By Chris Huntemann
How did you spend your July 4th weekend this year? Maybe you went to a cookout, and you probably took in some fireworks with family or friends. To use a tried and true cliché, Maryland mixed martial arts fighter Rob Sullivan spent his 4th of July weekend creating fireworks of his own, with a trip down memory lane to boot.
Sullivan went the distance with Scott Heckman in a physical, hard-fought battle at Maverick MMA 2 that brought the crowd of nearly 800 people at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, Pa. to their feet. But before Sullivan stepped into the cage, he encountered several unique features about his environment.
“It was a really cool and interesting venue, being an old theater with a balcony,” Sullivan said. “I really wanted to look up and see the old guys from The Muppets heckling me. It was a little weird because a bunch of fights got cancelled and two guys who were supposed to fight on the card got arrested for being in bar fights.”
But Sullivan and Heckman’s fight went on as planned, and though Sullivan came up on the short end of a split decision for the Maverick MMA featherweight title, he did win over the fans in attendance despite competing in Heckman’s backyard.
“They were on Scott’s side at first, but the crowd wanted a good fight and they become more neutral at the end,” Sullivan said. “The place was probably half-full, but our next one is already a box office sellout.”
Sullivan (7-7) and Heckman (23-8) will have their rematch at Maverick MMA 3 on Saturday, Sept. 30, in Stroudsburg. Although Sullivan expects a similar performance against Heckman to their first meeting, he expects a different result.
“I thought I had the first and third rounds,” Sullivan said. “I’ve lost closer fights that I could be convinced that I lost. But I have to beat the champ at home, and that little moment waiting for the scorecards is always the toughest. I actually had a sponsor tell me recently that I could be 11-3 right now, but I don’t look at it that way. It keeps me working harder to not let my fights go to a decision.”
Sullivan also hopes not to deal with a pre-fight injury that may have affected the outcome of his first meeting with Heckman. A cut that Sullivan suffered on the top of his head while sparring reopened during the fight, which might have affected the outcome.
“I had it glued shut, and I even had stem cells put in by a sponsor who specializes in that,” Sullivan said. “It looked like it was healed, but I was against the cage while stopping a takedown, and the cage must have hit the wound. I started seeing drops of blood and thought ‘Goddammit, that’s mine.’ I knew it was bad, but it didn’t bleed much at first, but it opened up more in the third round.”
But Sullivan isn’t making any excuses about his close loss to Heckman, and he isn’t expecting a different version of his opponent when the two meet again on Sept. 30.
“He’ll show up as the best version of himself, and he won the first time, so he knows what he needs to do,” Sullivan said. But I know it was a close fight and I know what I need to do to change that. I’m not very good at making gameplans, but I’m getting better at it. This is such a short turnaround that neither of us are going to be very different. But I’m in better shape and a better-conditioned version of myself, with a full camp. These aren’t excuses – I’m just doing things smarter.”
Regardless of how Sullivan’s rematch with Heckman turns out, Sullivan, 34, said he would like to keep fighting “for at least a few years,” while continuing to pursue other opportunities such as personal training. Sullivan would also like to fight for the featherweight title at a future Shogun Fights card in his native Maryland, unless his friend Tucker Lutz is successful in winning the title from current champion Francisco Isata at Shogun Fights 17 on Saturday, Oct. 7, in Baltimore, Maryland.
But someone who may not mind seeing Sullivan switch careers? His girlfriend.
“I don’t think any partner wants to think ‘I want to see you get hurt,’” Sullivan said. “She doesn’t like seeing me get hurt. But I handle my bills, and she’s a successful nurse and working on her graduate degree in nutrition. I’m sure she wouldn’t admit it, but she would probably do backflips on the inside if I decided to quit.”
Sullivan also has an interest in coaching and passing on his knowledge of the fight game to other fighters, and would model his coaching style after Matt Hume, the coach of UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. Sullivan added that he’s interested in the dynamic between Hume and the coach of Johnson’s opponent Ray Borg at UFC 216 on Saturday, Oct. 7, Greg Jackson.
“I’m most curious about the adjustments made between Hume and Jackson,” Sullivan said. “Hume isn’t talked about a lot, but he’s good at adjustments. I like hearing about gameplans, but I’m not a gameplanner myself. You’ll never see me become a point fighter – I want people to want to see me fight.”
Photo Credit- Will Paul/CES MMA