Thursday, June 05, 2008

Razor Rob Learns from Defeat

By Mike Russell Originally Posted on the Fight Network

"The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard." - Katha Upanishad

Sometimes the hardest lessons in life are learned by dealing with a loss. Just ask "Razor" Rob McCullough.

Three months ago, the Huntington Beach, Calif., native was on top of the world. He was the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight champion, the promotion's poster boy, and he was set to defend his title for the second time against Jamie Varner at WEC 32 in Albuquerque, N.M.

The fight did not go as he had planned.

McCullough's eardrum was ruptured in the first round by a left hook from Varner, but he managed to shake off the injury and continue the fight. He rocked Varner in the third with a solid right cross that sent his mouthpiece to one corner of the cage while its owner slumped in the other.

Varner absorbed a handful of shots, scrambled to his feet and was granted a 28-second timeout to retrieve and clean his mouthpiece. One minute and forty two seconds later, Varner's left-right combination caught McCullough, and in an instant, his title was lost.

Once a regular fixture at the Playboy Mansion, McCullough decided a change was in order. He retreated to former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz's training center in Big Bear, Calif. There, McCullough cam to the realization he would have to sharpen his mind and body if he wanted to wear the WEC lightweight belt again.

"I kind of sat back and tried to figure out what the big deal is about training up there," McCullough says. "They got the high altitude, but everything else is the same as at home. Tito said, ‘Yeah, but everyone is always coming in and bugging you at home, watching you train and asking for autographs while you're training. That's why I do it. I have to get away.' The more I thought about it, I thought maybe he's right, maybe's he's on to something here."

McCullough will face Kenneth Alexander - the man who handed him his first professional defeat in 2002 - at WEC 34 on Sunday at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif. He returned home from Big Bear last week but continued to put in the training hours, as he brought in Strikeforce lightweight title contender Josh Thomson and UFC welterweight standout Jon Fitch to shore up his weaknesses.

"I've just been doing my job, eating real healthy, going to the gym," McCullough says. "Then I go home and go to bed. That's been my routine for about the last nine weeks."

McCullough has moved past his loss to Varner. He learned how to overcome adversity at an early age. Living on the streets at age 13 would toughen even the softest kid. After he left home to help ease the burden on his mother - she was also raising six daughters - McCullough soon found himself fighting for respect.

"I wasn't a big kid and I never started fights, but I was the guy who always stuck up for my friends," McCullough says. "The other day, my girlfriend and I were walking around downtown Huntington Beach, and I was like, ‘I got in a fight there before.' Later on, I was like, ‘I remember fighting over there.' She was like, ‘Do you know that on our walk, you've pointed out pretty much every block and said you've gotten into a fight on it?'"

In order to make ends meet, McCullough took odd jobs under the table and admits he knew little about the value of a dollar. When his lifestyle started to outspend his means, McCullough realized he had to find another way to pay the bills.

"I never wanted fighting to be my job because I never wanted to hate it," he says. "I got to the point where I was doing K-1, which is the pinnacle of kickboxing. I was on TV doing well, and I was only making $5,000. I was like, ‘How long is this going to last me?' The way I was spending money, I knew it wasn't going to be long."

The 9/11 attacks forever changed McCullough's career path, as he spurred him to try mixed martial arts.

"Everyone in the house [in Big Bear] was tripping out over what was going on like the world was going crazy," he says. "Tito says, ‘There's a fight that's opened up. Do you want to take it?' I was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it.'"

McCullough added wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu to his arsenal and won seven of his first 10 professional fights, losing only by decision. He reeled off seven more victories before he was stopped by Varner.

Known in the Muay Thai world for his flashy knees, elbows and punches, McCullough has taken a more measured approach to MMA.

"I think I've become more well-rounded," he says. "[Those strikes] look really cool, but at the same time, they put you in some dangerous positions. As I learned more about grappling, I didn't take those techniques out of my game; I learned when and where to use them. I've definitely become a lot smarter fighter."



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