"Kedzie set to defend MMA title

With an English degree from Indiana University, Julie Kedzie can quote T.S. Eliot and, a minute later, discuss her favorite submission hold. She hardly fits what most people picture a mixed martial arts fighter to be. She has a quick, people-winning smile and a self-deprecating sense of humor. So why does an attractive, intelligent young woman want to step into a ring or a cage and fight?

“Well, I can’t sing or dance,” she laughs.

Kedzie, 25, the current Hook ’n’ Shoot Grand Prix Women’s 135 champion, will defend her title on Nov. 18 at the Evansville Coliseum. Moreover, she will later be participating in an Internet reality series based on female fighters, culminating in a fight in Belarus in December.

Yet, the high-energy Kedzie seems subdued, almost apathetic about what could be a big breakthrough. “I’ve had so many ups and downs. I guess I’m feeling a little burned out. Maybe the Russian trip will turn me around.”

Her disillusionment comes from years of training, fighting, promoting her career, while also trying to make a living as a fitness trainer and waitress. “On my birthday, I had a fight, one that I lost — Happy birthday, Julie! — and, as I was getting kneed in the face, I started thinking, I need health insurance — a job that provides health insurance.”

She has also trained for events that never happened, fights that were cancelled at the last minute. And, while more women are getting involved in mixed martial arts, the scarcity of female fighters means few fights, and few fights mean little money.

“I love fighting and I love training. It’s the politics about who gets in and who doesn’t that wears me out.”

Kedzie balks at trying to get somewhere with her looks. “I’ve been bruised and have had my nose broken several times. People ask, how can you do that? But it’s just my face; it’s not who I am. I don’t want this whole thing to be based on my looks or personality. And I’ve seen many girls who exploit their looks to the max. I don’t want to do that.”

The “image,” however, remains. After all, how does a guy respond when he hears that the woman he is talking to is a fighter? “Some guys are threatened by it, because they don’t understand. Only fighters really understand it.

“And I don’t want to date a fighter,” she continues, laughing. “But if you really want to turn me off, just say, ‘Aw, come on; hit me as hard as you can.’”

What counts is what happens in the ring: “When it all comes together — when you’re in there and everything just flows — it’s like poetry. I’m sort of addicted to that moment.”

She hopes that moment will come when she defends her title against Molly “the Maulinator” Helsel. Last year, Kedzie won a close split decision over her. The anticipated rematch will be for Kedzie’s title.

Born in Chicago, Kedzie grew up in Springfield, Mo., before moving to Indiana. She began taking karate lessons at age 4. After graduating from Bloomington North, she enrolled at Indiana University, while still training in martial arts. But it wasn’t until she was a senior that she decided to start fighting.

“I’ve always been a competitive person. I had to see what I was made of. I needed to prove — I don’t know — something to myself. Really, when you’re in the ring, you’re fighting yourself. It’s the few minutes of honesty about yourself that you ever get.”

But she leaves that aspect of her personality — the part that can punch someone in the face and bend an elbow backwards — in the ring. “I’m such a non-confrontational person. I’ve never been in a fight in my life.”

Even on the verge of a title defense and perhaps a big break-through based on her performance in Belarus, Kedzie seems ambivalent. “I guess getting hit in the face isn’t as fun as it used to be,” she laughs. “I’m really seriously considering going to grad school and getting my Ph.D. in English.”

Of course, she didn’t get this far by being ambivalent. Don’t be surprised that when the bell rings, Julie Kedzie is focused on one thing: her opponent, Molly “the Maulinator” Helsel.

The event takes place this Saturday night, Nov. 18, at the Evansville Coliseum, 300 Court St. Preliminary fights begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.fightworld.com and at Bob’s Gym and Joe’s Records in Evansville.