ammateur and then turn pro.”
Kelly would like to thank the following for their continued support: Alchemize Fight Wear & Moxy MMA for providing top-notch training gear made for and by women, coaches Roman Issbell, Dennis Davis, Shawn Gayton, Casey Halstead and Andy Varela.
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