When Rob McCullough was 11 years old, his parents split up. The Southern California native ended up spending two years living in Alaska.
By the time he was 14, McCullough had run away from home and was back in Huntington Beach looking for a place to live, a period he describes as his couch tour--spending the next few years going from living on the couch from friend-to-friend.
He discovered fighting at 16, and while training on a heavy bag, someone in the gym called him "Razor," and that person got him his first pair of competition Muay Thai trunks. The word "Razor" was emblazoned on the front. By 18, McCullough traveled to Thailand to hone his skills and get the experience in life in a third-world country and training in a country where people start in the sport at the age of four, and are usually burned out with injuries by their early 20s.
"Razor Rob" isn't yet a household name in the MMA world. But the World Extreme Cage Fighting lightweight champion jokes he's becoming an overnight sensation after a dozen years in the fight game, after two first-round wins on WEC televised events last year.
The 30-year old is not shy about predicting a similar fate for opponent No. 3, Jamie Varner, a wrestler from Glendale, Ariz., who placed second at the junior college nationals in 2005. The Wednesday showdown at the Santa Ana Star Center just outside Albuquerque is one of three championship matches on one of the deepest shows in a long time, which will air live on Versus.
"I'm expecting a young wrestler to come out and (try to) take me down," said McCullough from his training camp in Big Bear, Calif.
The show is the first for WEC outside of its 2007 home base at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. Moving from a small hall that barely holds 1,000 to a 6,800-seat auditorium in Albuquerque, N.M., is a big step, but with a home town fighter, welterweight champion Carlos Condit, defending his title in the main event, it's considered the biggest MMA show ever to hit the city.
If there's a negative, it is with three title fights, all having the potential to go five rounds, there will probably be high quality undercard matches left on the cutting room floor in a two-hour broadcast.
The show is built around Condit fighting in his home city for the first time in years, defending his title against Carlo Prater. Condit, 21-4, is out to avenge a first-round submission loss to a triangle choke suffered at the hands of Prater in Albuquerque on Sept. 11, 2004, before Condit developed his reputation as a name fighter. The third championship match has Chase Beebe defending his bantamweight title against 19-1 Miguel Torres in a battle of two of the best fighters in that weight division in the world.
The WEC, a sister promotion to the more popular Ultimate Fighting Championship, was purchased in 2006 to create an MMA vehicle for Versus. Its most recent show, on Dec. 12, featuring its two most well-known fighters, featherweight champion Urijah Faber and his likely next title contender, Jens Pulver, was viewed by 630,000 people. It was the most-watched non-UFC MMA event in the country over the past several months.
While WEC has championships in every major weight division except heavyweight, the emphasis is on attracting the best fighters in the world in the lighter weight classes, in particular 135 and 145 pounds. That has generally led to faster and more entertaining fights, even though the fighters generally aren't well known.
McCullough had a 35-3 record as a champion kickboxer, then turned to MMA in 2000 and has a 15-3 record. He has won nine straight in a streak that dates back four years. Varner, 23, has a 13-2 record. He's been fighting for five years since getting injured while on a wrestling scholarship at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. He's only lost once in his past 14 matches, that on a UFC show on August 26, 2006, to Hermes Franca while Franca was on the road to getting a UFC lightweight title shot.
For McCullough, since the lightweight class is a UFC specialty, one would think he'd covet the competition and exposure that he came well, close as a razor, to getting.
"I'm very happy with the WEC," he said. "They've got great competition in every weight class. It's just a matter of time until before the champions of both groups duke it out and I'm definitely down with that."
McCullough had signed a three-fight contract with the World Fighting Alliance in 2006, when that promotion went belly-up after one show and its remnants were purchased by the UFC.
"I got a letter in the mail from Zuffa (UFC parent company) saying we purchased your contract and you will now be fighting in the UFC," he noted. "I was celebrating that I was finally in the UFC. Then I got a letter saying I'd be in the WEC and I'd be getting a title shot. I asked who it would be against and they said, `Kit Cope,' and I said, `I'm gonna kill that guy.'"
That's pretty much what happened in the match to crown a lightweight champion on January 20, 2007, with McCullough pounding his way to a first-round win. He retained the title on Sept. 5, cutting through former UFC fighter Rich Crunkilton even quicker.
The undercard, which may or may not get televised depending on how long the title fights go, is filled with interesting fights. Montreal's Mark Hominick, for years one of the top featherweights in the world, faces 19-year-old prodigy Josh Grispi of Boston, who takes a 10-1 record into his first match under the national radar. Leonard Garcia, who had one of UFC's best matches of 2007 on April 7 in losing a decision in Houston to lightweight Roger Huerta, moves down to his more natural featherweight class to face the debuting Hiroyuki Takaya, an all-action former regular with the Hero's promotion in Japan. Charlie Valencia, who had the move of the night on the last show, executing a German suplex to Ian McCall, comes back to face Yoshiro Maeda, who is 22-4-2 fighting with the Japanese Pancrase and Deep organizations. Chance Farrar, 5-1, a strong wrestler who had a thriller last year in a title challenge to Faber, faces Micah Miller, 9-1. Ox Wheeler, 6-1, an Albuquerque native, faces Del Hawkins, 22-12, while Scott Jorgensen, 4-1, takes on Jesse Moreng, 8-1, to round out the show.
Manny Tapia vs. Antonio Banuelos in a bantamweight match is the fourth match scheduled for the live television show.