Selling sweets, tricking his mum and sleeping in the car are just a few of the challenges faced by MMA rising star Adam Cullen. The Liverpool-based fighter talks to Mersey Sport Live’s Ollie Stockdale about what it takes to get to the top.
Right from the off, Adam Cullen had to face resistance from his own family when his mum initially rejected the idea of him training in mixed martial arts after he showed an interest as a youngster.
Ever the fighter, His mum’s disapproval wasn’t enough to put him off and, undeterred, the 15-year-old took it into his own hands to make some money and head to the gym.
He said: “From 12 to 15 all I ever did was ask my mother to train mixed martial arts.
“I had this money from selling sweets and I was like ‘I’m not asking my mum anymore she’s never letting me do it, let’s just go.’
“On a Friday we used to go out and play football and I was like ‘that’s it, let’s go and train at the gym.’ I snuck there basically for six months, me and my mate would use the sweet money and just go and beat the life out of each other. It was utterly boss!”
In order to cover up the secret visits to the gym, Cullen would text his mum every Friday to reassure her that he was ok.
Friday training was working out well until Cullen forgot to text his mum. He said: “I was only in the first week of year 11, and she didn’t know where I was. She rang one of my mates and he said ‘he’s at mixed martial arts, it’s Friday.
“My mum was proper, proper, fuming. I remember getting grounded and all that. She was like ‘How have you paid for it? and I was like, ‘selling sweets.’
Mixed martial arts is something that runs in the family, yet still Cullen’s mum was unconvinced. He explained: “My uncle did and still does Japanese ju-jitsu and he was a black belt, but there was still the whole thing with MMA and the cage fighting stigma.”
Now 25, he described how his two brothers eventually thawed his parents’ disapproval. The lightweight said: “They understood the dedication required and they eased it a bit through my mum and dad and my other family members. Also, they’ve seen how dedicated I am to it and they’re thinking ‘if he’s not the best in the world and he’s putting all that effort in, then it’s obviously a real sport.’
Acceptance from his family has certainly smoothed Cullen’s career path, but people would be mistaken if they thought it had been easy from that point. The 7-1 fighter’s paid job involves shift work and his commitment and dedication are evident when he describes his daily routine.
“I’ve got a job that supports me,”he said. “Today I’ve had like two hours of sleep in my car and then come in here to train, because I’ve just done a 12-hour night shift. I slept in the car, drove here, warmed up, sparred, hit pads, done this interview, now I’ll go home and sleep.
“If I wasn’t on nights again, I’d train again later but I’ve got another night shift tonight. So I will do the night shift, sleep in the car and then train in the morning. That’s the reality of the career.”
Cullen expressed his frustration at the lack of support for emerging MMA stars. He said: “People want to sponsor you when you’re already a top dog. Till (Darren) did a good post about it, saying; ‘The amount of people that are offering me sponsors for supplements, money for training, new clothes etc. Everyone’s offering me now when I don’t need it but when I needed it no one wanted to help me out.’
When the challenges of his gruelling schedule threaten to overwhelm him, Cullen looks to fellow fighter Nathan Fletcher for motivation. He said: “He’d been training for about six months longer than me. I’d finally met someone just as obsessed as me. We moved here to Next Generation at the same time, and we’ve sort of always done things together so we’ve always inspired each other.”
Cullen’s coach Ellis is quick to praise his hard-working, professional approach but the fighter himself is unphased by such a punishing regime. He describes taking every fight as it comes. Speaking about his upcoming fight, he said: “My only goal is to smash this next fight and finish him.”
Anyone who comes into contact with Cullen cannot doubt that he has all the attributes he needs for a long-term future in the sport. He said: “In five years I want to be in the UFC, I want to be a big name in the UFC. I want to be proven in the UFC.
“In 10 years, probably coming towards the end of my career, in my prime, I want to be a UFC champion. That is the goal.”
Either way, his family can be proud of what he is achieving in the octagon.