Jake Heffernan (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

LFA 43’s Jake Heffernan: Doing it Right

If you’re going to do something, do it right.

This advice can go a long way in life. There is no point in half-assing something. While not everyone seems to grasp this concept, Jake Heffernan has done a pretty good job thus far.

Some pro fighters complain about not being able to make money in mixed martial arts. Heffernan solved that problem by finding a way to make a career out of martial-arts training. He gets paid to instruct others in fighting, and this allows him to cover his financial needs. He did not half-ass this aspect of his life. It’s all about priorities.


“They pay you peanuts for fighting and putting on shows,” Heffernan told Combat Press. “I wish it was like boxing. I have friends that are boxers, and their first pro fights, they are getting like four and five grand. I’m on my sixth and not getting anywhere near that.

“I’m to the point that if I was focusing on this to make my living, I would not be enjoying myself, because bills would be tight constantly. But, instead, I use the fact that I’ve trained so long in martial arts to keep myself fed financially, and that leaves a lot of room to chase this career without having to stress about leaving my wife with the bills or not being able to help. I’m able to pay all of the bills and still be able to train like a pro needs to train.”

Martial arts isn’t the only place in life where Heffernan executes his plans. About three weeks after his last win, which came at Paramount MMA in Denver, Heffernan proposed to his longtime girlfriend Nakita, with whom he has a son named Ronin.

“I got that nice, fat fight check, and took the leap, bought the ring, and asked [her] dad for permission,” Heffernan explained. “From there, I planned it out. I set up a little photo shoot for us and family. In the middle of the photo shoot, I took one knee while she was posing for the photographer. He told her to turn around, and it was like a little surprise. She kind of knew it was coming, though.

“I got Mike ‘The Truth’ Jackson to take the photos, so that was a cool little add-on. Our engagement photos were taken by a UFC fighter. He’s one of my sponsors, and he’s the photographer for the local fight scene here in Houston. He takes all the best photos for the fights, because he fights. He knows exactly when to snap the photo, because he knows when the action is about to go down. It separates him from a lot of other photographers. I just hit him up and told him my plan, and he said, ‘Hell yeah, let’s get it.’”

Heffernan is firing on all cylinders. It’s how he rolls. Heffernan’s last fight resulted in a submission win over Denver’s Derek Brenon, but it didn’t go exactly as planned. He thought a week in Colorado before the fight would prepare him for the altitude. This is a mistake he will not make again.

“It was definitely an awakening on how to train for fights, for sure,” Heffernan admitted. “I went into that fight thinking that I could just amp up cardio a little bit and that would prepare me for Colorado. But, honestly, if I took another fight in Colorado, I would have to do a camp in Colorado. We learned that the hard way, but, luckily, we still stayed on the winning end. So, that was good.

“Man, that second kick that I threw in the fight, which was about 30 seconds in — he threw a leg kick, then I threw a leg kick, and I threw another leg kick — man, I was exhausted and thought this was going to be difficult. This was definitely a rude awakening on cardio, for sure.”

Heffernan thought that getting in a couple mountain runs would be enough to get him ready, but the thinner air in Colorado is a very real thing. It is unforgiving. That’s why so many athletes head to higher ground for training, including the Olympians that flock to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. There is no time for half-assing cardio at that level of competition.

“I drove up into the mountains and was running a little bit, with a lot of cardio and sprint stuff,” said the native Texan. “On every workout I was doing, probably five or 10 minutes in, I was huffing and puffing. I was trying to build that and get used to it every day. The reason that I was able to stay so sound of mind in the fight, though, is that I knew I would be that tired. There was never a point that I thought I was losing. I was just thinking, ‘OK, we’re tired now, and this is how we’re going to fight.’ That was one good thing that came out of that — my mental clarity for being in such a high-paced situation.”

After the fight, Heffernan was in no hurry to jump right back into the cage. Unlike a lot of up-and-coming fighters who are impatient to get to the UFC, the 28-year-old featherweight has no intention of half-assing his way into the upper ranks.

“I’m not in the biggest rush that there is to actually get into the UFC or anything like that,” Heffernan explained. “I enjoy kind of building myself and learning myself as a fighter. When you make it to the UFC and get to that higher echelon of fighter, that’s not the time to be learning yourself as a fighter. That’s the time where you’re a fighter, you know how you fight, and you’re competing against the other best fighters in the world.”

Heffernan has been offered chances to fight for regional titles, but sometimes it’s more important to wait for better opportunities over the fancier ones. His patience paid off rather quickly.

Legacy Fighting Alliance came calling. Heffernan had a similar chance in the past, but injury forced him to withdraw. He was happy to accept the fight again, only this time, it’s on AXS TV. At LFA 43, Heffernan will fight in the co-headliner in Beaumont, Texas.

“It was about a month after the fight in Colorado, and I was just dying,” Heffernan said. “I wanted to compete again. My coach was like, ‘Good, because I’m scheduling you a fight.’ I was matched up with one guy, but he backed out, and I ended up getting matched up with a guy that I had been matched up with before, which is Peter Stanonik.

“He’s like a championship kickboxer, and I love the test of jiu-jitsu to striker. I think that just promotes an entertaining fight. Who’s going to come out on top? Can the striker avoid the takedown? Can the jiu-jitsu guy avoid the striker? It’s one of those things where I’m just enjoying my career as it’s going, and I’m just letting it unfold as it goes. There’s not a lot of stress.

“I got matched up with him before, and I got a pretty gnarly gash above my eye about two weeks after I accepted the fight. It was in a really bad spot, and I couldn’t take the risk of having a fight being stopped. I’m the type of guy that if I get cut, I’m like, ‘Keep the fight going. I don’t care.’ You fight. You get injured. That’s what happens. But if I’m fighting with a pre-existing cut and that thing gets split open, I don’t want the ref [to] stop the fight because my eyeball might pop out or whatever. That takes away from the crowd who came to see a fight and then I would be worrying about something I wouldn’t normally worry about in my fights.”

Heffernan was not about to go into a fight with one foot unintentionally out the door. However, Stanonik did not take kindly to the withdrawal.

“I chose to let that fight be postponed and try to get it rescheduled,” said Heffernan. “[It] ended up not getting rescheduled, which upset him quite a bit, which is completely understandable. It sucks when you get a fight lined up and it drops. But after that, he took to Facebook all upset and started personally messaging me. After that, he said, pretty much, the right amount of things to get me amped up enough that I had to fight this dude, and the next time I got offered him, I was going to go see this Stanonik guy. That was it, and they were like, ‘Hey man, do you want to do this co-main event for a TV spot against Peter Stanonik?’ I said yes immediately.

“He had been asking for me, since we got matched up last and I dropped the fight. He got upset that I went to The Ultimate Fighter and tried out. He also made a comment about me traveling to Colorado to fight somebody. The promoters pay attention to the guys that are going to attract good fights, and I’m sure they saw my name getting thrown around a little bit, and I’m sure they thought that would be a good one to match up. It wasn’t just Legacy that was trying to match that one up. The Fury FC guys, which is where I usually fight, were trying to match that fight up, too. Obviously, a TV spot is a better opportunity for that match-up.”

As Heffernan had shown against Brenon, nobody should count him out. He was in some pretty precarious positions before pulling off a submission around the midpoint of the fight. With formal jiu-jitsu training out of Gracie Barra The Woodlands, he was able to stay calm in adversity. He was not afraid to take on Brenon’s superior wrestling style. The same goes for Heffernan in his fight with Stanonik.

“I never believe that you should avoid anybody’s style,” Heffernan said. “That’s how you get clipped. That’s how you get hit with a punch you didn’t see coming. Rather than just sit there and try to take him down before he can hit me, I have been doing an incredible amount of striking and kickboxing and Muay Thai to get used to dealing with him. If it comes down to it and I can’t get my hands on him, I’m going to throw down, and we’ll see who comes out on top.

“I’m 6-0, so I have the ability to take those risks to have fun fights. A loss won’t really affect me, career-wise, so I have the ability to throw caution into the wind. Having said that, I never want to lose a fight, so I will never make a mistake to cause myself to lose. But when you have the ability to shut those certain nerves off, you can really open up and let loose. This dude’s a striker, so I plan on outdoing him in striking, taking him down, driving him into the cage and taking him down, beating him up and, hopefully, submitting him. If I can get on top of him and rain down some pain, I definitely will — especially after all of the shit talking he did on Facebook.”

Heffernan is a game-planner. This quality resonates through just about every aspect of his life. With his fiancée taking care of her own career as a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness, the pro fighter is able to take his 14-month-old son to the gym with him. This is not only about spending time with his child, but it also makes sense financially. Any parent knows that daycare often costs as much as a mortgage, which can be a tough pill to swallow. Fatherhood always comes with challenges.

“It’s good,” said Heffernan. “It’s tough. He’s at that age where he’s starting to shake his head no. If I take something away, he has a little temper tantrum. It’s definitely getting tougher. The one good thing is that he loves going to the gym with me. I take him to the classes, and it’s just an hour of me hitting pads and training for a southpaw. I’m learning to fight against that switched stance. He comes to the gym with me and gets to run around while I’m in there, and it’s been working out really well for camp and training. We don’t have to pay a babysitter, because he’s just having fun on the bags while we’re training.”

Heffernan has his life pretty dialed in. He leaves little room for error. While he might be willing to throw caution to the wind against Stanonik, one can be sure that he is not prepared to put on a boring fight. He always leaves fans on the edge of their collective seats. Win or lose, fans can be sure that this will be the case once again. From there, Heffernan will be back in the gym working to get better so that when he finally makes it to the UFC, he won’t be half-assing his way in.

Heffernan would like to thank his coaches and training partners at Gracie Barra The Woodlands, his fiancée and son, his family, friends, fans and sponsors: Sky God Productions, Bayou City Tattoo Shops, Venum MMA Gear, GFuel Energy Supplements, Houston Spine and Rehab, Fight Smart Web Design, UT Professionals and Loaded Pistols Fight Apparel. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeGBTW89 and Instagram: @jakegbtw