Chairman of the State Athletic Commission
Story By Cindy Reid Photos By Paul Nurnberg
Beaufort’s own Will McCullough was recently reelected to a second term as the Chairman of the South Carolina State Athletic Commission. The Athletic Commission licenses and regulates professional and amateur combative sports, including mixed martial arts (“MMA”), boxing, kickboxing, professional wrestling and “toughman” contests, that take place anywhere in the state of South Carolina.
“I have been heavily involved with martial arts and combat sports my entire life, Will says, “and in late 2013, I was appointed by Governor Haley to fill a vacancy on the Commission. This led to a Senate Confirmation Hearing in early 2014 and, by summer 2014, my appointment was approved by the full senate and I began serving on the board.”
“The state Athletic Commission consists of nine members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the South Carolina senate, who serve four-year terms. We meet on a regular basis, making decisions and holding hearings as necessary.” Will says, “I was elected to the Vice Chairman position by my fellow commissioners after my first year on the Board and was subsequently elected Chairman one year later. I was honored to be reelected Chairman just last month and am now looking forward to another term of serving the fighting community of South Carolina. The Athletic Commission is made up of some really great people, with an eclectic variety of successful backgrounds in fighting, law, medicine and business, all of whom share a genuine desire to see the state’s combat sport community grow and thrive while simultaneously enhancing fighter safety.”
Will’s love and appreciation of the combative sports goes back, way back, to his childhood in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. It was a childhood spent in a small rural town of dirt roads that had one drive-in movie theater for entertainment.
“I come from a long line of athletes, my Dad played a bit of pro baseball before I was born, my uncle was a Commissioner for the SEC football conference and both of my older brothers were great athletes in their own right.” “But,” Will pauses and says, “My Dad died of a heart attack at age 46 when I was just 13 years old, and it was suddenly just me and my Mom. Without my Dad and with my two older brothers now both adults, we went from being a household of five to a household of just two. That‘s when I started to really focus on martial arts. For me, martial arts classes and, quite frankly, fighting in a controlled environment specifically, was an effective way to channel rage. And I had a lot of it.”
Will says it was the best path he could have taken because “My Mom ended up passing away very early as well, just shortly after I graduated high school and joined the USMC. The martial arts, in general, have made me who I am. They’ve been a positive force for me, providing a foundation, decades deep, for the person I was to become. I don’t honestly think I’d have been able to keep from imploding without that outlet.”
Will put his martial arts training to effective use in the United States Marine Corps, where he served for ten years.
During his time in the USMC, he was a Combat Engineer, Senior Drill Instructor and Close Combat Instructor. Like many others, the Marine Corps brought Will to Beaufort by way of Parris Island. After ten years of service, Will felt that he was ready to move on to the next chapter in his life, now with his wife, Deena, by his side, and begin raising a family.
A little background– Will and Deena first met in 1995 in a fairly unique fashion. Will was driving from Parris Island to Pennsylvania and Deena was driving from Florida to Ohio. They passed on I-77 in North Carolina. She passed him, he looked over and smiled, she waved and the rest was history. They have been married now for twenty years and are the proud parents of two children, 18-year-old daughter Keara, now attending her first year at the University of South Carolina, and 11-year-old Cooper, a 6th grader at Bridges Prep.
He says, “In 1997 we decided to make Beaufort our permanent home and opened the McCullough Submission Fighting School. The school did really well and then, several years later in 2003, due to a combination of my own ongoing issues with past personal injuries coupled with the increasing demands of our growing local real estate interests, we passed the school’s ownership on to two of our top students, Abe and Rebecca Stem. That school, now called “Beaufort MMA,” continues to do quite well locally under Abe’s continued guidance. After parting with the school, Deena and I continued pursuing our interest in both real estate and business.” Currently the McCullough’s own and operate EquitySafe Realty, LLC, located on Lady’s Island.
“I have always focused solely on fight related sports. “ Will laughs, “Believe it or not, I only recently saw my first ever football game just a few years ago and that was only because my daughter joined the varsity cheer team at Beaufort High. My school was too small and poor to have a football team and I went to the USMC as opposed to college. Football and other traditional team sports have frankly just never appealed to me. Well, that’s not completely true. I can enjoy a good hockey game. But my honest definition of “good” is measured in direct relation to the number of fights that break out on the ice!”
“Bottom line, the combat arts are what has made me who I am. However, at this point in life, due to an unsurprising cornucopia of injuries, I just can’t get in there and train the same way I used to. That’s why I love serving on the state Athletic Commission. It allows me the vehicle to be involved and to give back, both to the fighting community I love and to the state that has given my family so many wonderful opportunities in life.” He says, “Serving both my state and sport is a real privilege.”
“South Carolina is starting to become a beacon of light for the combative sports in the southeastern United States and our athletic commission is working very hard to set the bar high for both service to our fighting community and for ensuring fighter safety. For example, just this past April, we sanctioned South Carolina’s first ever nationally televised MMA event via the Legacy Fighting Alliance on AXS-TV. In addition, South Carolina has now become the first state in the union to sanction “2 on 2” mixed martial arts via Arena Combat out of Myrtle Beach.”
Will says, “The combat sports momentum continues to build across South Carolina with multiple events being held nearly every month across the state by a great assortment of local, regional and national level promotions. It’s our goal to do everything we can to embrace, enhance and encourage that growth while simultaneously ensuring that safety is kept as the top priority. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I love Beaufort” says Will.” I love every aspect, from the downtown to the oak trees draped with Spanish moss, from the water to the sand, from the people to the places. I love every “Norman Rockwell meets Forrest Gump” aspect of it, I truly do.” Sounding like a Marine he states, with a grin, “Under no circumstances will we ever leave Beaufort.”
Regarding his goals Will says, “Real estate has been very good to us and our unique EquitySafe Realty model has proven itself to be exceptionally popular. Now that we are in our new offices and are beginning to add new agents we are excited to embark on the journey of further growing our brand across the state.”
Then the tough martial arts expert, former Marine drill instructor and Chairman of the state’s athletic commission says, “I still have many specific goals to accomplish, both in real estate and with the Athletic Commission, but I’ll share my secret life-long end game plan with you. I fully intend to retire a little early, so I can be Santa Claus. I love kids and I love Christmas, so yes, in all seriousness, that’s the plan. You will see me, in full jolly-ness, at a future parade and or department store.”Speaking for all of Beaufort we certainly look forward to that day Will!