Costello van Steenis was always inclined to pursue a career involving combat, though the sport aspect didn’t come into play until much later.
“The Spaniard” competes in his second Bellator bout this Friday when he meets Kevin Fryer on the preliminary portion of Bellator 200 at the SSE Arena, Wembley in London on Friday.
Though he’s found early success in MMA, winning nine of his first 10 pro bouts, van Steenis’s interest in the sport originated from him simply wanting to learn to defend himself. A native of the Netherlands, his training began in Spain and that experience nearly led to him defending his home country.
“When I started MMA, I had absolutely no idea what MMA was,” Van Steenis told MMA Fighting. “I didn’t know any MMA fighter, so I just started, I was training MMA, I was like, ‘Cool, I’m gonna be a strong dude that can defend himself on the streets.’ Then my trainer said after four or five months, ‘Hey, you want to do a competition?’ So I had two fights in one night, I won that and then I started picking out more fights, that’s when I started learning MMA names in the UFC, Bellator, then I was like, ‘Cool, this looks quite interesting. Maybe I could do this.’ So my trainer said if you want to do it you should go to a different country because I was living in Spain by then.”
“Before that I wanted to go into the army, that was an option for me.”
Van Steenis’s first choice was to join the military and he and a close friend made plans to go into the Dutch army together (as van Steenis puts it, he “couldn’t think of anything else to do”). His friend enlisted, but van Steenis’s coach encouraged him to go into MMA, putting him on the path to the Bellator roster.
The 25-year-old now represents the Netherlands inside the cage as opposed to on the battlefield, but he flies another flag as well: That of the Philippines.
“I don’t speak Tagalog, my mom does fluently,” said van Steenis. “We have a big family living in the Philippines, also in America that are Filipino people, I hope to visit them soon because I’ve never really visited my Filipino siblings before, but I really want to do that.”
Bellator has yet to host an event in the Philippines, but van Steenis is excited at the prospect of someday being featured on a card there.
“That would be a dream come true and if I could fight on that card, I would do anything to fight on that,” said van Steenis.
Van Steenis’s profile was raised significantly in his Bellator debut last October, which he won via strikes in the first round. That bout took place in Connecticut and was actually the fighter’s first trip to the United States. He marveled at the way fans treated him like a celebrity, which is in contrast to the relatively muted reception he’s received when fighting in Europe.
It will take time for him to reach the international regard of his mentor Gegard Mousasi, though “The Dreamcatcher” already has plenty of praise for van Steenis.
“When Fedor (Emelianenko) was on top, I was coming up with Fedor, now I’m the old guy and Costello is the young guy,” Mousasi told MMA Fighting. “It’s a different place in life, a different role, I tried to help him and he’s a good training partner for me. I don’t know everything, we learn from each other actually.
“No one knows everything so I’m open to anyone, if they’re a high-level fighter or not the greatest fighter, everyone has something that they can teach you, so we help each other. That’s the goal.”
Van Steenis said he couldn’t ask for a better training partner than Mousasi and he’s been fortunate to have the former Strikeforce champion on the same card as him in both of his Bellator appearances so far. One thing he’s learned from Mousasi is not to get ahead of himself and though he’s focused on Fryer, others have already suggested that van Steenis could become a middleweight contender sooner rather than later.
One name that’s been brought up to him? Undefeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rafael Lovato Jr.
“My friends are all saying you should fight Rafael Lovato Jr., like that will definitely be a good fight,” said van Steenis. “I don’t know, maybe I can answer this question after this fight, I don’t like to call out names if I have an opponent coming up in two weeks. Maybe after I’ll shout out the name that I want to get.”