Whether or not some of us want to admit it, we owe a lot to our mothers. In fact, Victory FC welterweight Kassius Holdorf can thank his mom for both his unique first name and his introduction to mixed martial arts.
“My mom really liked Muhammad Ali,” said Holdorf. The legendary Ali was initially named Cassius Clay, and Holdorf’s mom used that name as inspiration for naming her own son. “So my mom just changed my name to [begin with] a K.”
After moving to Nebraska at age 4, Holdorf started his path to an MMA career as many other fighters do, on the wrestling mat. Holdorf’s mom and brother took him to his first wrestling tournament.
“It stuck with me,” Holdorf said. “I also played football and did track. I’m a gamer and I love to compete.”
As a resident in small-town Nebraska, Holdorf grew up in an area where wrestling was a part of life.
“There were more people at the wrestling matches than the basketball games,” he said.
Holdorf placed at the state level while wrestling in high school. He went on to wrestle at a junior college in Minnesota. Holdorf’s college roommate was already an MMA fighter himself, and he invited Holdorf to see him fight.
“I decided I wanted to fight too, and my roommate called me up afterward and said he got me a fight,” Holdorf recalled. “I had a little boxing experience before that fight, but I mostly just used my wrestling. I won, and I just got hooked on it and wanted to do it again. My manager actually called me before I even got home from that fight to tell me he already had my second amateur fight.”
Holdorf had a total of 25 amateur fights before he made his pro debut in 2013. He has fought seven times for Victory FC, but he has also fought for other well-known regional and developmental organizations like the Resurrection Fighting Alliance and King of the Cage.
“It’s crazy. It’s really blown up in the last few years with the UFC,” Holdorf said of regional MMA. “I watched UFC 4 over and over growing up, when Dan Severn fought Royce Gracie. Each year it gets bigger, and I love the fan support. Fans here in Nebraska really go nuts for it, since there’s no pro sports team. I have random people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I saw you fight. You’re a good fighter.’ I just try to do my best every day and train as hard as I can. My high school coach said it best: ‘If you train as hard as you can, it shows on the mat.’”
Holdorf slowly incorporated kickboxing into his repertoire. He trains at the Premier Combat Center in Omaha. Holdorf also trains in Muay Thai and has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, though he admits that when he tried grappling for the first time, “it was crazy,” he said. “It was like wrestling, but the opposite. I felt a little like a fish out of water.”
Holdorf’s combined training in grappling and striking has resulted in all of his victories coming via stoppage, either by knockout or submission. Holdorf has only gone to a decision twice, both of which resulted in losses. This includes his last fight against Victory FC welterweight champion Maki Pitolo. However, Holdorf will try to right that wrong when he faces Pitolo again at VFC 54 on Friday, Dec. 9. Their first encounter came on short notice earlier this year.
“I got a little emotional after the second round when he took me down,” Holdorf said. “I wanted the finish, so I went into his fight. I’m going to stay composed this time, but the game is the same. I’m going to go for the finish, but I just need to control my emotions.”
Although Holdorf has made his bones on the regional MMA circuit, and specifically in Victory FC, his goal is the same as many fighters in his position. He wants to make it to the UFC or to another top-tier organization like Bellator MMA or the World Series of Fighting.
“I’m always going to dominate and perform my best,” Holdorf said. “My cousin is a lot of my motivation. He’s in a wheelchair, but he’s my biggest fan.”