Regardless of how much research has been conducted by doctors and scientists, much of what goes on in the human brain is still a mystery. So, when ailments such as overly positive thinking, overly negative thinking, or addiction tendencies arise, it’s no surprise that some people need outside help. Professional fighters are no different.
It takes a special kind of person to step into a cage with another person with the intention of beating the hell out of each other until one emerges as the victor. Some come from violent backgrounds. Some are lifelong athletes. Others are just naturally competitive. With so many globally diverse backgrounds, all of the aforementioned ailments exist in MMA, just like in any other sport.
Middleweight fighter Ian Heinisch has a very publicized background. He spent time in a Spanish prison for international drug trafficking and he got in trouble for a domestic incident.
Heinisch was the proverbial stud wrestler out of Colorado. He went 8-0 as a professional fighter before suffering his first loss in September. As it turns out, that loss, while likely setting him back from a UFC debut, was exactly the dose of humble pie the Colorado native needed to tie up some loose ends.
“When you win 15 fights in a row, you start expecting it, instead of appreciating the wins,” Heinisch told Combat Press. “I started rethinking everything and refocusing. I felt like I got caught. For some reason, I took him down, which was good, but I felt like I needed to hold him, which was not good from that position.
“There was a ton of pressure on me to win the fight and go to the UFC. I didn’t use the pressure to my advantage, and it worked against me, which I’m going to work on in the future. I had an attitude, because I always won, and I didn’t know any different. I was humbled by the loss, and it was really helpful for me in my career.”
Heinisch is not the only athlete with a difficult past. There are countless athletes across the sports world that have less-than-favorable stories. Some of them succumb to their past. Some try to block it out all together. Others try to embrace it and become a better overall person. It’s up to each individual to decide how they handle it.
“I don’t mind talking about my past at all, because I like to remember where I came from and the hard times I’ve been through,” Heinisch explained. “It’s been so long since I was locked up and in all that trouble that I forget the struggle I’ve been through and the craziness of all the situations I’ve had to survive in. I feel like the struggle keeps me strong and the good life keeps me soft. It’s better to relive it sometimes. I use it as fuel. After I lost, I was thinking about going back to Spain and finishing my sentence, which is about a year, just to get that hard-nosed mentality again.”
The pressure to move to the next level and the constant success caused Heinisch to lose his edge. As a high-level wrestler, he has always had the ability to grind and pressure his opponents for as long as he needed in order to pull out a victory. He was deep in his own head, and he thought he would just win no matter what. He let go of that primal instinct, though.
On Friday night, Heinisch returns to action at Legacy Fighting Alliance 31, which takes place at the Comerica Theater in Phoenix. He co-headlines a stacked card as he faces 18-fight veteran Daniel Madrid.
“I just need to fight and not think so much,” Heinisch said. “I need to trust my striking, because I have amazing striking, like I showed against Lucas Rota. I’m just not going to think about it so much. I’m not going to bad-talk my opponent. I’m just going to let my actions speak for me.”
Madrid is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and instructor. He fights out of Legion MMA in Phoenix. He, like Heinisch, was on an impressive winning streak before dropping his last fight in November. The former King of the Cage middleweight champion is also chomping at the bit to get back into the win column, but Heinisch is not letting any of this get into his head.
“I honestly don’t know much at all [about Madrid],” said Heinisch. “I haven’t really watched anything on him. I just trust in my coaches and my team to train me accordingly. I feel if I just fight, I’m better than him everywhere. I just found out he’s a jiu-jitsu black belt, because the LFA just posted that. I had no clue about that. Like I said, no matter who’s in front of me, it’s just a body in my way. So, I need to go in there and showcase my skills in the fight.
“I’m always sharpening my jiu-jitsu game, and my striking, and my wrestling. In my last fight, I feel like I got caught, because I tried to hold him down when I should have just gotten up. This time, I’m not going to try to force anything. I’m just going to react to wherever the fight goes and just fight him.”
In previous interviews, Heinisch always spoke in absolutes. This is a dangerous cycle for any fighter. In altering his thinking, Heinisch has found himself more focused on the task at hand. Part of that comes from the loss, but another part of it comes from a big step in his spiritual life.
“I’ve always been a Christian,” Heinisch said. “It was something I needed. I was starting to have my old demons come back of addiction — using prescription drugs and smoking weed all the time. I just felt I needed to completely rid myself of that, so I put my faith in God and I got baptized. I’ve been 100 percent clean since. It was about three months ago. I haven’t drank in six or seven years, but I have addiction problems, and it was coming up. I feel like God healed me from my addiction.
“I’m not chasing an addiction anymore. I’m chasing success, and it’s great.”
No fighter wants to lose. One of the worst losses to stomach is that first one. However, in Heinisch’s case, it was exactly what he needed. There were some loose ends to tie up, both mentally and physically, and he took the necessary steps to get his mind right.