By Shaun Bennett
The GriffonRawl MMA Academy in Mentor is considered one of the premier mixed martial arts schools in Ohio, but the origin of the school came from a matter of necessity.
The school was born out of the GriffonRawl Muay Thai team that was founded in 1997 by Dan Rawlings. Jason Dent, who began training in martial arts at 13, was Rawlings most promising kickboxing student, and when Rawlings took his craft to the sunny shores of Florida in 2003 he left the Ohio team in Dent’s care.
Dent continued to run the kickboxing classes out of a karate studio, but when the studio decided to move to a smaller space and required a larger rent payment of Dent and his team, Dent decided to begin his own business.
“I was really nervous,” Dent said. “I was happy sharing the karate studio and I was kind of forced to take the risk. So I bought my own building, my own space, my own lease.”
Dent continued to run the Muay Thai regimen, but added a few other disciplines to help his students become more well-rounded and prepared for the world of cage fighting.
“The Muay Thai of course covered kickboxing, knees and your basic striking, but I also incorporated a boxing program,” Dent said. “Of course we also began offering classes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is a staple for MMA fighters, and we teach from the Relson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Association. We also added a simple MMA class that covers anything and everything those other classes don’t cover – such as takedowns, takedown defense, ground striking and so on.”
Dent also makes sure to bring in big names in the disciplines to run seminars. He flies in Rawlings, who runs two GriffonRawl schools of his own in Tampa, Fla., twice a year, and has had several UFC fighters come to the school, including a recent appearance by Gray “The Bully” Maynard, who was a wrestling star at nearby St. Edward High School in Lakewood.
The school has also been able to offer its students the best in the way of equipment and training atmosphere, mostly due to Dent’s success in recent years. The school’s owner has had two stints in the UFC, a run on the promotion’s reality television show “The Ultimate Fighter” and has traveled the world fighting for big promotions.
“I had some success, and any money I made from my fights I immediately invested back in the school,” Dent said. “I’d win some money and I’d buy a new cage, or we ended up tearing down a wall to include our studio space (to its current size of 6,000 square feet).”
The results have been an increased performance by Dent, but also stronger performances by the stable of nearly 30 amateur and six professional fighters that compete under the GriffonRawl name.
“I just went with Donny Walker to the new tryouts for The Ultimate Fighter,” Dent said. “He’s on a seven-win streak as a professional and I think he’s got a good chance to do well.”
Walker is trying to earn a spot on the show that is rumored to be coached by former WEC stars Uriah Faber and Dominick Cruz. The show would tape while the upcoming season – starring coaches Brock Lesnar and Junior Dos Santos – airs on Spike, and would be the first to feature featherweight and bantamweight hopefuls.
“We have Bryon McCroskey who just made his pro debut and won by knockout,” Dent said. “We also have George Comer who went 9-0 as an amateur and was the first person two win two national championships in two different weight classes with the NAAFS. He’s turning pro in his next fight.”
Not that the school is designed to turn out world-class MMA fighters.
“We bring people in to train for fun, to train for experience and to train as a means to stay in shape,” Dent said. “If after awhile with the program they still decide they’d like to fight for our team, then we figure it out.”
Dent puts fighters through a mix of the disciplines the school offers, focusing on areas that each fighter may still be weak. If a fighter decides to fight under the GriffonRawl banner, Dent becomes their manager and helps guide their career.
“If they represent our team, they’ll fight where I say and when I say,” Dent said. “I’m very fair. I’m their manager and they’re free to leave anytime they’d like to try something else.”
The words may seem harsh, but Dent’s relationships with his fighters are honest and deep. He said he has no problem turning away more talented fighters if they aren’t willing to be coached or come into the training sessions with a bad attitude.
The biggest reason for this philosophy is that Dent works tirelessly for his school and its fighters and wants it to remain fun … and it has so far.
“I enjoy it so much,” he said. “It’s always been a hobby of mine, and now it just happens to be my full-time job. I get a thrill out of seeing guys reach their potential and start fighting for the big-time shows. My ultimate goal is to be flying all over the country cornering my guys in the biggest shows.”