People used to call Anthony Kellen “Gym Shorts.”
Working his way up the ranks, they won’t any more.
Kellen, who has fought in the Mixed Martial Arts realm since shortly after his 18th birthday, is quickly making a name for himself and his team. “
They were making fun of me when I weighed in the night before, they called me ‘Gym Shorts’ in Des Moines,” said Kellen, a Worthington High School graduate. “That looks like it’s about to change. We have fighter trunks on the way.”
Kellen’s performance caught the attention of Shogun Energy Drink, now the official sponsor of Kellen’s team — Team Clean House. Following his victory, and being named fight of the night in an undercard in Des Moines, Iowa, Kellen had a chance on the mic.
“So they call me into the cage and ask me if I have anything to say, and I’m sitting there like, ‘I’d like to thank Julio (Casillas) for coming with me. We just drive down here, and we don’t have any sponsors or anything. If any of you guys want to sponsor us, you can get your logo on this T-shirt,”’ Kellen explained. “When I said that, I guess Julio was standing next to this guy from Shogun. He was like, ‘You guys aren’t ever going to have to ask for a sponsor again.’”
Kellen was invited to fight on the undercard of Josh Neer and Hermes Franca, two renowned MMA fighters. He was pitted against RJ Harris.
The winner of fight of the night was going to receive a watch as a prize — something that kept going through Kellen’s head.
“I came out, and the very first thing he threw a hard leg kick. I was like, ‘Oh no, this is going to suck,’” Kellen said. “He threw it hard and made my leg hurt. He came up, and I knew there was a $3,000 watch on the line if I won fight of the night. What ended up happening was I caught him where I could have put him in the guillotine at any time. But then I thought, ‘$3,000 watch.’ So I threw knees instead.”
“We stood up and traded for the whole first round,” he explained. “He got me in a clinch, and it was really helpful; in one shot where I was blocking, he came up and snapped my hand and my arms with his knee. It sounded like he completely cracked my nose, which made the crowd go wild. He made me eat some knees. I got cut under the chin, I got cut under the nose and those were pretty much all from knees.”
In the third round, Kellen got Harris in a triangle choke, and that was it.
“Third round came, and I came out swinging,” he said. “As soon as he went down, I tried a wrestling hip-toss type of thing, and I suck at wrestling, so we ended up hitting the side, and I couldn’t get it. So I just went to my back and put him in guard. He tried to swing, and I threw my leg around and caught it on his shoulder, and my other foot was stuck. As soon as it broke free, I had the triangle, and he tapped before he went to sleep.”
Then, Kellen had to sit and wait as the rest of the card played out.
“The last fight that had a chance at it was up, and they weren’t making a good fight,” Kellen said. “So he came over and was like, ‘Why don’t you show me the face of someone who has just won a $3,000 watch?’“(The watch is) really big, and wearing it around, my left arm got really stronger. I was getting nice knockout power just wearing it around.”
Even though Kellen was awarded fight of the night, he was still trying to meet Neer and Franca.
“I was there with the camera and the marker, trying to get autographs from Hermes Franca and Josh Neer,” Kellen said. “The dude knocked out Hermes Franca, and I got a $3,000 watch. So I’m like, ‘Let’s get a picture.’ I didn’t get any autographs, but I got a lot of pictures.”
But now, people might be asking for his autograph.
Kellen first got into MMA fighting back in middle school, with some backyard boxing.
“We’ve been doing backyard boxing since about fifth grade,” Kellen said. “Our boxing was like ultimate fighting. “We never taught Storm (Soto) anything, so me and Julio could beat him.”
As soon as he turned 18, Kellen was in the cage.
“I went right out there and got a 48-second TKO,” he said. “I just came in and dominated him. My second fight, I came in and got on top of a dude and pretty well handled him for three rounds and got a unanimous decision.”
But his luck wouldn’t last forever.
“In my first title fight, I got put to sleep with a guillotine in 22 seconds,” Kellen said. “That was the only time I was finished. I’ve never been knocked out or tapped.”
Since then, he has been in the cage whenever possible, including a span where he fought three times in two days.
“Everybody thinks I’m crazy,” he said. “I’m only 18, and I already have 15 fights.”
With a career record of 8-6-1, Kellen has held his own. Despite being 5-foot-4 inches tall, he has beaten much taller fighters.
“You want to know how I overcome it?” he asked. “I have a 6-foot 200-pound and a 6-foot-5 240-pound man standing across from me, and that’s who I train with. The fact that this dude is 145 pounds already set the advantage to me.”
With a sponsor, experience and continued training, Kellen now has more belts in his sights.
“I want my belt back,” he said. “I want this one dude’s belt; I want this other dude’s belt. I’m going for five belts.”