Image credit: UH82NVMY PHOTOGRAPHY
Jordan Kaaze has finally chosen a nickname. Five years into storming the Minnesota MMA scene, she married fellow fighter Nick Kaaze, and Jordan “Kami” Kaaze was born. Her life now is a far cry from the Midwest farm where she grew up and yet, in many ways, a childhood spent rising early to do farm chores and long days working alongside her father was the perfect preparation for grueling fight camps.
TheBeginning of a Career
After graduating from the top of her high school class, Kaaze received a scholarship to nursing school, a career path her dad, Bill Nickelatti fully approved of. “My dad was always on me about nursing being the ideal job, one that would provide me with financial stability and a solid future. I went to a college fair in high school and he made sure I brought home brochures for nursing programs,” Kaze said. Six years ago, after finishing school, Kaaze moved to Minnesota upon receiving a job offer in the state, but found that her life outside of work left a lot to be desired.
“I didn’t know very many people after I moved. I was bored as hell on most days after work, and was out of shape. I was athletic growing up and knew I needed to find some sort of release.” Kaaze tried everything the workout world had to offer — CrossFit, bootcamps, Snap Fitness, yoga, biking and at home fitness DVDs. She even trained for and ran a half marathon, but none of it sparked her interest. “I tried literally everything. It all felt forced, and I never looked forward to doing it.”
One night back in 2014, Kaaze took a friend up on an invitation to meet at Buffalo Wild Wings and watch a UFC fight. She makes no bones about why she was really there. “I went for the wings.” That UFC fight turned out to be UFC 184, with Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano as the main event. Kaaze watched, intrigued, as Rousey submitted Zingano with an armbar 14 seconds into the first round. “It was a quick fight but I felt the energy and a spark of motivation. I went home and googled ‘beginning boxing classes near me’.”
No matter how excited she was to explore a new form of physical activity, when she showed up to the first martial arts gym she found on Google, she was skeptical. “It was 99% dudes along with mats, bags and a ring. I thought to myself, ‘How the hell is this supposed to get me fit?’ and almost turned on my heel to walk out.” Fortunately for fans of MMA, the gym’s boxing coach ran up to her and asked if she was there for the class. “I whispered, ‘I think so,’ and stayed.” After that first class, Kaaze knew she had found her passion. Still, competing was never on her mind.
“Chris Klavetter, one of my teammates at that time, walked up to me while hitting pads during a morning class and asked, ‘You ever thought about competing?’” Kaaze laughed at the question. “I told him, ‘Yeah, right, I have a job’.” Later, though, she couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said. Soon enough she was putting more effort in, spending more time at the gym and driving 45 minutes to IronWorks in Holmen, WI when she went home to visit family. The owner of IronWorks, Eric Andersen came up to Kaaze after training one day and told her about an MMA show he put on every year. “He asked me if I would be interested in competing and, bingo, that was all I needed. Someone else who saw what I felt: potential.”
The Rest, as They Say, is History
In September 2016, Kaaze did indeed appear on Anderson’s 3 River Throwdown card for her first amateur MMA fight, stunning the hometown crowd with a first round TKO of her opponent. Motivated by the win, Kaaze got back in the gym and worked hard to prepare for her next fight against future Invicta fighter Helen Peralta. It wouldn’t be all roses and finishes for Kaaze, though, as Peralta in turn handed her a first round TKO. After the loss, Kaaze took some time to consider her goals and switched gyms to Spartan Martial Arts in Oakdale, MN, a gym that fulfilled her need to train with more women.
She immediately felt a connection with the gym’s owner, Pedro Sauer, and black belt and former MMA fighter, Tom Schmitz.
“Tom is unique in the fact that he not only runs the majority of classes, he also makes almost all of the competition events as well. He is the coach who will ask you personal questions to get to know what makes you the person you are. Knowing the nitty gritty of his fighters helps his preparation for competition. He seems to know what each of his fighters needs before competing — we all have different style warmups and pep talks; it’s not scripted. That’s what I respect about him, he is realistic and genuine. He will tell you the areas that are great and areas that suck. I have talked with multiple other teammates and we have all agreed that when we fight, we want to make Coach Tom proud because he has invested so much into us.” — Jordan Kaaze
Her decision paid off, and Kaaze has since gone on a six-fight win streak, amassing an impressive 7-1-0 record as an amateur. Six of her wins have been finishes, five of those in the first round. Though her yet to be determined pro debut is on the horizon, Kaaze is keeping her head down and focusing on her training. Though she’s taken several wins at jiu jitsu tournaments, her first love is striking, “I am 100% a striking junkie. I love hearing the crack of a pad and I look forward to sparring,” she said, but after switching gyms, Kaaze was forced to make some adjustments. “It was hard to hear Coach Tom tell me I needed to purchase a gi. All I could think was ‘That thing is too hot, too itchy, too bulky. I will never wear one in MMA, why now?’” While grappling in a gi is still far from her favorite part of training, she’s come to appreciate it. “I’ve evolved to truly enjoy learning the melting pot of martial arts. If you are trained in a system that is proven to work, you learn to love all the aspects of training.”
Two Full-Time Jobs
Remember that nursing job she moved to Minnesota for? Kaaze has kept it, continuing to work full-time as a nurse in the high-intensity trauma ICU unit, even as she was building her fighting career. Twelve hour shifts and long weeks made for unusual training schedules, and Kaaze is quick to give credit there to the coaches and teammates that make up her tight-knit gym for helping her train around her schedule. “My teammate Chris Amundson will hold extra pads with me twice a week in camp, and one of our black belts, Chris Dachel will stay late after jits and train wall/cage drills. We have a great Muay Thai coach, Vanyu Xiong and he and Marcel Andersen have helped me tremendously with my striking and style. A fellow blue belt, Peter Parker has brought his baby and two kids to the gym in the early mornings so I can get in some extra grappling, and one of our purple belts and MMA fighters, Randy Rivera-Santiago is always sending me videos to watch on technique.” She also has added additional expertise to her striking and additional hours to her training. “I also must mention Mike Lewis at 3PBoxing247 who I work one-on-one with one to two times a week in camp. He has taken my head/foot movement and hands to another level.”
Kaaze has also found the fellow female grapplers and fighters she had been looking for, a group known as the “Lethal Ladies” who help her stay centered in the gym and drives hours to her fights. “Rebecca Nestingen has opened her house to me to roll on her mats in the basement after working 12 hour shifts at the hospital. Kelly Kolbold-Schmitz (wife of coach Tom Schmitz) is an MMA veteran and training partner who I look up to and work extra rounds with. Really, all my training partners I share sparring rounds with, grappling matches with, pad holding… you are all part of the success I have had this far and the success to come.” Teammate Chris Amundson says that in return the gym has reaped the benefits of Kaaze’s training mindset. “Jordan is one of those training partners that isn’t selfish; she’s in the gym to raise the bar for all of us. She is absolutely someone that holds the rest of us accountable.”
Kaaze’s Personal Life
Outside the gym, Kaaze would like to say she’s just like anyone else, juggling relationships and responsibilities, but even she realizes that her life can be hard to relate to. “A co-worker sat down next to me one day and said, ‘I would love to grab a beer with you and just live vicariously through you. Your life looks so exciting.’ I responded with, ‘Follow me around for two weeks and I bet you’ll change your mind.’” In September, Kaaze married fellow fighter Nick Kaaze in Mexico, forgoing a third fight in 2018 to concentrate on wedding planning and not having a black eye at the altar. She knows having a spouse who also fights means total understanding of training hours, diet and weight cuts, but that it can also mean two tired and hungry fighters in close quarters.
In April, both husband and wife fought on the same card, an almost unheard of feat (not to worry, both took home wins). “My husband is my support system in this crazy sport and in life,” Kaaze said. “In the last year Nick and I got married in Mexico, bought a townhome, became part owners of a family cabin, sold my old car and bought a new one and adopted a 3-legged cat. We have done all that without it being a financial burden. Life outside of training is a grind in itself, but I married someone who believes in work hard, play hard as much as I do.” Kaaze is also big believer in being real, and you’ll never find her claiming this is all easy. “Social media is a highlight reel, and most people don’t understand that. Behind that is two jobs for me, upkeep, training and competing. I was raised to grind, though, so that will never stop.”
How She Teamed up with Zebra
Kaaze’s last win, another first round KO, caught the attention of Zebra Athletics, the top mat supplier of martial arts mats and equipment gyms. They offered her a sponsorship to help support her in her MMA journey. “When I was approached with the opportunity, it was very personal from the beginning, and (Zebra President) Kyle Fisher was genuinely interested in getting to know me as a fighter and a person. Zebra’s headquarters is local, and I am excited to represent such a prestigious and well-known company! They are a small business with a big name, which I appreciate. I’m looking forward to building a relationship with the company and being a representative of them. They are not only a sponsor but mentors who I can confide in. I’m looking forward to continuing to network with Zebra and build other relationships along the way. It is very exciting to be part of the impressive list of fighters they do sponsor!”
Kaaze will spend the rest of 2019 continuing to improve her skills while considering her next move. In June, she competed at the Thai Boxing Association’s Muay Thai World Expo and took home the championship belt in her weight class. She’s also looking forward to getting in some time on the mats in local grappling tournaments this summer. But through all of it she’s been keeping her eye on the prize. “My ultimate goals are to stop the Valerie Loureda hypetrain in Bellator or fight Andrea KGB Lee (my favorite fighter from the beginning) for the 125lb UFC title.” Kaaze isn’t intimidated by big goals. “Either way, my visions and destinations in this sport are high stakes but guess what — I work well under pressure. I trust in my system and the people I have surrounded myself with so we will keep working towards those long-term goals,” she said.
Her coach agrees. “My favorite thing is when a fighter comes into the gym and doesn’t brag — they simply tell me what they need. They trust, believe, and put in the hours, and that is the foundation of being a great fighter. With Jordan, you have all of that. The work ethic and strength she developed on the farm has played a big role in her development. As a coach, I really appreciate her willingness to work with everyone at the gym. She doesn’t put the cart in front of the horse. She told me she wanted to have fun and see where it takes her,” he said.
Kaaze has some final thoughts about the next time she puts the gloves on. “When I step up to that cage, I know that I haven’t been training to be ‘harder to kill,’ I have been training to make a hard kill.”