UFC middleweight Ian Heinisch has walked the longest of roads to fight in the sport’s marquee promotion. The 30-year-old will face Tom Breese in his second UFC bout at Fight Night London on Saturday, though his story stretches well beyond the cage.
Heinisch detailed his troubled past in an article in the Players’ Tribune last November, which included stories of dealing drugs, running from the law and serving time in jail both in Europe and Rikers Island.
Not the kind of time that someone would consider character building, though Heinisch says that getting in trouble eventually led to him straightening his life out.
“Getting a three and a half year imprisonment in a foreign prison, it was the worst thing that could’ve happened to me, but it turned out to be the best because it gave me some time to reflect on my life, to fall back in love with training and really understand what my goals and aspirations were,” Heinisch told the TSN MMA Show.
Perspective is one thing Heinisch has gained from his experiences and he has translated that into his attitude as he competes in mixed martial arts.
“People say ‘doesn’t it scare you to fight in a cage?’; we’re fighting in a cage where there’s a referee that’s going to pull you off, I was locked in a cage where no one was going to save us, if we were lucky a guard would come the next morning,” said Heinisch. “To be able to compete, do something I love and have a purpose, if you are finding yourself in trouble it’s probably because you don’t have a purpose in life.”
After earning a victory over Cezar Ferreira in his UFC debut, Heinisch was tabbed as an injury replacement for the man he beat, who was slated to face Breese. Though, due to the location of the card, that almost didn’t happen either.
“Because the fight is in the UK, I didn’t know the UK was part of the EU, I received a five-year ban over there after my prison sentence and the ban was up in January this year,” said Heinisch. “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this fight, but thanks to the UFC and my buddy in Spain, we made it happen and it’s going to be a go.”
As if Heinisch needed more problems to overcome, family health issues also popped up during his camp as well as the knowledge that he’s going to have to fight without an important member of his team.
“My dad had a stroke two weeks ago, he’s doing a lot better now,” said Heinisch. “My head coach is not able to come because another teammate is fighting in Russia and because we thought the fight was going to possibly fall off, he had to commit to them. Just a lot of crazy stuff has been thrown at me this camp, but I’m still going to stay on course, go to London and take care of business.”
On the subject of that business, Heinisch believes that his camp and the people he’s worked with to prepare for the fight will give him everything he needs to have his arm raised in London.
“With our gym Factory X, I’ve been training with Anthony Smith a lot, I’ve been training with Dustin Jacoby who is a UFC vet and fought for the world title in Glory, I’ve been training with Chris Camozzi, who is a 20-fight UFC vet,” said Heinisch. “The list goes on, Zak Cummings, James Krause, Sean Choice, a lot of tall southpaws. I just don’t think he’s going to give me anything I haven’t seen.”
The Colorado native does not shy away from talking about the things he’s done, instead using his story and the things he’s learned to help other people he meets that are in the same position.
“I do what I love now, I get to wake up, I get to train, I’m very involved with the church, I mentor a few people and just help as many people as I can along the way,” said Heinisch. “The more and more I get out there and get more famous, I realize there are so many people out there that have issues like I have and I’m not alone and they can be inspired by my story and I can help them.”
“I can meet up with them and help them through their struggles, because I never had a mentor, I never had anyone that went through what I went through that could help me on my path, so I feel there is a responsibility that I have for it to be full circle and because I survived, I believe I’m here for a reason. I want my story in inspire people and for it to be a story of hope.”