When RFA 18 rolls into town on September 12th and heads into the Albuquerque Convention Center, all eyes will be on the return of “The Silent Assassin” Abel Cullum. The old guard of New Mexico MMA will instantly remember Cullum while the newer generation of local MMA fans may be unfamiliar with the name.
But have no doubts about it, Abel Cullum is one of the most iconic local fighters in New Mexico MMA history and one of the true pioneers for the regional scene for MMA in the “505”.
Cullum started training in his own garage in the small town of Tucumcari, New Mexico at the age of 13 years old under the tutelage of his father alongside his younger brother Jeremiah. The story of Cullum’s rise to prominence is one of legend, similar to that of the story of UFC legend Evan Tanner, fighting out of a garage and learning how to fight under someone who didn’t have “notable” experience in the MMA game Cullum dominated the regional circuit and found success internationally.
In 2005, Cullum’s professional career began with a bout under the Desert Extreme promotion against Michael Chupa (who had a very lengthy career on the regional circuit). Cullum would need only 86-seconds to lock in a fight ending rear-naked choke and would immediately set the tone for the rest of his career. Cullum would finish six fights throughout the years via this submission method and would be labeled as a submission specialist.
“The Silent Assassin” had made the first step in what would become quite the memorable journey.
“The “Silent Assassin” nickname came from my first fight at Red Rock State Park in Gallup, New Mexico. I was in a locker room full of guys punching and kicking pads, yelling and screaming, getting all pumped up. The locker room for the red corner was just a big open room for all the fighters, so in the middle of all the commotion there I sat doing yoga, focusing on my mind and breathing. I was a major underdog it being my first fight against a fighter that had much more experience. I left the locker room to fight and returned with a rear naked choke victory against Michael Chupa in 1:26 of round 1. So from my silence and taking out my heavily favored opponent the “Silent Assassin” was born.” – Abel Cullum
Cullum would have an extremely busy 2006 that saw him fight seven times and win every bout decisively via TKO or submission. Within 14-months of starting his career, Cullum was 8-1 with eight finishes without ever seeing a third round of fighting.
The garaged trained Cullum was making a name for himself.
“My MMA career started in Tucumcari New Mexico at 13 years old with a dream, a heavy bag, a little brother, and a father that was willing to be there for us supporting our dream. When my dad would get tired of me beating up my little brother he would take me to different cities to go up against other martial artists that were much older and much more experienced for more training and experience as I was in my teens.” – Abel Cullum
At the end of the successful 2006, Cullum traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma for his first out-of-state bout and his first for the King of the Cage promotion. Cullum would get his first taste for a foreign regional circuit but would keep to his typical success winning the bout via rear-naked choke in the second round.
Cullum wouldn’t be as active in 2007 and 2008 but in a 11-month span between March of 2006 and February of 2007, Cullum racked up four more wins, two via submission and the other two coming by way of a TKO stoppage and 77-second knockout.
It was in May 17th of 2008 when Cullum would get his big break.
Cullum would accept a fight against Ryan Diaz for the King of the Cage Title. The King of the Cage had already earned acclaim all throughout the sport as they had already had a slew of successful fighters compete inside their cage. For Cullum, “The Lion” Ryan Diaz was the toughest opponent he had seen to that point. Diaz was 12-10 at the time and not only did he have nearly double the fights of Cullum, he had fought future UFC fighters Mark Hominick, Mamoru Yamaguchi, Eddie Yagin, and Nam Phan.
The offensive and defensive brilliance of Cullum’s grappling arsenal was brought to light that night Over the course of four rounds, the physically imposing and aggressive Diaz attempted to bully Cullum with his pressure striking and powerful takedowns. Cullum would counter perfectly with sweeps, strikes from his back and submission attempts. Diaz would never find comfort atop Cullum and the rounds would be favorable to the grappling wizardry of the Tucumcari native.
Cullum’s guard was just too technical, too crafty and far superior than that of Diaz’s top game and in the final round Cullum would find an opening for an armbar that Diaz would valiantly defend over the course of several tense moments. In the end, Cullum earned the tap out from Diaz and claim the King of the Cage Title.
Over the course of two years, Cullum would defend the title four times against Brett Roller, Richard Montano (who handed Cullum his first career loss), FIT NHB’s Joe Coca and Santa Fe’s Josh Montoya. While the title defenses are amongst Cullum’s greatest accomplishments, it was what he did outside of the King of the Cage promotion that cemented Cullum’s legend.
After capturing the King of the Cage Title, Cullum ventured over to the EliteXC promotion to be the main event fighter for the ShoXC 8 fight card against Wilson Reis (who many will recall just fought Joby Sanchez in the UFC). Reis was 5-0 heading into the bout and following the event would defeat Albuquerque’s Henry Martinez and UFC title contender Brian Caraway. Atop the notable fight card, Cullum would once again showcase his top-notch grappling this time against a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who had won World Championship’s as a grappler.
The second career professional loss of Cullum arguably was his premier moment to that point in his career and his status in the MMA world went from regional prospect to international fighter. In 2009, Cullum would travel across the ocean to for back-to-back bouts in Japan inside the Saitama Super Arena and Yokohama Arena to compete in the DREAM Featherweight Grand Prix. Suddenly, the kid from Tucumcari found himself on the national stage competing against the best the Japanese MMA scene had to offer.
Cullum won his first round bout against Akiyo Nishiura who was 9-3-1 heading into the bout. The superior talents of Cullum would send him to the second round of the talent stacked tournament for a bout against Hideo Tokoro, a veteran of 46-fights. Cullum would put on an exciting performance but would come up short losing the bout via submission in the second round. While the King of the Cage Champion didn’t win the tournament, he returned to New Mexico with massive exposure on the global level.
After three straight title defenses of the King of the Cage Title, Cullum was part of two absolute classics against Jimmie Rivera (who is still undefeated) and Jared Papazian (former UFC fighter). Cullum would lose both bouts via judge’s decision, losing the title to Rivera and failing to capture the belt against Papazian. Both outings remain two of the absolutely best fights in King of the Cage history and with a record of 8-2 within the promotion fighting at the highest level in the company, Cullum is regarded by many as one of the greatest King of the Cage fighters in New Mexico history.
Cullum’s final bout before his lengthy hiatus would come against Masakazu Imanari as part of another DREAM Grand Prix in Japan. Imanari headed into the bout with a record of 23-9-2 and had a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with ties to the lineage of the legendary Antoni Inoki. Cullum would put on yet another exciting performance, fending off submission after submission attempt from Imanari and amidst the onslaught would find his own offense throughout the first two rounds. Imanari would snatch on to a deep armbar in the third frame, seemingly dislocating Cullum’s elbow and forcing a halt to the bout.
Cullum would go inactive in his MMA career at this point and for several years only Cullum’s legend remained. Cullum’s presence in the MMA game seemed limited to a few appearances for the Evolution Combat Sports promotion. Just a few short weeks ago before RFA 18 was announced, this writer planned on a new series of articles digging up some of the legends of the local scene who hd been inactive and Cullum was panned as the first entry.
While Cullum was inactive, the system of fighting that made his career was brought to light when Ray Borg emerged as one of the premier fighters in New Mexico. Borg, now training at FIT NHB, got his start with Cullum and his father learning the Cullum Ground Fighting system.
“The way I met Abel was that I was at some fights in Tucumcari and he approached me and told me “Hey, you know we don’t have a wrestling team at the school but come train with us we have something that’s kind of like wrestling”. When I first started training with him he became like an older brother, he always looked after me and always made sure he helped me on anything I needed” – UFC Standout Flyweight Ray Borg
Borg was able to experience much of the memorable career of Cullum utilizing the talented fighter to hone in on his own skills to become the tremendous talent that he is today. Borg shared his favorite moment from the career of Cullum.
“The most amazing moment for me was when he fought Joe Coca. It was the first time I played a huge role in his fight camp and we spent a lot of time together in and out of the gym and he asked me to be in his corner which meant the world to me. He went in there and just put on an awesome performance that was truly amazing to me.” – Ray Borg
As we end the historical flashback, Cullum is now slated to fight on September 12th against former UFC fighter Ulysses Gomez (9-4) in his comeback fight to active competition. Cullum will not be taking the easy road to a return but at the age of 27, “The Silent Assassin” is still relatively young in fight years and could use this platform to propel himself for another run at MMA prominence.
While many fight fans will be watching Cullum for the very first time at RFA 18 inside the Albuquerque Convention Center, Cullum will be bringing back the old guard of regional MMA with him during the walk to the cage. While the fight game has changed, shown no better than through the evolution and success of Borg, Cullum’s characteristics outside of the cage may be the key to “The Silent Assassin” returning to the sport and finding success.
“What stands out about Abel isn’t so much his fighting skill but that he has an awesome, genuine personality. He always treats everyone with respect and is a great people person.” – Ray Borg
While there will definitely be nerves heading into the bout, Cullum as poised as ever seems ready for his homecoming. Once one of the most prominent figures in combat sports in New Mexico, Cullum will have an exceptional martial arts platform to form his foundation as he enters into the ranks of the new world of MMA. If New Mexico had their own Hall of Fame for MMA, Cullum would already have a home inside it and this upcoming fight will only grant Cullum the opportunity to further write more chapters in a tremendous career story and continue to cement his already iconic legacy in the fight game.
“Each day that goes by the more excited I am about fighting Ulysses Gomez and fighting for the RFA promotion here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My very first fight back in 2005 was in my home state of New Mexico and I love every opportunity I have to represent New Mexico around the world. It’s always an honor when I can fight in front of New Mexican fans in our state.” – Abel Cullum
Tickets are still on sale for Resurrection Fighting Alliance 18 on September 12th inside the Albuquerque Convention Center. Grab your tickets from your favorite fighter featured on the card including Abel Cullum himself. Tickets are also available on the Hold My Ticket website (https://holdmyticket.com/checkout/event/180510). RFA 18 is headlined by the promotion’s Flyweight Title bout between Champion Matt Manzanares and challenger Alexandre Pantoja. The fight card will also feature local favorites Brenda Gonzales, Tim Sosa, Jess Martinez, Adrian Cruz and much more!