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Nate Cullison and Alyssa Garcia, two amateur mixed martial arts fighters wanting to make it big in MMA fighting train at Jackson's MMA Gym in Pueblo, Colorado. (Kevin Malella for PULP)

Breaking into the cage

Two very different amateur fighters in Southern Colorado have the same goal: to join the professional MMA ranks.

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To look at Alyssa Garcia and Nate Cullison, you would hardly suspect they were accomplished mixed martial artists – weighing a fearsome 240 pounds of solid muscle (that’s, of course, if they both stepped on the scale at the same time).

Weighing in at a mere 125 pounds, Cullison, 23, is the heavyweight of the two top performers at Jackson’s MMA Colorado in south Pueblo. He competes in the flyweight division and has won all five of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fights he has ever competed in. While Garcia, a 28-year-old, 115-pound, straw-weight, has won four out of five of her matches.

For those unfamiliar with MMA, the sport includes a variety of disciplines among them Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and wrestling. One might say that Garcia and Cullison are on opposite ends of the MMA spectrum. Garcia is a petite (5’ 2’’) powerhouse in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, while Cullison at 5’ 6’’ specializes in boxing and jiu-jitsu. Besides their sexes, the two are very different in other respects as well.

One might say both fighters are on opposite ends of the MMA spectrum. Garcia is a petite (5-foot-2-inch) powerhouse in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, while Cullison at 5-6 specializes in boxing and jiu-jitsu. Besides their sexes, the two are very different in other respects as well.

An overachiever

“I’ve come from a heritage of wrestlers,” Garcia said, adding her father and uncle were both accomplished in the sport. Her father, Pastor Charles Garcia, had his Olympic wrestling dream dashed when, in 1980, the U.S. and other countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

To look at Alyssa Garcia and Nate Cullison, you would hardly suspect they were accomplished mixed martial artists – weighing a fearsome 240 pounds of solid muscle (that’s, of course, if they both stepped on the scale at the same time).
Weighing in at a mere 125 pounds, Cullison, 23, is the heavyweight of the two top performers at Jackson’s MMA Colorado in south Pueblo. He competes in the flyweight division and has won all five of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fights he has ever competed in. While Garcia, a 28-year-old, 115-pound, straw-weight, has won four out of five of her matches.
For those unfamiliar with MMA, the sport includes a variety of disciplines among them Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and wrestling. One might say that Garcia and Cullison are on opposite ends of the MMA spectrum. Garcia is a petite (5’ 2’’) powerhouse in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, while Cullison at 5’ 6’’ specializes in boxing and jiu-jitsu. Besides their sexes, the two are very different in other respects as well.
One might say both fighters are on opposite ends of the MMA spectrum. Garcia is a petite (5-foot-2-inch) powerhouse in wrestling and jiu-jitsu, while Cullison at 5-6 specializes in boxing and jiu-jitsu. Besides their sexes, the two are very different in other respects as well.
Alyssa Garcia (Kevin Malella for PULP)

An overachiever

“I’ve come from a heritage of wrestlers,” Garcia said, adding her father and uncle were both accomplished in the sport. Her father, Pastor Charles Garcia, had his Olympic wrestling dream dashed when, in 1980, the U.S. and other countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics because of the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
As for Alyssa, while growing up she and her four younger siblings wrestled with their father in the garage. “In my eighth-grade year I decided to try wrestling,” she said. “When I went home [after making the decision to wrestle in school], they [her family] said, ‘You’re going to get hurt.’”
Garcia “wrestled with the guys,” and in her freshman year of high school, she made it on the varsity wrestling squad and, believe it or not, she also played football. In 2007 and 2008 Garcia made nationals in female wrestling and was a two-time High School All-American. But then Garcia was sidelined by a shoulder injury, which pretty much ended her wrestling career. She had planned to attend the prestigious Northern Michigan U.S. Olympic Education Center (23-time gold medalist Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is an alumnus), but that was not to happen.

Alyssa Garcia (Kevin Malella for PULP)

Then, when her wrestling career was over, Garcia, at 19, chose to take on MMA. She started with an MMA group called “Team Hitman” while working for Trane Heating and Cooling in Pueblo, a job she held for six years starting out as an assembly worker, then being promoted to supervisor, then she transferred to the shipping department where she operated a forklift.
While working at Trane and fighting, Garcia “picked up” the sport of bodybuilding, during which time she took first in the Figure division and second in the Bikini division at the Rocky Mountain Natural Championships. In bodybuilding, “natural” means contestants don’t take steroids or other body-enhancing drugs.
Between fighting MMA, bodybuilding and working, Garcia managed to fit in being selected Miss Pueblo in 2012.
After leaving her job at Trane, Garcia attended the Police Academy at Pueblo Community College, graduating in December 2016. Now she’s a patrol officer with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office.
All during this time, Garcia continued her MMA training and fighting – developing jiu-jitsu skills and now working on her boxing skills, which she admits are still pretty weak.
Nevertheless, Garcia won four of five of her most recent MMA matches. In 2012 in Denver, she won her first fight, a technical knockout (TKO), in 23 seconds. Her second fight, in Colorado Springs took her a little longer – scoring a TKO in 1 minute, 54 seconds. She lost her third fight, also in Colorado Springs, the victim of a “rear naked choke” hold, a move she was unfamiliar with.
Most recently, Garcia won her fourth and fifth MMA fights – one in 54 seconds using an “arm brace” hold and the other in 1 minute, 39 seconds using the same hold. She is currently training for her sixth fight scheduled early next year at a time and place yet to be determined.
Garcia attributes the successes throughout her life to her family, adding, “In everything I do, all the glory goes to God.”
But Garcia still has ambitions and sh…
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Breaking into the cage
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