Kurtz vs Engel: Mayhem
Shamrock FC Mayhem on Saturday at the River City Casino is a star-studded affair with a seven-fight pro main card and an amateur title contest with an excess of hullabaloo.
Sitting at the top of the bill is a match-up worthy of its location, when a decorated striker returns to the cage after 18 months away to take on a never-say-die, tough as a pine knot talent out of small town Missouri.
Welterweights Kevin Engel (4-0) and Kyle Kurtz (5-1) never shy away from an opponent and their prospective tools of the trade should, stylistically, provide for an entertaining closer in one of the most talked about night of fights in St. Louis MMA lore.
The Hit Man Returns
At 35-years-old, Kevin Engel knows that the time is now.
Engel has long been one of St. Louis' most active boxers and kickboxers, dialing up over 50 professional bouts. He then added MMA to his repertoire, making his pro debut in 2012.
Engel was originally slated to face Jordan Dowdy, a rising welterweight in the area, at SFC Mayhem but then the opportunity presented itself to tussle with Kurtz.
"I didn't really care," Engel said. "I think Kurtz is more of a fun fight for the crowd. Jordan was probably going to try and grind me down. This is a little more entertaining of a fight and that's what I'm looking for. Now that I'm getting a little older, that's what I want. Fun fights. We're not making 10's of thousands of dollars here so I want to fight guys who are a little more fun and guys with good records. It's a good motivation to fight hard."
Though Engel was active in the cage in 2012, fighting three times that year, he always squeezed in a boxing match here and there because of the pay day. The question always lingered inside of him, what if he dedicated all of his time to just one combat sport?
"I have never gave this sport my full effort," Engel said. "I want to see what I can do. I want to fight for Bellator, and not just on the undercard, I want to make it to TV. If I can't beat Kyle then I won't be fighting on a Bellator main card any time soon. If I can't beat Kyle, I'm almost 36, I might call it a career. I retired once before but then I got the fire again."
Engel has been a staple at Finney's MMA, even currently running a Hit Squad franchise in O'Fallon. Kurtz has made his way through the Finney welterweight camp, defeating both Adam Cella and Steve Mann and losing to Joaquin Buckley.
"It wasn't a motivator in agreeing to the Kurtz fight but it does give me motivation now that the fight is here," Engel said. "To a degree, all of those guys fight different than me. Adam was able to take (Kurtz) down at will and that's not really my style. I'm good on the ground but I'm at my best on the feet."
At 6-foot-2, Engel will have the edge in length over the 5-11 Kurtz and his yeoman's worth of striking experience, he feels, will give him an unparalleled advantage.
"I will be able to judge distance better," Engel said. "Kyle is tough but wild and I will be able to expose that."
Of his five wins, Engel has slipped in a submission victory. Kurtz has snagged three wins by submission, including tapping Cella and Mann.
"People sleep on my BJJ, 100-percent," Engel said. "I train in the gi and out of the gi all of the time. When I first started with Ezra (Lenon) it was all MMA BJJ but as I did more and I learned more I loved it. I want to advance. I would like to be a black belt some day. I love having goals."
Kyle Kurtz's face looked like a pumpkin.
It was July, 2013 and Kurtz was working as welder, an occupation he still holds to this day, when danger and horror took over his world.
Kurtz was running a grinder during a swampy Midwest summer day when in a finger snap, everything went wrong. With his hand on the trigger, the grinder cutting wheel popped off track and slammed back and hit him in the face. Kurtz wasn't wearing a face shield but he did have eye goggles on.
"The whole grinder wheel hit me, it came off spinning," he said. "It put me to sleep. It cut through my cheek and into my cheek bone."
The end result was 200 stitches in his face.
"It was sick," Kurtz said. "I got cut in four different places including my cheek, the bicep, and my eyelid."
Forced to sip out of a straw for a couple of weeks, Kurtz (who was about to turn pro) thought his fight career could be done for. In fact, his doctor said it would likely be best if he didn't return to the cage. But six weeks after the accident he was back in the gym putting together a variation of his workouts. Then in October of that year, with his stitches freshly removed, he got called out to fight for another amateur title.
Growing up in Jackson, where he still lives today, Kurtz was a self-described rambunctious and rowdy kid who got into plenty of after-school scraps.
"I didn't pick on anybody but I was always willing to jump at an opportunity to fight," he said. "I was always rough and getting hurt doing BMX or whatever. We would do crazy stuff like, we found a bunch of light bulbs one time so we threw them up in the air and busted them with our knuckles."
He started into MMA at 20 and dialed up around 30 amateur fights.
"There were times that I fought back-to-back weekends," Kurtz said. "I would get the last minute call and I didn't care, win or lose, and if it was a title fight, even better."
Kurtz, 25, and a father of three, went pro in 2015 and put together a workman's year. Kurtz fought six times in 11 months, including two wins on Bellator undercards.
Kurtz has grown wiser over the last year. His dedication alone is story worthy. When he is in camp for a fight he will drive three-to-four times a week, two-and-a-half hours one way, to train here in St. Louis at Modern Combat System.
"It's good to have the alone time, especially with a fight coming up," Kurtz said. "There are a lot of killers in that room and those guys push me until I can't go anymore. They're good at wrestling, boxing and kickboxing. Nothing's easy."
He's also gotten smarter about cutting weight. In his loss to Buckley, Kurtz weighed 193-pounds the Saturday before the fight.
Against Engel, Kurtz feels that having the exuberance of youth teamed with his unflappable perseverance will be the deciding factor.
"I will be the aggressor but I will be intelligent about it," Kurtz said. "I will be the faster fighter. He is going to be methodical and try and pick his shots but I'm going to be the more athletic fighter. I have much more MMA experience and I think it's going to play out nice for me. I don't know how good his ground is but I don't think he will have the better ground game. He's not fought somebody with my dexterity. He's going to watch me get inside and get that takedown or get the KO."
It was at the Bellator events where Kurtz gained popularity. When word spread that against Mann he worked a full day, taking no breaks so could leave early, then drove two hours to get to the fight and then pulled out the win, it was nearly impossible not to root for the guy.
"More people now know what I'm capable of," he said. "I'm not just the underdog. I'm starting to turn heads and hopefully I will do that again, especially in this fight."
Tickets for Shamrock FC Mayhem can be purchased at https://www.cagetix.com/shamrockfc.
Or you can watch online at shamrockfightingchampionships.com under the Watch Live banner.
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Shamrock FC: Mayhem
Saturday, March 12th
River City Casino, St. Louis, MO