Change is good. Change is refreshing. Change is necessary.
Ian “The Hurricane” Henisch was ready for a change.
Heinisch grew up in Colorado and has spent most of his life there. However, he has always had a penchant for world travel, even if it did land him in the clink a time or two. However, after his past transgressions, the accomplished wrestler took on a life of Christianity, became a well-established mixed martial artist, got married, and bought a home. However, all of this happened in his native Colorado. He was starting to get a bit stir crazy.
Heinisch’s pro MMA career started in 2015. It took off quickly, with Heinisch going 8-0 in just over two years. In July 2018, he landed a spot on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, where he earned a UFC contract. Within a year, his record was 3-0 in the Octagon and 13-1 overall. Then came his fight with Derek Brunson.
In August 2019, Heinisch dropped a decision to Brunson. In December, he lost another decision to Omari Akhmedov. For the first time in his career, he had suffered back-to-back losses.
“I just needed a change, man,” Heinisch told Combat Press. “I didn’t feel I was mentally fit for that last one. I was coming off a concussion. I just honestly needed a change. I went out to Thailand to train for five weeks to just kind of clear my head. It seemed like such a different way of life that it just sparked the excitement, like when you first start training and fighting. It was so cheap to live. I loved the gym. I loved the coaches. I felt like God was calling us out there.”
Heinisch had connected with UFC veteran Nate Marquardt while both were training at Factory X Muay Thai. When Marquardt, who has trained at multiple gyms throughout his storied career, decided to give Thailand a try, Heinisch was in. He was coming off a loss in a fight he felt he should have won.
“Omari’s got a very strange style,” Heinisch said. “When you watch him, you’re like, ‘He’s not that good.’ But, being in there, it was really hard for me to find my range. I felt, in the third round, I really started to find my range in there, and it was just too little too late.”
Marquardt and Heinisch headed off to Thailand. They tried a few different gyms before landing at the famed Tiger Muay Thai & MMA, a special fighter-focused camp whose sole purpose is to make fighters the best they can possibly be. The focus there is intense, as is the training.
“We tried AKA, we tried Phuket Top Team, and we just liked the Tiger coaches,” Heinisch explained. “We meshed well with them, and the training partners were unreal. It was basically like Omaris everywhere, and Khabib [Nurmagomedov]s. The wrestling practice was unreal. The sparring was good. The group of guys that live there full-time were great. The partners who were coming through were good partners. We all meshed, and it was meant to be. Me and Nate decided we were going to move out there.”
After his first month at Tiger, Heinisch brought out his wife Joni for a couple weeks to check out Thailand. Afterwards, he talked to his old coach and started to get his house ready to rent. They were ready to move to Thailand. Then, the world started shutting down.
“I was supposed to be fighting in San Diego [in May], and that didn’t work out, obviously,” Heinisch said. “I was [in Thailand] training, and I was only about two weeks into my camp, and then COVID-19 happened. I decided it was best for me and my family to be home, because who knew what was going to happen with the borders being shut down. Plus, I had a fight in the [United] States, but I was in Thailand, so I figured I should probably get back to America.”
Like a lot of Americans, Heinisch had to make an unexpected trip back to U.S. soil for fear of getting stuck in a foreign country that was also going into lockdown. He didn’t really have a back-up plan, and he was not welcome back at the camp where he had spent his entire career up to that point.
“At first, I thought they’re not going to cancel my fight because of the flu,” said the middleweight. “I was just trying to be very positive and optimistic. You know, I have a fight on the 16th of May, and I was going to get this fight. A few of the training partners were starting to get real negative, like, ‘Dude, they’re going to shut it down.’
“Then, it just escalated and escalated, and gyms shut down. President Trump gets on and says, ‘If you’re out of the country, you need to get back in the next 72 hours,’ and Australia did that the week before and shut the borders down for six months, supposedly. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ So, I went online and booked one of the last flights home, jumped on that plane, and was expecting to come back to a war zone.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but then I just got back into my workout routine, met up with a couple training partners, and just started meeting at parks and sparring. I finally got a great routine [and] a small group of guys who were consistent with coaching.”
Marquardt has a lot of connections in the Denver area, and the head coach of Genesis Training Center, Jake Ramos, is a good friend. Through Marquardt, Heinsich was able to connect with Grant Neal, Bojan Veličković, Andrew Kapel and Anthony Adams. With Ramos as his head coach and Peter Straub as his jiu-jitsu coach, Heinisch has been preparing for his next battle, which is scheduled for Saturday night at UFC 250 in Las Vegas. He’s set to face the veteran Gerald Meerschaert.
“He’s a good opponent for me,” Heinsich said. “He’s experienced. He’s tough. He’s durable. But, at the same time, he’s not very explosive. I think I’ve got him beat on the striking, the wrestling, and even the jiu-jitsu, as far as my wrestling will counter that. I’ll be able to defend anything and keep the fight standing if I want to.”
Meerschaert is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has a whopping 23 submission wins in 31 total victories, including five in his 10-fight UFC career. However, Heinisch has some of the best wrestling in the UFC. If the fight does make it to the ground, the outcome would be anyone’s guess. Heinisch is doing all he can to get back in the win column, even when the training environment is a lot different with gyms shut down in Colorado.
“It’s a hard time right now,” Heinisch admitted. “Training’s on the [down-low], small groups, and it’s brought people together from a bunch of different teams. We’re just getting in work. We’re not worried about being the best team in Colorado. We’re worried about becoming the best fighters in the world. We’re all helping each other do that. We’re putting away the differences about who represents which team. It’s more about who’s available to train right now, and who’s consistent, and who really wants this. It’s also about what coaches are going to help us. It’s brought together a great group of guys.
“What I’m finding out now is that just because someone’s a good coach doesn’t mean they’re a good coach for your style. Getting a new set of eyes and different looks from different training partners has really helped me up my game. You’re going to see a whole different Hurricane.”
After UFC 250, Heinisch and his wife still plan to move to Thailand. He loves the depth of coaching with someone available specifically for boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, MMA, BJJ and just about any other modality needed. In addition, fighters are free to assemble the team the way they want and that best suits their style. Heinisch is looking to get back to his winning ways this weekend. After that, it is on to the next chapter of his life and a change that he certainly feels is for the better.
“I feel good, man,” Heinisch said. “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. It was weird. I was just praying a lot, and I felt like something was going to happen. I was supposed to be going to Thailand on [May 6], to be honest, but then my manager told me I had a fight on the 6th. I feel like it’s God’s calling. I got a fight on the 6th, perfect opponent, and things are all lining up. I’m getting the most private attention from coaching that I’ve ever got. I’m just loving it, and I’m excited for the adventure after as well.”