Following a notable collegiate wrestling career and run in the amateur MMA ranks, light-heavyweight Sullivan Cauley was looking to make a strong statement for himself in his pro debut versus Jason Markland at Bellator 253 in November.
While he was expecting to have a good performance versus Markland, Cauley surprised himself a little, landing a punch early on that lead to a 28-second TKO victory.
“I was a little nervous coming into my first pro fight on a big show, but I felt really confident and by the time I got in the cage I actually felt really loose and ready to go,” Cauley told MMAWeekly.com. “Any time I get nervous I get my feet stuck in the mud, so I wanted to get moving around and get my heart rate going and get settled into the fight.
“I hit (Markland) with a level change and came right out of it with a quick right hand, and he was kind of frozen there, so I landed it pretty good. I was still kind of moving my head, ready for him to counter, and I look up and he’s on his butt, so I sprint across the cage and beat him like he stole something until the ref pulled me off.”
For Cauley, picking up a big win in his pro debut was both an instantaneous sense of gratification followed by more emotions in the following days.
“I had a pretty strong wave of emotion right away,” said Cauley. “I was grinning from ear to ear. A few days after that fight I couldn’t believe it happened.
“It really feels like I’ve earned this. I’ve been busting my butt on these smaller shows and in the practice room for such a long time. We got this break, this opportunity, to fight for Bellator, and I’m really happy I was able to perform like I know I can and cash in on it.”
Following the win Cauley went right back into the gym, as developing his game further is an essential part of his early career to make sure he progresses in level with the competition he’ll be facing in future bouts.
“I was essentially just a wrestler my first couple amateur fights,” Cauley said. “I’ve spent hours and hours working on my striking game, and feel like a much more complete fighter now. Wrestling is still a dominant part of my game, but I’m much less reliant on it.”
With the opportunities fighting for a worldwide promotion like Bellator can provide him, Cauley is looking to make his second year as a pro a busy one.
“My goal is to have a lot of fights in 2021,” said Cauley. “I would like to fight again in January if (Bellator) can get me on. They told me early next year, but we haven’t talked about dates yet. I’m young, healthy, and highly motivated, and I can fight all the time as long as I’m not injured.”