Danyelle Wolf has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
The Eastern York High School and Millersville University graduate moved to California after college, not knowing exactly which career path she wanted to pursue.
After a standout athletic career in York County, she fell in love with the sport of boxing and became a three-time USA Boxing national champion, despite never touching a boxing glove until she was 25 years old.
After her 152-pound weight class wasn’t added to the 2016 Summer Olympics, the 2002 Eastern graduate decided to transition to mixed-martial arts and start over, after spending years perfecting her boxing craft with the hopes of achieving the Olympic dreams she set for herself in first grade.
So, after she was finally prepared to make her MMA debut following years of training with elite coaches around the world, Wolf decided to add another challenge to her resume — returning to boxing and attempting to qualify for the USA Boxing 2020 Olympic Trials on a month’s notice.
She quickly conquered that challenge and is now just one step away from qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as a boxer. The next step in her fighting journey starts in just a few days in Louisiana at the Olympic Trials.
A new sport: Once it was clear her weight class wouldn’t be included in the 2016 Olympics, Wolf decided waiting four years with the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Games wasn’t going to work for her. She made the move to start training for an MMA career and quickly got the attention of the top organizations in the sport.
Wolf said she was approached by California-based Bellator MMA to become one of their prominent female fighters after her successful USA Boxing career, but she told them she needed time to learn MMA before she stepped into the ring for real.
“I don’t even know how to kick, I don’t even know how to wrestle, I don’t know anything,” Wolf said she told the promoters at the time. “I need time to develop. I want to be a real martial artist, I don’t want to be just a boxer that gets choked out in the first fight.”
So, her journey to become a well-rounded fighter began.
Fighting around the globe: First, she moved to Orange County, California, to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu for 10 months. Wolf conquered that discipline and won three competitions, including the 2016 International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation World Championship.
Next, Wolf spent four months in Thailand training in muay thai and kickboxing.
After her time in Thailand, it was back to California to train in wrestling at The Alliance MMA Gym with fighters such as former Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Phil Davis, a former Bellator light heavyweight champion and All-America wrestler at Penn State.
Wolf then went to New Zealand to train at City Kickboxing, where current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya trained. Finally, it was time to come home.
The journey challenged Wolf to find a new way to motivate herself to continue after leaving the boxing world she had so much success in and starting at the bottom again in MMA.
“It was a humbling process,” Wolf said. “Being at the top of your game in one sport and then coming into another sport completely at rock bottom and starting over. I was starting all over again and it definitely (took) a mental toll to take it and be disciplined enough to know that you have to be uncomfortable right now. This is all part of the process. You’re going to be in hell for as long as it takes.”
Finding a fight: After all of the time spent training, Wolf finally felt ready for her first MMA fight. She had one issue though, she had to find someone who was willing to fight her.
Finding an amateur MMA fighter willing to step into the cage with someone with her fighting background was difficult, Wolf said. It took some time, but her camp finally found someone willing to fight.
With the highly anticipated debut set, Wolf suffered a blow more devastating than any punch or kick. The injury to her shoulder she had been training around for seven months wasn’t going away.
She decided to have it checked out and the doctor told her she tore her labrum. The fight was off and it was time for the first surgery of her life.
A few weeks later, she was back in the gym throwing punches and kicks with her shoulder in a sling.
Unfinished business: Once she was cleared from her injury and ready to get back into her training camp to prepare for her MMA debut again, Wolf called her original boxing trainer Basheer Abdullah and asked him to help get her boxing skills ready to showcase in her first MMA fight.
Instead, Abdullah reminded her of an opportunity she might be interested in.
He told her that her 152-pound weight class was added to the 2020 Olympic Games and said she needed to attempt to qualify. Wolf told him she knew and that MMA was her focus now. The past three years of training had been building for this fight, but Abdullah didn’t let her off that easy.
“He said, ‘Danyelle, Olympic Trial (qualifiers) are four weeks away,’” Wolf said. “I said, ‘Four weeks away?”
So, she decided to put her MMA career on hold for a little while, despite interest from Bellator and the UFC, and chase the dream she wrote down in her first-grade class.
Wolf said she sparred once in the month leading up to the qualifying event. She stepped back into the ring and won all three fights to claim her spot at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials that will be held from Dec. 7 through Dec. 16 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is one of eight boxers in the 152-pound field at the Olympic Trials.
Although she hasn’t been focused on boxing for years, like the other competitors, Wolf said the years training in MMA will help her in the ring.
“I am glad I crossed over to MMA,” Wolf said. “It kept the fire of fighting and learning different martial arts alive and kept it exciting. I think MMA fighters are tougher. You get kneed in the face. You get elbowed in the face. It’s just way more brutal. I feel just unstoppable.”
Wolf’s plan is to eventually get back to MMA after she earns the Olympic gold medal that has seemingly been the only title to elude her. But, now that she’s back in the sport she originally fell in love with years ago, there’s only one thing on her mind — winning.
“Right now, my focus is boxing. That (U.S. Olympic) spot is mine,” Wolf said. “I have always dreamed for the Olympics to add my weight class. Now is my time, now is my opportunity. I am in the best shape of my life.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.