Middleweight stand out Costello van Steenis has been making waves in European MMA since his pro debut in 2014. With just one defeat on his record, the nine fight veteran is an exciting, aggressive fighter of Dutch and Filipino bloodline – yet Costello actually grew up in Spain, where he took his first steps in MMA.
“A friend of my father, who was a bouncer at a club, asked me if I wanted to be the strongest [athlete] in my region,” Costello told The MMA Vanguard. “I said ‘HELL YEAH’, and he introduced me to my first MMA trainer, Gerardo Rodriguez, in Spain. After 6 months of training I’d won my first MMA tournament. My trainer told me [he could see] I had talent for this sport and if I wanted to reach the big stages I should consider competing outside of Spain. [He said] there was no future in MMA in Spain.”
While MMA has begun to make headway in regions of Spain, the advice at the time no doubt rung true. It was advice Costello would heed, and he has been reaping the benefits ever since.
Costello duly made his professional debut in the Netherlands, besting fellow debutant Andy Peters at a Hoyer’s Productions event in April 2014. It would be the first and only time Costello would compete in Holland, and impressively, he would not see another judges’ decision for a further five fights.
By this time, Costello was going by the moniker ‘The Spaniard’ – but this wasn’t a reference to his childhood in Spain. Instead, as Costello explains: “My training partners gave me this nickname. It came after my first amateur fight in the Netherlands. In the first round I front kicked my opponent to the fence, and everybody said that the kick looked the same as the one in the movie 300. The guy who delivered that kick in the movie was called ‘THE SPANIARD’. That’s how I got the name.”
Another distinctive feature pertaining to Costello is a prominent scar on his right cheek. Far from shying away from questions about the mark, van Steenis quips: “When I was little I had my first fight against a Bullmastiff and he bit me in the face. Unfortunately I lost that fight due to a cut!”
That sense of humour blends seamlessly with Costello’s in-ring persona – a real character with entertaining, sometimes brash stylistics, van Steenis has had to become something of a jet-setter in terms of finding competition. Like Spain, Holland hasn’t been known for holding major MMA events, preferring, perhaps, to put on large-scale kickboxing events. Despite a potential lack of opportunities in-house, The Netherlands has produced its share of world class talent such as Alistair Overeem, Stefan Struve, and Gegard Mousasi, as well as more recent kickboxing converts Rico Verhoeven and Tyrone Spong. Costello van Steenis will be striving to add his name to that elite group, even if it means continuing to travel.
Not that travel is a problem to Costello: “I love competing in other countries,” he tells The MMA Vanguard, “I love to compare myself with great fighters [around Europe], and I get to see a lot of other cities and [experience the] culture. UK is a beautiful country to fight in because of the organisations they have, and the fans!”
Costello would experience the British fight scene for the first time in March 2015, by which point a pair of wins in neighbouring Belgium had advanced his record to 3-0. With both fights ending by first round submission, Costello proved too strong for Belgian natives Cenk Toplar and then 2-1 (now 8-4) Maarten Wouters. What’s more, van Steenis’ performances proved enough to convince English South coast outfit Phoenix Fight Nights to bring him across the North Sea for the first time – albeit on minimal notice!
“When I got the call to fight against Manzolo ONE WEEK BEFORE THE FIGHT I got excited and accepted straight away,” Costello told us. “After winning that fight, the promoter wanted me to fight against former BAMMA Middleweight champion Harry McLeman,” he adds.
Judging from the performance against Manzolo, it might appear that the Estonian was the one fighting on short notice. No slouch by any means, Manzolo has been a mainstay on the British MMA scene for the past five years, and sported an impressive 8-2 record backed up by a 6-fight winning streak. That all came to a halt in March 2015.
After missing an Anderson Silva-esque front kick and a Superman punch in the opening seconds, van Steenis had chosen to set his stall out early; he had come to the UK to be aggressive, get creative, and make a statement. He achieved all of that and more inside just 60 seconds, storming Manzolo, taking him down with a double leg, defending a triangle attempt with a HUGE slam, and then raining down devastating ground and pound and heavy elbows until the referee called it off.
It was as one-sided a single minute bout as the talented Manzolo has ever endured – and Harry McLeman, who previously wrested the BAMMA title off Andy DeVent to take his record to 8-2, found himself in uncomfortable territory early on. A big right from van Steenis caught McLeman clean in the opening exchanges, motivating McLeman to bull-rush the Dutchman and take him down against the fence. Big elbows from Harry threatened to invert happenings in van Steenis’ Phoenix Fight Nights debut against Manzolo, but when Costello reached up for a triangle of his own, he wound up threatening a spontaneous armbar instead.
McLeman escaped, took the back of Costello, but was unable to breach ‘The Spaniard’s’ submission defence, and soon lost position. A textbook sweep from Costello saw him on top, and the back-and-forth grappling continued. A pair of slams from Costello could not stop McLeman’s submission threat from the bottom, and nor could those submissions temper van Steenis. Soon, the horn would sound on a thrilling, back-and-forth, and highly technical round.
At the start of the second round, the aggression of van Steenis got the better of him, a spinning back fist missing, and McLeman completing a double leg counter as a result. If that spelled bad news for ‘The Spaniard’, nobody had informed him – a triangle choke from the bottom was soon locked on, and from there it was a matter of time. McLeman, with no answer, was forced to tap. It was an outstanding victory from what appeared to be an unfavourable position.
With his reputation growing after two huge wins, Costello would step in against Avi Jack (7-5) for his third Phoenix Fight Nights outing. A right hand from the Southpaw Jack caught Costello in the opening exchanges, putting paid to Costello’s usual brand of high-octane starts. Despite suffering that quick knock down, Costello was on his feet instantaneously, completing a takedown to quickly establish a dominant position. While a sweep and scramble resulted in a potential rear naked choke for Jack, Costello rode out the danger, escaping to the relative safety of guard. We say ‘relative safety’ – it would be mere moments before Costello threw his legs up to lock in a second successive triangle submission!
Now in receipt of a Middleweight title shot against 24-fight veteran Jake Bostwick, the now 6-0 van Steenis was ready to become PFN Champion if he could overcome one of the best and most experienced fighters on the UK scene. Over dominating the first round against the fence, van Steenis surely punctuated the scoring with a late takedown and back-take, though in truth Bostwick had resisted most takedowns for close to three and a half minutes. Still, with a rear naked choke eliciting what seemed to be a near-tap from Jake, it was hard to argue where the points should have gone.
The second round got under way with van Steenis eating some good shots from Bostwick, but happy to threaten with some of his own. It would be pure instinct, however, when Bostwick landed hard left and right hooks on the Dutchman, and van Steenis responded with more effective clinchwork. It would be a wise strategy for the Dutchman, and one that allowed him to ride out the rest of the round. While the third would see both fighters trade positions and land strikes, there would have to be a winner in van Steenis’ second career decision. The judges unanimously saw it 29-28 to Jack Bostwick, and though a case could easily be made for van Steenis’ positional control and effective clinchwork, both fighters knew they had been in a war. Post-fight pose downs were shared, and rightly so.
So what did Costello learn from his sole career defeat? “Never leave it in the hands of the judges!” He states emphatically, adding, “Since [that fight] my martial arts skills have been improving and [constantly] getting better.”
Some of those improvements were evident as van Steenis bounced back to secure a first round submission over Ronan McKay at Combat Performance League 1, a show Costello headlined from Guildford, Surrey. Next up, a more international affair in PLMMA against local favourite, Polish stand out Marcin Naruszczka (18-5) in March of this year.
It did not prove an enjoyable first minute or so for Costello. After being kneed low, and then caught with a straight right, van Steenis rallied, used some great clinch-work and aggressive striking late in the round to ride out the first stanza. In the second, a visibly pumped Costello taunted Naruszczka, before landing a huge spinning back kick early. While the Polish fighter landed his own shots, van Steenis was the fighter pushing the pace and landing greater volume. A straight right connected for Costello amidst a flurry of punches, before a clinch and take down gave Costello momentary dominance. A sweep and scramble saw Naruszczka land a right of his own that sent van Steenis sprawling against the cage, before the Pole landed an illegal knee against his downed opponent.
The referee would then restart the fight, before Naruszczka would commit a foul once again with a head kick from a heel hook submission attempt with both fighters on the mat. It would prove to be one foul too many for the referee, as Costello was awarded the fight, and the PLMMA title.
“Going into that fight I had no warm up what so ever,” Costello explains. “The fight itself was one big cheat. He grabbed the fence, knee-ed me in my balls and kicked me in my face when I was grounded. Therefore he got disqualified. The whole fight I had the upperhand, and because he felt that as well, he started cheating.”
“I don’t like winning by DQ,” Costello clarifies.
While the logical next step would have been a defence of the PLMMA title, Costello surprised The MMA Vanguard: “I heard the organisation has a new Middleweight belt and also tw guys who are gonna fight for that title. It’s strange… because they never invited me to defend MY PLMMA title.”
While that may have proved a sore spot for Costello van Steenis, his exemplary 8-1 record has not only made for impressive viewing, but has made a mouthwatering prospect. His goal from here?
“I’m going to be the best fighter the world is going to know.”
Still just 24 years of age, Costello van Steenis does indeed have the world at his feet.