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Jim Range | Knuckle Junkies

Road to Dynamite : Kevin Engel

By Matt Frazier | Knuckle Junkies

Kevin Engel's road to Bellator is a familiar story. He was a high school athlete looking to stay in shape when he decided to try out martial arts.

What makes Engel's story unique is that he found out quickly that he's ridiculously good at it. Along the way he won two national amateur titles and becomes one of the best professional boxers and kickboxers in the Midwest.

Here we are now, after 13 years in combat sports, Engel is sitting on top of a flawless 5-0 MMA record, looking to make a big splash on a huge stage at Bellator 157: Dynamite 2, and maybe just impress the Bellator brass.

Always athletic, Engel played both basketball and football in high school, but once that was done he needed something active to occupy his time. When he walked onto the mats at karate school was when his journey began.

"I started at karate school called USA Karate that had kickboxing classes." Engel said. "We all went to the IKF National Kickboxing tournament with some of (Jesse) Finney's guys. I lost in the finals of my first tournament and decided to start training with Finney. There I won two national titles as an amateur, did Golden Gloves and went to the national tournament there."

After having only trained for a couple of years, Engel found tangible success quickly. Engel was crowned national champ in both 2003 and 2004, but it was a loss to now top UFC welterweight Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson for a kickboxing world title when he decide to shift gears.

"When I kickboxed, I could kick hard but I didn't kick often," Engel said. "I was more of a puncher. I'd rather punch so boxing was the next logical step. Losing to Stephen Thompson for the amatuer world title, I felt like I need to go to something else. That's when I started amateur boxing. I wanted to try my hand at that. I had like 15-20 amateur fights, won St. Louis Golden Gloves and went to the national tournament where I lost in the second round to the defending champ."

In early 2006, a professional kickboxing match was offered and that's when Engel's professional career began. He won his first 13 professional boxing bouts including winning twice at the Scottrade Center. He would compete in both kickboxing and boxing, racking up wins and launching himself onto a national stage.

He was part of the World Combat League in 2007 and 2008, competing for the Houston team until St. Louis got its own franchise coached by Finney. Engel joined locals Tim Connors and Adam Cella on the St. Louis squad.

The WCL was founded by action star and martial arts legend Chuck Norris and featured a unique no-rope ring with team vs team scoring. The show aired weekly on the VS channel. Engel became one of the top stars for his team and rubbed leather with some of the biggest names on the kickboxing scene.

"The kickboxing world is kind of a small world for all the guys that are pretty established." Engel said. "We all know each other. Uriah Hall and Stephen Thompson fought in the World Combat league with us. Raymond Daniels too, who fights on Bellator Kickboxing now."

At 36, and after over 13 years in combat sports, Engel has that glimmer in his eye when he talks MMA. As one of the commentators for Shamrock FC's PPV streams, being cage-side for all of their fights, Engel is fully immersed into the sport.

"MMA has 100-percent re-energized me." Engel said. "With boxing, there is a lot to learn but you're basically doing the same work. A lot of my boxing workouts were by myself. MMA I can at least train with friends. It's a lot more fun and I'm still learning. It's just new."

After a quick start to his career, Engel took a small break to entertain a few big offers from boxing promoters in New York.

"Basically I had three pro (MMA) fights in 2012," he said. "I was still bouncing back and forth between boxing. I took a year or two off from MMA, I come back with a coupe more fights."

The chance to fight on the undercard for Bellator 157 is a big opportunity for Engel, something he hopes to make the most of.

"I want to get noticed in this fight." Engel said. "I want to win by a big knockout, like I did with Kurtz. I want to impress the people at Bellator. I'd love to kickbox for Bellator and also do MMA. I've love to fight Ray Daniels. We had a fight scheduled for World Combat League that never materialized."

With 35 pro boxing fights, 22 pro kickboxing fights, and five pro MMA under his belt, Engel is a versatile athlete with plenty of hard earned experience on his side.

"I'll fight anybody kickboxing or MMA, I can do them both and do them both well." Engel said.

Up next, Engel will take on Jeff City's Chel Erwin-Davis on the Bellator Dynamite 2 undercard. Davis (3-1) earned a win over Cella at Bellator's last trip to Scottrade Center for Bellator 145 in November.

"Honestly, all I know about Chel is what I saw in his fight against Cella," Engel said. "He looks like an athlete. He looks super tough. Cella had a rear naked choke sunk on him and he fought through it. He looks like a tough opponent."

Fans can expect a great fight. In five trips to the cage, Engel has yet to see a third round, ending all but two fights in the first round.

"I think the fight with Chel and I is going to be a great fight," Engel said. "He's a tough kid, I think we'll stand-up and I'll defend the takedowns if he tries to take me down and we're going to bang it out."

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Tickets for Bellator 145: Vengeance, which start at just $30, are on sale now on Ticketmaster.com and at the Ford Box Office at Scottrade Center. Doors for the event open at 5:00 p.m. CT local time, and the first contest takes place shortly after.

Bellator 145: Vengeance airs live on Spike at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, while preliminary bouts will stream on Spike.com at 7 p.m. ET.

Full card: (Subject to change)

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (36-11) vs Satoshi Ishii (14-5-1)
Michael Chandler (14-3) vs Pitbull Freire (16-7) - Bellator Lightweight Title
Matt Mitrione (9-5) vs Carl Seumantuafa (10-6)
Rebecca Ruth (6-1) vs Ilima-Lei Macfarlance (3-0)

Kickboxing: Joe Schilling (19-8) vs
Kickboxing: Raymond Daniels (7-3) vs TBA
Kickboxing: Keri Taylor-Melendez (3-1) vs Sarah Howell
Kickboxing: Denise Kielholtz vs TBA

Undercard fights:
Justin Lawrence (8-3) vs Isao Kobayashi (18-3-4)
Jordan Dowdy (3-1) vs Guilherme Vasconcelos (7-3)
Kevin Engel (5-0) vs. Chel Erwin-Davis (3-1)
Ashley Cummins (3-3) vs Nikki Smith (1-0)
Jordan Howard (9-3) vs Justin Robbins (14-17-1)
Steve Mann (11-4) vs Mike Estus (7-4)
Joaquin Buckley (5-0) vs Chris Heatherly (9-3-1)
Michelle Royer (1-0) vs Katy Collins (3-1)
Brad Jones (5-4) vs Tyler Claussen (2-2)
Jason Christenson (1-0) vs Jarrod Thomas (0-0)
Lee Burns (2-0) vs. Byron Stevens (0-0)
Garrett Mueller (2-1) vs Rashard Lovelace (3-0)

Kickboxing: Elmir Kulosman (3-0) vs. Darryl Cobb (2-1)
Amateur Kickboxing : Tara Walker (4-3-1) vs. Mimi Kutzin (3-2)

Kevin Engel photo courtesy of Jimmy Range Photography

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