Tag Archives: NAAFS

Mixed Martial Arts rising star Chris Lozano

By Shaun Bennett

While Chris Lozano has 11 siblings, it was two in particular – older brothers Luis Lozano and Cody Roberts – that prepared him for the world of mixed martial arts.

“Other kids play video games growing up, but all we did was fight,” Lozano said. “It was the typical wrestling and rough-housing that you have between brothers. I think they had fun kicking my ass.”

Those days are long behind him, and it’s Lozano who hands out the beatings these days.

The fighter, who was born, raised and still resides in Cleveland, has climbed the MMA ladder to success. After a brief amateur stint, Lozano blew threw five professional fights with the North American Allied Fight Series – one of the top regional promotions in the Midwest – before splitting his last two fights with Bellator Fighting Championships – a national promotion.

His venture into cage fighting began early in life.

Beside the playful fights at home and the more serious fights in the streets of his ever-changing neighborhoods – “We moved a lot,” Lozano said – he began competing in tae kwon do tournaments at 8 years old.

“It was awesome,” Lozano said. “I enjoyed contact and I did well. Once I got into middle school I began wrestling, and when I got to (Berea and Midpark) high school I already knew I wanted to pursue a career in MMA.”

Lozano began to look for gyms to train in the sport, but MMA hadn’t gained a high level of popularity and he settled on training in boxing at the Old School Boxing Club on Cleveland’s East Side. The venue was recommended to him by family friend Ray Mills.

“Ray took me there and then the coaches took over,” Lozano said. “They thought I had some talent, so every time I walked into the gym, I had someone ready to work with me. I had four or five coaches at one time. I was very lucky.”

Lozano fell in love with boxing and somehow found himself on the path to becoming a professional boxer.

“I knew I was going to fight for a living, one way or another,” he said. “The reason I went there was to get good at boxing for MMA. Somewhere along the way I forgot that.”

Before Lozano became fully committed to a boxing lifestyle, he stumbled upon the StrongStyle gym in Independence and once again became hooked by MMA. He continued to develop his tae kwon do, wrestling and boxing skills, and added Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – which he holds a blue belt in – to his training regiment.

“I wanted to be well-versed,” Lozano said. “I tried a lot of different styles and I try to train in everything. It’s really the same things that most (MMA) fighters are doing now.”

It was six months from the moment he walked into StrongStyle before he stepped into the cage for the first time. It was a year and six fights later – after accumulating a 5-1 amateur record – that Lozano decided to turn pro.

Lozano knocked out Marcus Kuck in the first round of his professional debut – it lasted all of 37 seconds. Then came a 47-second knockout of John Fields, followed by a first-round knockout of Allan Weickert, followed by a first-round knockout of Brandon Gaines – all between June 2009 and March 2010.

“I was training like crazy,” Lozano said. “My trainers were big on mental toughness. I wasn’t worried about going deep into fights … I knew I’d be OK.”

Lozano’s first professional fight that lasted longer than five minutes came against Jason Dent, who had become the area’s top MMA name after a run on the UFC’s reality television show “The Ultimate Fighter” and a handful of fights for the sport’s top promotion.

Dent was also the top name in the NAAFS, and Lozano not only gained recognition and high praise by earning a fight with Dent, but for handing the seasoned veteran a technical knockout defeat in the fourth round.

“That was a huge fight for me,” Lozano said. “That was kind of the turning point in my career. I was being tested by a guy who had been at a higher level, who had fought against guys at a much higher level.”

Shortly after his fight with Dent, Lozano was contacted by Bellator agent Sam Caplan, who had gotten hold of some of Lozano’s fight footage.

“He thought I was a promising prospect,” Lozano said. “He said I just needed to win a qualifying fight.”

That fight was against Japan’s Yoshiyuki Yoshida in Lake Charles, La., last September. Lozano stopped Yoshida with a second-round TKO.

“I was so ready for that fight,” Lozano said. “It was the hardest I’ve ever trained for a fight in my life. My trainers helped take me to another level. I was focused … I had a totally different mindset.”

The victory landed Lozano in the Bellator Welterweight Tournament on March 5, where he faced Lyman Good in a quarterfinal matchup in Lemoore, Calif. The fight went the distance and Lozano suffered his first professional loss when Good was awarded a unanimous decision.

An accidental headbutt damaged Lozano’s eye during the fight, but he said that wasn’t the greatest factor in the loss.

“I had a six-month layoff between fights and I really didn’t fight the way I usually do,” Lozano said. “There were such high expectations. It was my first live fight on MTV, in the main event. I wish I had another fight between the two (Bellator) fights so I could have gotten rid of some of the ring rust.”

Lozano said Good wasn’t as tough an opponent as others he’s fought in his career, and if the two meet again Lozano guarantees he’ll be victorious.

But for now it’s back to the cage. Lozano is slated to fight on the NAAFS card on April 16 in Canton, before returning to fight for Bellator in June. Anything beyond that isn’t a concern at this point.

“The only thing I’m focused on is being the best fighter at 170 pounds in Bellator,” Lozano said. “Do I want to win a title? Hell, yeah. That’s all I think about. It’s all that’s on my mind.”

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Q&A with NAAFS promoter Greg Kalikas

By Shaun Bennett

Greg Kalikas was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, and now resides in Uniontown. The 1992 Glenoak High graduate studied business and marketing at the University of Akron for two years before finding his true calling as a mixed martial arts promoter. Kalikas has grown his promotion – North American Allied Fight Series – into a regional power, with hopes to conquer the nation.

Q: How did you get started in MMA?

A: I’ve been involved in martial arts my whole life. I started competing at seven, mostly in tae kwon do and karate. I even made the national karate team as an alternate. Like everyone else, I also watched the UFC and became a fan of the sport. So I started doing a local radio show called Pro Karate Weekly – we aired on WKNR even though we broadcast in the studios of SportsTalk Cleveland – and we had (kickboxing and Muay Thai legend) Duke Roufus call in regularly from Milwaukee, Wisc., to recap the bigger events of the week. He talked me into doing an MMA show in Cleveland.

Q: How did the first show go?

A: It worked out pretty well … that was the first Fight Night in the Flats. Duke knew my background in marketing and he knew we already had a built-in fanbase in the Cleveland area. He had the background in the sport and thought it’d be a good idea to combine our talents. The first couple of shows went under Duke’s promotion name – Gladiators Fighting – before I decided to branch out on my own.

Q: What was you plan of attack in building the company?

A: I said from the beginning that if we did what we said we were going to do, it’d eventually be a success. But I never imagined it’d get to where we are today. It really comes down to the talent pool. Once we started doing successful shows, we started getting contacted by successful fighters and camps. We started getting more fighters than we could keep busy.

Q: How did you handle that pleasant problem?

A: We decided to do some smaller, amateur events. We started doing shows in Columbus, Akron, Steubenville … we got it up to 20-30 shows a year in Ohio. It’s to the point now where we could do two shows a weekend and still not keep all our fighters busy.

Q: How did you get your shows on television?

A: Obviously that was a great moment for us and a good opportunity. We’ve very thankful to SportsTime Ohio for giving us that opportunity. They were airing another promotion at the time – I don’t want to give the name of that promotion – and many people thought that was the only MMA promotion in the state. But we thought we put on a better show. So STO began airing both shows and I assume they were just going to let the best promotion win. We have just signed a national television deal, so NAAFS will be on national TV this year, but I just can’t say which network right now.

Q: What has been the secret to NAAFS’s success?

A: First and foremost is the talent, and it’s improved drastically over the years and continues to do so. Also helping was the people we have on the NAAFS crew. You’re only as good as your staff and we’ve been lucky enough to have a great group of people. It’s almost like we have a tight-knit family, and it shows in what we do. The shows have gotten bigger and better throughout the year.

Q: What improvements have you made to the shows?

A: We’ve added lights, sounds, video packages … it’s not just about the fights any more. We want people to feel the whole experience when they come to one of our shows.

Q: Has having several NAAFS fighters, like Chris Lozano and Jessica Eye, move on to bigger promotions been a source of accomplishment?

A: Our motto from Day 1 has been, ‘The MMA stars of tomorrow fight here today.’ We know we’re never going to compete with the UFC, we really don’t want to. We want to be partners with the UFC. We want to get talented fighters ready to fight for promotions like the UFC. We want them to be able to do interviews, get used to the entrance lights and music, be able to talk in front of the camera. We want the UFC, Bellator, StrikeForce to look to us first when they need a fighter for their promotion.

Q: What does the future hold for the NAAFS?

A: Our long-term goal is to truly become a global promotion. We’d like to do shows around the country – Colorado, Florida, Texas – and our national television deal could be a big part of that. We’ve been one of the top regional promotions for awhile, so we feel it’s time to branch out. But just like we’ve gained success locally, we know the way to do it is slow and steady. By doing things the right way.

— Shaun Bennett

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