By Caoilte de Barra
Photos by: Jorden Curran | MMA Plus
Former Olympians and World Championship level athletes from other Martial Arts always catch the eye of fans when they burst onto the scene. Wrestling and Judo are the most common disciplines to see make the switch to MMA. Karate, however, is less common but the sport is deep-rooted into MMA with notable names such as Lyoto Machida and Bas Rutten highlighting its effectiveness.
Perhaps in the not too distant future, this may all evolve further with Olympic hopeful Joe Kellaway aiming to crossover to the sport at some point. The Team GB representative is currently ranked 15th in -75kg WKF rankings and has a European Bronze medal to his name. These accolades mean that qualification for the Olympics this summer is within touching distance.
“We’ve got 3 qualifying events but the one we’re aiming for is the one in Paris. Where the top 3 or 4 in that competition will go qualify for the Olympic Games,” Kellaway explained.
Kellaway is a lifelong martial artist who is no stranger to MMA after being introduced to the sport by his coach, Paul Newby. The stand-up side has been quite natural to pick up for him but is loving the challenge of learning the BJJ and wrestling side of the game.
“He’s coached some fighters that have gone onto Bellator and they’re at a certain level where they’re training at the likes of SBG Manchester now because Karate comes first with him. I’ve always been interested and always been in and out of it at the beginning. So I want to fully commit to going into amateur or pro-MMA as soon as my Olympic journey has come to an end.”
Often, many fighters with an Olympic level background in another sport tend to turn pro upon switching to MMA. Kellaway on the other hand has a much different approach of starting from the ground up and building a C.V before announcing himself on the pro scene. The idea of competing and winning at the IMMAF World Championships as an amateur is a focal point if he were to compete as an amateur.
“The more on your C.V for when you get announced at the pro level, the better fights you’re going to get at that level. I already have my European Bronze medal, if I can get either an Olympic representative or medalist and a world medalist in Karate. And an amateur world title in MMA, then it would just sound better and it sets you up for professional fights.”
Outside of martial arts, Kellaway has a passion for fashion which led to him founding his own clothing brand in midst of the pandemic. The clothing line is currently focused on Karate with ideas for Boxing, Grappling and MMA in the process too.
“Since I’ve been 15 I’ve always been into fashion, always into trends and having my style. So I have always had a love for clothes. I just saw fight wear brands and you only ever see it at events or to training and I wanted to do something where people could feel comfortable wearing it to a bar or restaurant. I want it to be every day and for people to feel proud of what they do.”
His clothing line on the side has set him up quite well for life outside of Martial Arts. The world of competitive sport can be turbulent for many and without notice, and so athletes across all sports can be seen establishing foundations for alternative career paths, be it in preparation for competitive retirement or the constraints placed on sport by a global pandemic. However, combat sports is where Kellaway believes his future lies. The switchover is something he sees as a long term career move and isn’t planning on taking it lightly.
“I don’t wanna do it just to say I’ve done it. I wanna be good at it, be it boxing or MMA, I wanna go to my full potential. I don’t want to do it half-hearted because it is a sport where you can get seriously hurt. So you have to go in with the intention that you’re going to take this as far you can.”