“It was kind of funny, because I found out that out of the whole UFC roster, I have the worst record,” Ian Heinisch told Combat Press.
To be clear, Heinisch’s MMA record, in the entire pool of current and former UFC fighter, is not the worst one. In fact, after a first-round knockout on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series last summer and a unanimous decision in his official UFC debut in November, he actually sits on the better end of all fighters who have had two Octagon appearances in the history of the promotion. His total professional record is actually 12-1. However, this is not the record in question.
Heinisch was talking about his lengthy criminal record. The biggest highlight is a multi-year prison sentence in Spain and the Canary Islands for international drug smuggling. His criminal record definitely delayed his entrance into the UFC. With the legal issues now behind him, he is where he belongs professionally. The Colorado native uses his past as a constant reminder to be a better person and to inspire others.
“I was recently in California with one of my sponsors, Windward Way, and I got an opportunity to speak to about 60 of their patients in their rehab center and just kind of share my story,” Heinisch said. “That was a cool, cool experience. I was also out in Cali again discussing a book deal and possibly a movie deal coming up. Hopefully, that’s in the works, so stay tuned for that. I was in London for a week. I was in Spain for a week after that. I got back and dialed in.”
That’s right. Even after having some tough memories of his days in the European Union, where he originally went to avoid drug charges from the United States, he is now a new man. Heinisch is more than willing to go back to where his life took a turn for the worst, too. The journey began with his last scheduled fight.
On March 16, Heinisch was set to face English UFC veteran Tom Breese at the sold-out O2 Arena in London in front of a crowd of over 16,000 fans. It was a huge opportunity to move up the middleweight ladder. However, hours before the fight, it was announced that the bout was off.
“I’m the scariest staredown in MMA right now,” Heinisch joked. “We weighed in, we went out to dinner, we went to sleep, and we woke up and did a shakeout. About an hour before heading to the venue, I woke up from a nap and jumped in the shower, and my phone was just blowing up. It was my manager, and he was just calling me and calling me. So, I called him back, and he was like, ‘Hey, brother. Sorry, man, but Tom Breese pulled out for health reasons.’
“I flipped out in my room and got super pissed. I called Mick [Maynard, UFC matchmaker], and Mick was like, ‘Sorry, man.’ I started asking around about what his health issue was — talking to his coaches and some people that know him. I guess he just got in his car and drove away that morning. As pissed off as I was, that dude must be in a really dark place to pull out of a fight the day of. He did it a few years earlier at the same venue.”
Unfortunately, it was later reported that Breese suffered an anxiety attack. This is not exactly the type of ailment you would expect from a professional fighter used to performing in front of large crowds for globally broadcasted events.
“That fight was never meant to really happen,” said Heinisch. “When we got the fight, we were happy. Then, I asked them if I could go to a seminar in Spain, and I talked to my lawyer, and he said to talk to the UFC, because they have a whole team of lawyers that deal with that for us. They said that I had this five year-ban [from the E.U.], and the U.K. is part of the E.U., so they didn’t know if I could fight. I almost decided to give up. My manager talked to the lawyer over there […] so the fight was off, kind of, but not officially, for like four to five weeks of that camp.
“Coach [Marc Montoya] had to go out to Russia, because he didn’t know if I was fighting and Chris Camozzi was out there fighting. He had already committed to going to Russia, so I didn’t have Coach out there. My dad had a stroke, and there was a lot of adversity that came up. Finally, like two weeks before, they said we were going to go for it. We had to track down my lawyer in Spain. We couldn’t find him, so I had to have my buddy who lives out in Spain go find him and pay him to pull up information on me. It was a mess, man.”
It was during this experience — simply wanting to travel to Spain with his girlfriend — that it came to light that Heinisch had the worst criminal record in the organization. It does not seem like an accolade that would spark pride in most athletes, but it is all part of his long comeback story.
“It was crazy,” Heinisch said. “To me, that’s kind of cool, because I’m overcoming the most out of everyone. They found out the five years was up in January, so I was good to go. After the fight, we were flying out to Spain on Sunday, and they grabbed my passport and pulled me into an office. They said my passport expires in two months, but Spain requires three months. Next thing I know, I had to get a $100 Uber to the embassy to get an appointment for Monday morning.
“I went to the embassy to get a new passport. Then, we had to buy new tickets to go down to Spain and finally get there. Then, on the way home, they canceled our flight back to London, so we both missed our connecting flights. It was a different [airline], so I had to buy a brand-new ticket for my girl for $1,000 to get her home to go to work. It was a wild trip, man.”
Heinisch is truly a portrait in overcoming adversity. Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and some really fantastic career news came out of the experience. His next fight would be a big jump to a ranked opponent.
“I was with my manager, Jason House from Iridium, literally the day of that fight,” Heinisch explained. “We were sitting down and we watched a little film [on Antonio Carlos Junior], and I loved that match-up. We got all the kinks worked out and then he let me know we got a new four-fight deal and I was fighting that Brazilian. I was supposed to fight him in Brazil, but we got it a week later in Rochester, [N.Y.]. That was cool, because I wouldn’t mind fighting in Brazil, but I’ve been out of the country every fight.”
The fight with the No. 12 middleweight Carlos Junior was eventually scheduled for UFC on ESPN+ 10, which takes place on Saturday night in Rochester. With the removal of the co-headliner between Neil Magny and Vicente Luque, Heinisch’s fight was bumped up to fill the hole.
“He’s on a five-fight win streak, and he’s had a little bit of a layoff,” Heinisch said. “He’s a [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu] world champion, and he’s got a good ground game if he gets your back. But I feel like I’ve fought all these jiu-jitsu guys recently, and I just like fighting them, man. I can throw hard hands, defend takedowns, and I’m no stranger to the ground. I almost subbed Cezar Ferreira, who’s a three-stripe black belt. I’m comfortable on the ground, and I love this match-up.”
Heinisch has come a long way since his time in prison. This is a big spotlight fight against the winner of the third installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Heinisch has a history of taking out high-level BJJ black belts, though. Between his deep wrestling background and his knockout power, he definitely poses a problem for grapplers.
“I’m definitely planning on putting him out on the feet,” said the former state-champion wrestler. “He’s going to try to push me into the cage. He comes forward. It’s a boring, frustrating fight, when the guy backs up the whole time, so I’m glad he comes forward. If you look at these jiu-jitsu guys — [Gabriel] Checco, [Daniel] Madrid — I knocked them out. I expect to do the same here. My striking is better, but I feel like I can compete with him on the ground, too. I feel like I can beat him anywhere.”
Heinisch’s goals have shifted a lot in his life. When he was young, he just wanted to sling some pills to make some money. From there, he just wanted to make it out of prison without getting shanked. Now, half a decade later, he wants to be ranked in the top five of UFC middleweights by the end of the year. That’s a long journey to make for a kid from Parker, Colo.