CLOVIS — It took about 90 minutes for Jeremiah Cullum to get from Tucumcari to the Curry County Events Center Saturday night. It took him even longer for what he got before he left.
Cullum, 18, went :50 into the second round of his Evolution 2 mixed martial arts fight against Jonathan Lopez in the 125-pound weight class :50 into the second round.
After he won by heel hook — the only fighter of a dozen to do so — his father John presented him with Cullum Ground Fighting’s black belt.
“It’s amazing what a bag hanging outside on a tree can bring you to,” said Jeremiah, who spent 10 years earning the black belt. “It’s whenever (my father) decides (I’ve earned it); it’s a tough bar.”
Jeremiah Cullum — in the presence of his father and his brother, Abel, who did fight commentary throughout — took out Lopez with a heel hook, the only such victory in a dozen matches on the Saturday slate.
“Jonathan was going to be the best fighter I’ve ever faced,” Cullum said of the formerly 7-0 Lopez. “I put in a really hard training camp, and I’m glad it paid off.”
In a main event match that had obvious bad blood — the two had a weigh-in dust-up Friday evening — Paco “The Texas Punisher” Castillo held Angel Castillo in check just enough to earn a split decision.
Prior to the main bout, the events center crowd had plenty to cheer about, from pro to amateur fighter and from international fighters to punishing combatants right down the road.
The loudest local cheers went to Force of One’s Roy Saucedo, who left no doubt with a submission win 2:59 into the first round against Amarillo’s Tanner Varela.
“If he didn’t open up quick, I was going to just attack,” said Saucedo, who moved to 3-0 on his career. “It didn’t matter if it was standing or on the ground; I was going to get him.”
Saucedo fought with a heavy heart, telling the crowd that a little more than a month ago, he had lost his wife, Ernestina Bara, and he had dedicated the fight to her.
Bara, Saucedo’s common-law wife for seven years, died in a one-vehicle rollover near Bovina Oct. 30.
Another local fighter, Marc Hightower, rallied against Albuquerque-based John Sparks. After Hightower was put to the ground on an inadvertent eye poke — and given ample recovery time — he fought off hold after hold to take the split decision.
“That was the best fight I’ve ever had,” Hightower said to the crowd. “John Sparks, you are an awesome fighter.”
In one of the night’s upsets, Brad “Carbomb” Nordquist defeated Eric Kucevic on a reverse choke hold in the second round of a fight where both fighters needed a minute after matching groin shots.
“That was the longest 3:39 of my damn life,” said Nordquist, who gave Kucevic an embrace during the match after the referees cleared them to fight again.
In other fights Saturday:
• Jorrel Sparenberg of Hobbs won the opener in a unanimous decision against Andres Ramirez in the 135-pound class.
• Christian Reyes won his fight over Justin Dudley when the referee stopped matters 2:22 into the second round.
• Anthony Rozema of Tucson, Ariz., won his MMA debut, taking advantage of a significant reach advantage against Matt Gonzales of Amarillo.
• Harvey Suarez defeated Eric Bailon of Clovis when the referee stopped the match 2:21 into the second.
• Michael Escobar took a split decision over Portales’ Peter Bouton.
• Daniel Pinheiro defeated Filberto Ramirez on the pro card opener, with a rear naked choke 2:10 into the first round.
• Adrian Cruz of Albuquerque needed 4:16 to win his pro debut. His win on strikes over Clovis’ Gilbert Cuhen served as the final pro undercard.