HELENA — You never forget where you started.
Just ask mixed martial arts fighter Dylin Drivdahl.
After spending time training at The Lab in Glendale, Arizona, Drividahl returned home for his first fight in nine months.
And what a homecoming it was.
It took just 1 minute and 15 seconds for Drividahl to defeat Spokane, Washington’s Matt Main via technical knockout in his professional debut during the main event of Fightforce’s Helena Havoc MMA card at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
But while the crowd of more than 1,000 people cheered on the hometown fighter, and was thrilled when he was declared the winner, Drividahl wasn’t necessarily pleased by the outcome.
After reversing Main’s grapple and turning it into a throw, Main remained on the ground with what appeared to be a twisted ankle. He limped back to his corner and minutes later Drivdahl’s hand was raised in victory.
“It really wasn’t what I was looking for,” Drivdahl said after. “I wanted to come out there and be a bit more flashy. It was a win, but I think it was a way out.”
Regardless of how the win came about, Drividahl was just happy to be back home.
His family was wearing shirts with his nickname “The Dragon” on them, while UFC bantamweight fighter and former teammate “Sugar” Sean O’Malley sat in his corner.
“(Sean) has been in my corner since the start,” Drivdahl said.
And O’Malley’s advice before the fight?
“He just told me to stay calm, because the kid was going to get tired,” Drivdahl said.
Drivdahl and O’Malley have been friends for the last seven years, growing up together fighting for Proven Grounds, an MMA studio in Helena. It was even the place where they were given their nicknames.
“Its just super cool to be back,” O’Malley said. “I fought here a few times. It was my first (amateur) loss, but it was a good memory in its own way.”
Eventually, O’Malley persuaded Drivdahl to train down at the Lab in Arizona.
The Lab opened in 2007 and is led by coach John Crouch. Former Helena fighter Tim Welch also teaches striking at The Lab.
While the only professional fight of the night featured Drivdahl and Main, 10 other amateur fights were featured, including Helena’s Adam Imhoff.
A 12-year veteran of the sport, Imhoff showed off his striking ability, forcing a bloodied Travis Herbert to submit by punches three minutes into the first round.
“I feel good. I kind of knew how that was going to go,” Imhoff said.
Other local Helena fighters that competed included Jed Breker, Tony Shurts, Kenny Smith, Christian Rupp and Danny Mecca.
Rupp won his fight by knockout over Bozeman’s Blain Thumm, while Smith won with an arm bar and Breker won by unanimous decision.
This was the first time in three years Fightforce MMA put on an event in Helena and its manager, Bryan Deats, was happy with the outcome.
"There was a lot of good fights and good action," Deats said. "I've done like 250 of these things so it ran pretty smoothly."
Fightforce started promoting MMA fights in 2006 throughout cities in Montana such as Bozeman, Great Falls and Butte. The concept of the promotion came up because they wanted a safe and ethical way to show off their fighters.
"We just try to put on the best show we can for the fighters," Deats said. "It just grew into their own thing."
Now, the promotion wants to return next year, if the fairgrounds invites them back.
"Hopefully they want to make it an annual thing," Deats said.
As for Drivdahl, he plans on going back to Arizona to train. He doesn’t know when his next fight will be, but if he gets the opportunity to come home for another fight, he won’t pass it up.
“I loved it,” Drivdahl said. “That was the best part of the whole thing.”