Only time will tell what the much-anticipated UFC Fight Night in Cincinnati this coming May will bring, but for now, “Best Fight Card of the Year in Ohio” honors unofficially go to Driven MMA and it’s inaugural all-pro event which took place Saturday at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. While the “Driven MMA” name may be unfamiliar to the MMA faithful here in Ohio, the people behind the name are sure to be well-known. “Powered by the NAAFS,” including NAAFS owner Greg Kalikas and matchmaker Nicole Long-Castillo, Driven MMA will be the all professional arm of the promotion, while the North American Allied Fighting Series will remain focused on amateur action.
Following an undercard with something of interest for virtually any MMA fan in Northeast Ohio, Driven MMA included 6 more marquis events including the successful professional debut of WMMA phenom Jessica “The Zombie” Zomcik, a triumphant return to Heavyweight for crowd favorite “Big John Hawk,” as well as a powerfully validating submission victory for native son, Antonio Castillo Jr.
Driven MMA Main Card:
Bout 7: 140 lbs – Summer “The Critter” Bradshaw 0-1 (Pariah MMA) vs Jessica “The Zombie” Zomcik 0-0 (Evolve MMA)
Summer “The Critter” Bradshaw came out fighting long, fearless and straight- ahead, showing great confidence in her stand up, especially against such a highly touted prospect as Zomcik. There was very little feeling out process as both ladies exchanged punches aggressively but in a measured balance. At times, it looked as if the reach of Bradshaw prevented The Zombie from implementing her striking game, but that concern was short-lived as Zomcik showed supreme confidence in her ground game by pulling guard with lots of time left on the fight clock, and working hard for an armbar submission. After a brief attempt at an ankle lock, The Zombie sunk in a second, this time much deeper attempt at an armbar which resulted in her opponent tapping out in considerable pain. Overall, an inspired performance by Zomcik, and one that will have any opponent thinking twice about going to the ground against this jiu-jitsu stylist.
Bout 8: 145 lbs – Ricky “Mountain Man” Musgrave 11-4 (Pariah MMA) vs Frank “The Tank” Caraballo 12-6 (Fearless Fight Team)
Cleveland native Frank Caraballo was first to strike just enough to avoid a pattern of retreating, but he was at his best when he was counterpunching against the talented but occasionally over-aggressive Musgrave. Caraballo fought a smart fight and in my opinion won the battle of the hands albeit often while moving backwards. The fight was punctuated by some very good attacks by each fighter including a head kick early in round 2 by Muscgrave which scored but failed to deter Frank the Tank who briefly dropped Muscgrave later in Round 2 and showed some good spinning attacks in addition to his superior counter punching. Both fighters turned in some spirited ground fighting and some good back and forth action, a very close fight. The judges seemed to be swayed more in favor of aggression and output than technique and efficiency in handing Muscgrave a Spilt Descision victory. This one takes my unofficial fight of the night honors, a very close fight with no real loser.
Bout 9: 265 lbs – William “The King” Penn 7-3 (Independent) vs “Big” John Hawk 8-5 (Strong Style Fight Team)
The early, all-out assault fromWilliam “The King” Penn was fast and furious and powerful. Hawk stood squarely in harms way and traded blows and though he took the worst of several big exchanges, he persevered until he put Penn against the cage, grounded him and began to inflict some punishment of his own. One had the sense that Hawk’s determination, cardio and heart were turning the tides by the end of the first, but he would have to weather a rested opponent again after the bell to answer rounds 2 and 3. Hawk started to land some good uppercuts inside and mostly managed to impose his will and fight the fight on his own terms. Gaining one final takedown toward the end of round three, he cemented his victory eventually taking his opponents back but running out of time to set up the choke. Overall a well-executed fight plan that played to Hawk’s strengths and a well-deserved, unanimous victory
Bout 10: 145 lbs – Wes “Limp Noodle” Lane 3-2 (Butch Hiles BJJ & MMA) vs “The Mexican Muscle” Antonio Castillo Jr 7-4 (Midwest Training Center)
Canton’s own Antonio Castillo Jr. set the tone early with some hard kicks and one of his patented body slams. In spite of a spirited effort by Wes Lane, Castillo was in charge at every term, dominating the striking and the wrestling and simply outclassing his opponent on every level. In this, as well as other fights Castillo appeared to have a strength and cardio advantage over his opponents and seems very powerful for his size. Two beautifully executed head kicks added excitement and style points to what was a very satisfying submission victory for the Canton resident and product of Toledo, Ohio.
Bout 11: 205 lbs – Rodney “Shonuff The Master” Wallace 19-7-1 (Team R.O.C. Charlotte) vs Maxim Grishin 15-6 (Strong Style Fight Team)
UFC veteran Rodney Wallace wasted no time in dumping an unsuspecting Maxim Grishin squarely on his nogginearly in Round 1, and established dominance in the striking both with some good hands and a massive head kick that Grishin ate and walked through essentially unphased. Grishin began to turn the tides when he put the fight against the cage and got a critical takedown with time left to work in Round 1. A beautiful Judo throw to earn the takedown in Round 2 put Grishin in control, though not much happened the rest of the fight. The difference in this one was Grishin’s ability to get up when taken down coupled with his ability to maintain top control when he earned takedowns. Overall, this one was an unconvincing, split-decision victory for Maxim Grishin.
Bout 12: 175 lbs – Dominique “Nonstop Action Packed” Steele 10-4 (Vision MMA) vs Dan “The Handler” Hornbuckle 20-7 (ATT WarHawks)
And finally, in the Main Event of the evening,Ohioan Dominique Steele faced fellow Bellator veteran and one-time top welterweight contender Dan Hornbuckle in what was a landmark victory for Steele who is riding a recent wave of success. The kicks of Dan Hornbuckle were a big difference in offensive output, but the punching, takedowns and ground and pound were in favor of Steele, who probably inflicted the greater damage. Missing were Hornbuckle’s jiu-jitsu stylings of old, as Steele seemed to nullify the once creative and highly entertaining submission game of fan-favorite Dan Hornbuckle. One could argue that Northeast Ohio is equally hostile territory for Cincinnati native Dom Steele as it would be for say, a Cincinnati Bengal, however; native’s of the Buckeye state have been warned to take note of Steele’s meteoric rise of late and start showing some love for our own, at least when he’s not fighting another NorEaster.
All in all, it was a magical first night for newly-minted Driven MMA. Everything was just a little bit bigger, better, and brighter and one can only hope there is more of the same to follow.
By Joe Millin
Staff Writer, ProFightingFans.com