The Atlantic hurricane season is in full swing. While there haven’t been any major hurricanes yet, a different kind of storm landed in South Florida earlier this year. This one, UFC middleweight Ian Heinisch, came in with a fierce tenacity.
Heinisch, like his moniker “The Hurricane”, has always been a bit of a nomad. Much like how a hurricane never follows a straight path, Heinisch has traveled all over the world, and the Colorado native recently located from his home state to Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Last year, Heinisch had plans to move to Thailand with his wife. He had been there training before the COVID-19 pandemic caused travel restrictions and was forced to move back home. Back in Denver, he started training under the tutelage of striking coach Jake Ramos at Genesis Training Academy, as well as with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Peter Straub.
Prior to his last fight against Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 258 in February, Heinisch had plans to travel to Sanford to try it out, while still working with his coaches in Colorado.
“I always had a plan,” Heinisch told Combat Press. “When we were leaving Colorado, we thought about Florida. We thought about Thailand, and we thought Thailand was the spot, but, obviously, plans changed. I wanted to come down [to Sanford] to work on my wrestling, and, really, just get away from Colorado. Everything lined up perfect for how free Florida is, and how there’s an ocean here, and it’s tropical. The Hurricane needs water. And, it’s just an amazing gym and family atmosphere that we came down here for. Everything just really lined up.
“I was planning to come out here, win or lose, after the Gastelum fight. Obviously, getting out-wrestled a little bit motivated me more to get down here. Because, I knew they had an amazing coaching staff with Greg Jones and Kami [Barzini]. I just wanted to come down here and work with all of the high-level wrestlers that are here. I was able to wrestle a lot with Pat Downey and these guys. That was the plan before. We executed the plan after the fight, and it was even better than I had imagined.”
The fight with Gastelum did not go according to any of the expectations Heinisch had going into it. While Gastelum was a junior college wrestler, he has made his name in the UFC with his stand-up game. He even went the distance in a closely contested battle with current middleweight champion Israel Adesanya for the interim strap back in 2019, but lost by decision. Gastelum also went to decision with Heinisch, but, this time, Gastelum came out on top.
“I felt I was just really so focused on what he was good at,” admitted Heinisch. “So focused on the striking aspect. I just thought he was going to come and try to knock me out. You know, I focused on my wrestling offense, but I really just focused on him too much. I went in there, and he shocked me a little bit with how much he wanted to wrestle and hold on to me. He initiated that wrestling, and it also shocked me how well I did on the feet too.
“We’re looking at a guy who almost put out Israel, and then Israel is putting out Paulo Costa like that. I was thinking ‘wow, his striking must be, like, phenomenal.’ And, it was, but I felt like I was getting the better of the exchanges on the feet. Then, he was going to the ground a lot, and he was holding onto me and wrestling me. He was making it a fight I thought I was going to be making on him.”
Heinisch made a mistake that many fighters do at some point in their careers. He was too focused on what Gastelum might do, that he lost sight of what he needed to do. This persuaded him even more to move to Florida.
“I just realized I need to go back to my first discipline, which is wrestling,” Heinisch said. “You know, just tighten some things up, and really not focus on my opponents anymore — just focus on me being the best mixed martial artist. And, having so many training partners is so key, because I get to make adjustments on the fly. If I can adjust to anyone — because most high-level guys are going to come out different every time — that’s my goal. So, if I adjust to fighting and beating everyone, it’s just going to be difficult to beat me. I’m not fighting my opponent and myself. I’m just fighting my opponent.”
In addition to training partners like former UFC champ Robbie Lawler, former Bellator champ Rory MacDonald, and — like Heinisch himself — a former LFA middleweight titleholder in Gregory Rodrigues, Sanford never has a dull stable of training partners.
“You got to be on point every day when you’re coming to practice,” said the former Colorado high school state champion wrestler. “There’s no easy round. Like, the other day, I started with Jason Jackson. Then, it was Nate Marquardt. Next, it was Phil Hawes. Then, it was Gilbert Burns. Finally, it was Brendan Allen. You just have to be on point, man. I felt with other teams that are big — but with guys who haven’t made it to the highest level — there are guys who want you to be good, but not better than them.
“I feel if they can step on you to get higher than you, they will. Here, I feel the highest accomplishments have been conquered at every big promotion. Everyone just wants to elevate you, and there are more people at that level. That’s the standard that is set at the gym.”
In addition to Sanford head coach, and kickboxing expert, Henri Hooft, the aforementioned Ramos has also been able to come down to Florida to help Heinisch prepare for his next bout. Tomorrow night, live at UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw on ESPN, he will be squaring off against Dagestan native Nassourdine Imavov, who trains out of the MMA Factory in Paris, France. Imavov is 9-3 as a pro, and 1-1 in the UFC. He won his promotional debut over Jordan Williams in October, but dropped his second UFC fight by majority decision.
“He fought my teammate Phil Hawes,” said Heinisch. “Phil has given me some pointers about him. Honestly, I watched one fight of his — when I watched Phil — and that’s it. I know he’s a taller guy, kind of a kickboxer. But the only thing I can tell you about him, I’m going to step into that cage and take care of business. I’m not worried about him so much. I’m just focused on myself. And growing mentally and also physically. I’m ready to just go perform, man. Get the win and get this obstacle from out in front of me.”
Heinisch is in a good place right now. He’s got a stacked team. He just bought a new house with his wife in Pompano Beach. And he’s got a renewed spirit for the fight game. Now, he’s ready to bring The Hurricane from the beaches of Florida to the desert of Nevadawhen he faces Imavov in a bid to get back in the win column.
“I want to be active this year,” Heinisch said. “Get more fights and get back into that top 15. If not, I want to get wins. I want to get on a winning streak, perform, to show these people and the division, that I am a force to be reckoned with. I need to shine, man. Now that I’m settled and situated — I’ve got a home, I’m married to my wife, and we’re just settled down for a little bit. I’m training and have stability in an environment that I thrive in.”
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