Mind over matter.
From the very beginning, debuting UFC middleweight Andy “Lionheart” Enz has held a particular mindset that has kept him moving forward, progressing, and on the right path to his moment of fighting inside the Octagon. It’s a way of thinking that has helped Enz persevere, refuse to quit, pick himself up when he’s fallen, and go to the gym to push himself to get better for the next go around. Actually, it’s incredibly simple - Enz wants to make his dad proud.
“I remember I did not like wrestling or boxing at all, but the idea of letting my dad down and saying 'No, I don't want to go to practice today' or saying 'No, I don't want to go train today' just was unfathomable,” assets Enz.
Honestly, one would bet he has rarely, if ever, let his dad - who has been instrumental in his son’s sports endeavors since the start - down. But don’t tell Enz that, because that train of thought has motivated the 22-year-old to an undefeated MMA record, an unforgettable The Ultimate Fighter stint battling Uriah Hall, and a cage-date with fellow TUF alum Clint Hester that airs on the UFC Fight Pass portion of UFC 169 this Saturday.
“My dad has always been in my corner,” explains Enz. “He has always really pushed me and made sure I had all the necessary equipment. He's always been there to help me out. When I see him and he's telling me to push it, I just don't want to let him down. I have to make sure he's proud of me at the end of the fight. He told me to keep going, so that's enough strength for me to keep going. I think about his life struggles and he kept going. He could've taken the easy way out. He has had a lot of adversity he's been faced with and he's turned out to be quite successful. He's been dealing with that his whole life, so I can do anything for 10, 15, 25 minutes. A half hour is nothing compared to a lifelong struggle.”
And, it hasn’t always been about supporting from the sideline, as Enz’s dad, Rus, has led by example, overcoming harsher odds outside of the gym than inside it. Born to a life of drug addiction and abandonment, Rus somehow went from being left as a baby at a children’s hospital in Oakland, California to reinventing himself as a boxing coach in his 30s in Anchorage, Alaska with an untold amount of trials and tribulations in between. As Andy has been striving because of his dad, Rus’ motivation has been his son.
“I think it's me that saved him,” tells Enz. “I think he realized he had to shape up because he knew he wanted a better life for me. He had to make my life fruitful. He wanted to make it so I could be a kid and enjoy things and have a good life and not be homeless sleeping in cars at 13 like he was. I think he saw me as himself and he wanted the best for me. I can't thank him enough for that and I'm proud of him.”
And this Enz father/son tandem began their trek quite early, as Andy was tossed into wrestling at four and began tagging along with his dad to the Alaska Star Boxing gym at nine. Once Rus was recruited by local wrestlers looking to learn striking for MMA, Andy, at 14, began sparring with full-grown men getting prepared for their cage careers. A few years later, Enz was training everything from Brazilian jiu-jitsu to Muay Thai with his heart firmly set on making a name for himself in MMA.
After tearing through Alaska’s local circuit, Enz was mere moments away from joining the US Marines before he saw that the TUF 17 tryouts were being held only days away in Las Vegas. Dad and son made the trip to Sin City, where Enz apparently made a good first impression, and a few weeks he later was making a return appearance to compete in an elimination match to get into the house. Two unfortunate events followed, as Enz was paired off with the favorite to win the show – Hall - and a blocked kick from Hall broke Enz’s right arm in the first round.
As one could guess, the kid who was never taught to surrender kept his mind focused on the task in front of him: keep fighting.
“When he kicked me in the arm, there was this sense of just throbbing,” remembers Enz. “It hurt so bad, but with the adrenaline pumping and him throwing kick after kick flying at my head, I just didn't register my arm was broken. It hurt really bad. I remember him throwing kicks and you can see in the film that my right hand is down. I didn't have time to think about it because I was too busy trying to evade and move forward and pull something off. I kept trying to use it and it was painful, but I would try to think about things like all those corny lines your coaches say to you like 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'. Those lines just popped into my head and I thought ‘it's only two rounds, I can do anything for two rounds. 10 minutes isn't that long. I can cry about it later.’”
The decision was read and Hall won, but that’s obviously not the end of the story. For Enz, it was a reality check of what level he needed to be at to realize his dream of being in the UFC, but, at his young age, “Lionheart” had plenty of time to keep improving. Since that TUF bout, Enz added three first round submission finishes to his unblemished 8-0 record and got the call to enter the big leagues inside the Octagon.
Up next, Enz will make his UFC debut in Newark, New Jersey at UFC 169 against the hard-hitting Hester. The 9-3 resident of Atlanta, Georgia has scored back-to-back KO wins since his time on TUF 17. With eight finishes, Hester’s a pure-bred power-puncher with a background as a boxer. It’s no secret Hester aims to begin and end the fight standing up, which Enz is looking forward to.
“He's a strong, powerful guy,” reveals Enz. “He's got a lot of explosiveness, but I think a lot of his techniques are pretty raw. I feel like he tries to muscle everything. He has great striking and if he's on the ground then he's looking to get up. I don't feel I have a disadvantage striking; I think I can hang in striking. I think I'll probably look to do that. I love striking, and I was raised a boxer. If I like it on the feet then I'll keep it there. I'm taking nothing away from Clint, but I don't think his cardio is anywhere near mine. I've never had a problem with cardio, I've always been able to go for days. I don't have a problem taking the fight into deep waters. I feel like the longer the fight goes the better the chance I have.”
In preparation for Hester, Enz has left “The Last Frontier” and set up shop with a highly accredited crew in “The Grand Canyon State”. With connections through his manager, Enz was given the opportunity to spend about two months with the MMA Lab in Arizona. The brainchild of Royce Gracie BJJ black belt John Crouch, the fight team boasts numerous current roster and veteran UFC fighters like Jamie Varner, Joe Riggs, John Moraga, and former UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson. From training with local fighters in Alaska to a full room of some of the best in the world, Enz admits there was a culture shock, but he has developed by leaps and bounds because of it.
“These guys are phenomenal,” says Enz. “My team back home was very technical. You try not to hurt each other and do everything to set things up. I kind of forgot about that primal instinct, that fighter's mentality. And when I got here, they spar 100%. They are swinging to knock you out every practice. The first week, I was like, ‘did I say something or did I do something wrong?’ At the end of the practice, they were like 'Good job, Alaska!' I was like ‘they're nice guys, but why are they beating me up?’ Then I just figured it out. These are gladiators training to step into the cage to destroy another dude and that's the kind of the mentality you have to have. Now, I feel more confident than ever, and it's been boosted because these guys are trying to hit me as hard as they can and haven't been able to knock me out in practice yet.”
And Enz is like a sponge, learning from everyone like TUF Smashes finalist Brad Scott in striking to two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler from Iowa University Jordan Johnson in defending the takedown. “I'm bigger and more ripped than I have ever been in my life and I feel like I can go five rounds no problem right now,” declares Enz about his work with the Lab’s strength & conditioning coach Jarret Aki. “I can’t thank the MMA Lab enough.”
This Saturday, fight finishing middleweights will collide as Enz meets Hester. “I think fans should watch to see what the future is for the middleweight division,” asserts Enz, who has the motivation mentally to push himself physically to grab that brass ring he’s been working towards all these years, and we know he won’t quit until he gets it. “I think it's going to be a battle and I don't think it's going to the decision. Look for it to be a stand-up war, but if it ends up on the ground then look for me to end it with a submission.”
Enz vs. Hester airs on UFC Fight Pass this Saturday, February 1. Start your free trial today
Andy Enz: Following Dad's Example
"I remember I did not like wrestling or boxing at all, but the idea of letting my dad down and saying 'No, I don't want to go to practice today' just was unfathomable." - Andy Enz