DANYELLE WOLF is in the midst of an unlikely journey back to boxing. Wolf was a successful Team USA boxer. But, frustrated that her weight category was not on the slate for the 2016 Olympic Games, she embarked on an unusual odyssey. Wolf left boxing to become a mixed martial artist, a new vocation that took her from gyms in California to fight camps in Thailand and New Zealand.
“I didn’t want to wait four years so I immediately crossed over after the 2015 Olympic trials,” she told Boxing News. She would be contacted by Bellator and the UFC, the two top MMA organisations. “It was moving quickly,” she thought. “This is insane. I don’t even know how to throw a kick yet.”
But she had a vision. “I know I can do what Ronda [Rousey] did but better,” she said. “There’s a big spotlight for female MMA and I just feel like you know, Ronda is gone and we need a new female star and I really believe that I can take that role.”
Wolf knew she needed to learn MMA properly. “I really want to be a student of the martial arts and I actually want to study it,” she explained. “I told them I wanted to at least take two years to learn all the martial arts; wrestling, kickboxing, jiujitsu and just really take my time to do so.”
She started off working on jiujitsu in Orange County. It was hard, especially going from operating as a high level boxer to being a beginner in a new sport. But she progressed, entering amateur competitions and doing well. “I was beating people that were sponsored and had patches all over their uniforms and I didn’t even know how to tie my belt properly yet,” Wolf said. “After the jiujitsu I then went overseas to Thailand, to really focus on kickboxing, Muay Thai.”
“I ended up being overseas for seven months because Thailand was going to great. I was in Thailand for four months and then I went to Australia for one and then from Australia, since I was so close, I went straight to New Zealand,” she continued. “They have a great gym there in so I stayed there for two months.”
But competing in MMA proved elusive. “There were probably seven girls I was supposed to fight in the past year and a half and all seven girls backed out,” Wolf reflected. “Everyone sees my boxing record and they just won’t fight me.”
She thought, “I’ll just have to turn pro immediately because nobody will fight me amateur MMA. It doesn’t look like I’m going to get a fair shot of being able to get my feet wet, like everyone else does. Because of my boxing record. So it was actually hindering me, my boxing was helping me but also hindering me because I wasn’t able to progress.”
That would prompt a change of direction and a further delay. “The only way I’d be able to fight was if I went straight to Bellator or straight to UFC. If that was the case then I need a little bit more time if that’s how I’m entering into the Octagon and I’m not getting any fight experience at all, no MMA experience at all. I need more time, I need more sparring MMA. I need more time to put it all together. So that’s why it extended to three years,” she said. “If I’m going to go straight to Cris Cyborg, UFC, which was the plan, I need a little bit more time. She’s been fighting for 20 something years you know, I’ve been doing MMA for, at the time, one and a half.”
But injury derailed her further. “I tore my rotator cuff, and I didn’t know it, in my shoulder while I was wrestling,” Danyelle said. “My left shoulder just popped out… It took about three days for it to go back in completely.
“I kept training on it, I adapted around it,” she added. “In MMA you always get injured, it’s a very physical sport… The good thing with MMA you hurt something but you can train something else.”
But the trouble with her shoulder continued to flare up. When she got it treated eventually her doctor told her: “‘you have like a huge five millimetre bone chip just floating around in there, shredding your muscles. You feel that at all?’ And I was like okay,” Wolf said. The doctor added, “Nothing was holding your arm into place other than your muscles.”
This forced Wolf to pull out of what would have been her first MMA bout, to have much needed surgery. “This is my first real injury my entire life and I’ve been an athlete my entire life,” she said. “This was something new to me.”
But this latest new setback created a new opportunity for her. Since she hadn’t fought professionally in MMA she was permitted to come back to amateur boxing. One of her old boxing coaches from the USA squad, Basheer Abdullah, pointed out to her that Wolf’s division, 69kgs would be introduced to the 2020 Olympic Games. Wolf couldn’t ignore the chance. “My dream ever since first grade was to be in the Olympic Games,” she said. “It crushed me when I just missed the boat for the 2016 Games.
So she decided, “I’m getting my spot back.”
She had five weeks to refocus and make weight for the US Trials. “The weight cut was definitely difficult this time because I was definitely bigger and stronger. So I had a lot of work to do,” Wolf pointed out. “I only sparred twice, I wish I would have sparred more so I could have been a little bit more relaxed in my first fight… It was just the anxiety of showing people that I’m back. That was the most stressful thing. And it wasn’t the boxing part, it was the mental part. That was my only battle, with myself, and just being relaxed.
“It was such a quick transition and a quick decision to come back.”
“When I get to the second fight I felt way better, I felt way more calm. I felt like I was a three-time national champion, this is my house, this is my weight class,” she continued. “I started to get that attitude then for my second fight.”
Wolf won the whole tournament. “I was stoked. This is my spot. This is where I’m supposed to be,” she said. “A great feeling to come back and to get this win and move forward.”
Her Olympic hopes have been rekindled. “I will destroy every opponent that comes in front of me. And I feel sorry for them,” Wolf declared. “Because this has been a pent up dream of mine for my whole life.”