The fight game is not fair. That much is plain and simple. When a guy like UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones gets busted for cocaine use, DUI and fleeing the scene of an accident he caused and yet the promotion embraces him back into the mix with open arms in less than a year, but guys like Matt Riddle can’t catch a break despite the much more benign offense of marijuana use, something foul is in the air. Now, not all minor offenses are as weak as weed smoke, but some top promoters do not have a great track record of setting the right examples.
When a fighter makes a questionable choice, they are given chances to redeem themselves. Red tape can slow down the process, though, and sometimes worthy athletes have to fight hard just to get their foot in the door.
In December, the UFC began tryouts for season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, which premieres on April 20. The roster will consist of eight light heavyweight male and eight strawweight female competitors, and the first fights began filming at the end of January. One of this season’s hopefuls was Colorado’s Ian Heinisch, who fights out of Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood with the likes of UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting and Glory Kickboxing veterans and title contenders. He has been competing at middleweight, but could not pass up a shot to get to the big show at a higher weight. Unfortunately, that dream hit some road bumps, as he had anticipated it would.
Heinisch has had some past transgressions, issues that stretch from Canada to Western Europe. He was open with the producers of the show from the get-go, but even with up-front notice, international relations muddied the waters.
“I tried out for The Ultimate Fighter, but that got postponed,” Heinisch told Combat Press. “I made it to the finals. They said they loved me, they want me, they loved my personality, my record, my skills, but unfortunately I had a criminal record and it couldn’t be verified in time. They were cool with my criminal record, but because it was in Spain, they needed to get paperwork from there, and so they called my fight off.”
The Zuffa brass let Heinisch know that they still want him, but his dream was put on hold. He was immediately scrambling for something to keep himself busy.
Heinisch is the proverbial “stud wrestler,” as any one of his training partners can attest to. He earned Colorado state champion status in 2005 and 2006 while attending Ponderosa High School, but he began having legal issues in 2008, specifically related to alcohol use. While his wrestling was a perfect segue into MMA, he wasn’t able to really showcase his skills until mid-2014. However, in only 16 months, he racked up an undefeated record with four wins as an amateur, four wins as a pro and a Sparta Combat League middleweight title, which had been recently held by one of his teammates. He had put his past behind him, but those skeletons continue to rear their ugly heads.
“TUF tryouts were December 15, and my fight was scheduled for January 23, so they sent me an email that I was still in the drawing,” Heinisch explained. “They loved me — they didn’t even make me interview twice — because I have such a great backstory. They were so entertained. They told me the steps I needed to do to get the record cleared, because I’ve been sober for four years now and I straightened my life up. There was one thing they needed to get verified from Spain, but the Spanish government is like the slowest government ever, and it didn’t work out. It wasn’t my time, but that’s alright.”
At 27 years old, the Coloradan knows he still has a lot of career ahead of him, but he is not about to slow down. In fact, he quickly booked back-to-back bouts. On April 23, he will return to the Sparta cage, but he also accepted a fight at WSOF 29, which is set for tomorrow night at the Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley. Since Heinisch found out about the hiccup with TUF only six days before his scheduled fight, he was a little lucky to find a seat the table.
“I got on the card late, and they didn’t get me the fight I wanted,” said Heinisch. “I wanted to fight Cory Devela, who beat my teammate and just got signed with WSOF. The producers at NBC tried pulling the same card, ‘Oh, well, with his criminal record, we don’t know. We need to meet this guy,’ this and that. I just wanted a fight. The money wasn’t great [and] the opponent wasn’t great, but I needed to get a fight and stay active.”
Tomorrow night, Heinisch will join a few of his Factory X teammates as he faces North Dakota’s Tyler Vogel on the preliminary card. Vogel is 2-0 as a pro, with both of those battles taking place at welterweight.
“I know he likes to talk a lot of shit,” Heinisch said. “He’s one of the most vocal opponents I’ve ever had. He likes Facebook messaging me, and it got so annoying. I just blocked him out of all of it. It was getting to the point that he’s obsessed. Like every two days, he’s sending me a message. So, he’s a guy from North Dakota, and his record is like 2-0, but every guy he’s fought I don’t even think has a win on their record. And every guy I’ve fought has a good, winning record. And he seems confident. I’m excited for him to bring it, but I expect it to be over in the first round by submission or KO.”
In the day and age of social media, internet trolls come out from under their bridges pretty regularly. Why Vogel is trying to taunt Heinisch is a bit of a mystery, especially considering that Vogel’s two previous opponents share a combined record of 0-7. Some of the trash Vogel is tossing is pretty heavy.
“He says my team sucks, I suck, I have fake muscles, I’m a bitch, I do yoga, blah, blah, blah,” Heinisch said. “I mean, everything. The dude’s obsessed. He’s posting pictures of me throwing combos online and then he would share it on his page, saying, ‘He’s never going to catch me with any of this.’ And then he’d take it off real quick. He’s finding me on Instagram and liking my pictures. He’s just annoying, and we’re not in the UFC — we’re not trying to sell fights.
“He thinks that he’s Conor McGregor — everyone does now, ever since that whole fad and trend has been going on. I don’t know what he’s trying to do. Honestly, I think he’s scared and he’s just kind of hyping himself up because he doesn’t have the skills and experience to even talk about. As he’s talking about my team sucks, Chris Camozzi goes out in the UFC and gets ‘Performance of the Night’ [and] Dustin Jacoby wins a four-man tournament in GLORY for an immediate title shot, and these are all guys at my weight that I train with. I don’t know if he’s training in a garage or some little gym out in Montana. I don’t know.”
Heinisch would have much preferred a more experienced, more professional opponent, but he doesn’t feel that the WSOF brass really wanted to ruin Devela’s promotional debut.
“They just signed Cory Devela, and it wouldn’t look good if I just stomped him in his first fight in WSOF,” said Heinisch. “I mean, they just gave the guy a four-fight contract. So, I mean, look at Kris Hocum. He’s on the main card, making good money, fighting my teammate Josh Cavan, and I just dominated him three months ago. I’m not even on the main card; I’m on the prelims. So, for me, it’s just a means to an end. I’m just going to go out there and show them what I do. I’m a class act, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what they have to offer to me after this.”
Heinisch may sound bitter, but he realizes this is how to play the game. He has a bookmark in the UFC, and his whole focus is on continued wins as he climbs closer to hitting his goal. Heinisch is focused solely on his career, and that dictates his schedule on a daily basis.
“Honestly, all I’ve been doing is training,” said the Coloradan. “I’ve dedicated 100 percent of my life to this. My schedule’s ridiculous. I mix in yoga, I mix in running, and I do my strength and conditioning at Landow Performance. Other than that, my schedule is full. I’m just on the verge of breaking through to the UFC. I’m 4-0 , and I think with a few more wins this month and next month, I’m going to be ready for a short-notice fight.”
Past transgressions aside, Heinisch is ready to make a statements. He may not be on the televised card, but he is ready to put on a head-turning performance. Vogel is in for a rude awakening. Realistically, a guy with a pretty weak record should not be taunting a guy who is 8-0 in his combined pro and amateur careers going back less than two years.
“I’m going to give him a slice of humble pie and send him back to his farm in North Dakota. I’m going to put on a ‘Performance of the Night,’ and they’re going to see that I’m respectful and I’m a professional.”