After a three-year hiatus from active competition, the once highly touted prospect Abel Cullum returned to action in 2014 and made a statement in two winning performances.
It was May of 2008 and to properly set the scene, it was Greenville, Missouri inside Harlow’s Casino & Resort. The fight fans in attendance were there to watch King of the Cage “Reckless” and amongst the notables on the fight card was eventual UFC talent Ovince St. Preux who fought twice that night racking up a submission and knockout victory as an amateur fighter. Headlining the event, Tucumcari’s Abel Cullum and Arizona’s Ryan Diaz fighting for the promotion’s World Title.
Diaz (12-10) was an experienced and grizzled veteran of the sport having been in combat with guys like Mark Hominick, Hermes Franca, Nam Phan, and Mamoru Yamaguchi. Most of his victories came via submission and his placement in the main event of “Reckless” was to test just how good this young fighter was coming out of a very small town in New Mexico.
“The Silent Assassin” Abel Cullum (12-1) was on quite the terror riding an 11-fight winning streak. Cullum’s lone loss was to regional tough guy Richard Montano in his second professional outing. Training out of his hometown of Tucumcari and being coached by his father, Cullum had already created quite the story for himself. Cullum’s early career could be labeled as an “underdog” story being the status of his low profile training. MMA had already been booming in New Mexico and he wasn’t part of the premier gyms in the State that were currently flourishing at providing the sport top talent.
After five grueling rounds of action that saw a lot of takedowns from Diaz and both fighters competing in a frenetic pace, Cullum would slap on a fight ending armbar and walkout of the venue that night the King of the Cage Flyweight Champion. Cullum was one of the hottest names in New Mexico and one of the fighters everyone was keeping an eye out for as he successfully ran through regional circuits around the Country.
Cullum would go on to defend the KOTC Title four times and had six title fights overall, in that span he would compete in EliteXC and compete in two DREAM Grand Prix tournaments. The young fighter from the small town of Tucumcari was showcasing his talents from California to Saitama, Japan and all the way back to Connecticut. He was fighting Japanese legend Masakazu Imanari, eventual UFC fighters Jared Papazian and Wilson Reis.
In 2011, Abel Cullum was well on his way to becoming a breakout star.
Fast forward three years from a competitive loss to the aforementioned Imanari and Cullum hadn’t competed in a single MMA bout. The once promising star of New Mexico had taken an indefinite hiatus. Quick searches through social media would have yielded the information that Cullum had become a Police Officer and it appeared as if Cullum’s face would forever be on the metaphorical milk cartoon for MMA’s missing fighters who once showed promised and disappeared from the MMA world.
In late-2014, Cullum resurfaced and he was announced to compete on the first RFA (Resurrection Fighting Alliance) show to be held in New Mexico. He was back! “The Silent Assassin” had returned to MMA action in his home state of New Mexico and the weirdest thing happened.
Either people forgot about Cullum and his meteoric rise as a bona fide star of New Mexico MMA or he had been gone so long that a lot of the local fan base was too new to know much about Cullum’s iconic history in the sport. It was as if Cullum was a newbie to a large portion of the demographic in the area and he was but a newcomer heading into his high-profile bout in September of 2014.
For those that knew about Cullum, excitement and intrigue were the common feelings stemming from his return announcement. One of the most iconic figures of New Mexico MMA had returned and despite his three-year hiatus, Cullum was still only 27-years old. Cullum was barely entering into what many believe to be an athlete’s prime and he would be returning to a sport that was dramatically different.
Cullum won in 99-seconds against an opponent who had just been released by the UFC.
At RFA 18, Cullum would make a triumphant return to action against Ulysses Gomez (9-4) who had been released by the UFC after losses to John Moraga and Phil Harris. Gomez was the first ever Tachi Palace Flyweight Champion and had been fighting a competitive dosage of top talent when he stepped into the cage with Cullum, whom many thought would suffer from cage rust after being gone from the sport for so long.
The most impressive aspect of Cullum’s win was that he won in a way that suggested he never missed a beat during the three-year break. Cullum showed his world-class scrambling ability and his elite grappling secured the tapout due to guillotine choke. Cullum elated in victory was full of emotion after the win and the crowd erupted for one of the most respected fighting figures in New Mexico’s MMA history.
That alone would be justification for one of the greatest comeback stories our area has ever seen but it wouldn’t be Cullum’s last triumph in 2014. Just a short period after RFA 18, it was announced that Cullum was stepping in on short notice to fight just a few weeks later at RFA 19 against Carl Deaton (8-1), one of RFA’s standout up-and-comers.
Was Cullum’s approach to his return too rushed? Was he biting off more than he could chew with two bouts in a 30-day span after taking three years off of active competition?
It took longer this time out but the fight didn’t see the third round as Cullum slapped on his deadly rear-naked choke on to get the submission near the four-minute mark of the second round. Once dormant in his career, Cullum had compiled two marquee victories in a one month timespan and quickly re-announced himself to the MMA world.
2-0 in 2014, 20-6 overall – Abel Cullum is our “Breakout Fighter of the Year”