If Ian Heinisch’s impressive run to the middleweight top 10 in just two UFC fights isn’t enough to make his peers jealous, just listen to what he did when he went with his lady to Mexico in July.
Heinisch almost says it matter-of-factly, disclosing that “I was in Mexico for half a week, proposed to my girlfriend, and it was good.”
Well, did Joni say yes? Yes, she did. But how did that yes come about, Ian?
“I took her 40 feet deep under the ocean and had the guys plant a little chest down there with the ring in it,” he recalls. “She thought we found treasure. And I had a sign that said, ‘You are my treasure, will you marry me?’ And she said yes.”
Yep, all us married guys look bad now, and for the single fellas reading this, you will need to up your game when it’s time to pop the question.
Heinisch knows this, but he’s not bragging. He’s too busy enjoying life right now to boast. There’s also a house bought, a fight on the UFC 241 main card against Derek Brunson, and all this in just a year’s time.
“A year ago, I was in LFA, living in one of my teammates’ basement, and now I’m top ten in the world, I’m engaged, I’ve got this huge fight on arguably one of the biggest UFC cards of the year on pay-per-view,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity and I just bought a house, so things are looking great compared to five years ago.”
Everyone has heard the story of Heinisch’s harrowing past and his fight to turn his life around. He has. But with everything going so well, how does he keep the hunger he had getting here in the first place?
“I just believe all the success could be gone so fast and I’m so motivated to guard it,” said the 31-year-old. “I haven’t completed the race. I don’t have that belt around me yet. There are so many people I haven’t helped yet that I’m supposed to and all the people that depend on me, because it’s not just about me. It’s not selfish. If it was just about me, I could sit back and be happy, but I feel I have all these people – these kids that I mentor, so many fans and people that look up to me – they’re depending on me to go out there and be successful because it gives them hope and inspires them and empowers them to get to the next level and follow their dreams too. Top ten’s good, I’ve only had two fights in the UFC, but I’m still a little ways away from the end goal.”
Heinisch may make it all look easy, but it isn’t. Not many people could come into the UFC and beat legit middleweights Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Junior to start their run in the big show. And while Heinisch is obviously talented, it takes more than technique to do what he has.
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“It’s just the mentality I bring in there and I tell my teammates that a lot of these guys aren’t better than you that are in the UFC, but they believe in themselves,” he said. “That’s what I have in myself, so I bring that and people see that. I haven’t trained since I was ten years old, I’ve only been in this game for five, six years, but people recognize that belief, it motivates them and they haven’t even seen my full game. I haven’t had to wrestle someone, I haven’t got a big finish yet and hit my back flip. There’s a lot of Ian Heinisch they haven’t seen. I’m learning so much about myself and getting into my groove and I believe the big finish is coming August 17 and I can’t wait to hit that back flip in there and get into that bonus club and all that.”
If you’ve seen some of Heinisch’s pre-UFC bouts, he often punctuated a victory with a back flip. Now he’s been impressive against Ferreira and Carlos Junior, so why no back flip for UFC fans?
“If I’m doing back flips after a three-round war, that means I had more to give,” he said, and he means it. It’s all-in for Heinisch every time out, and while he may not always get the finish, he will leave everything in the Octagon in search of the win, and along the way, his opponents will know that they were in a fight.
“Knockouts are great, finishes are great, but breaking a human’s will and just feeling him push and push in these scrambles, you feel the air go out of him and you feel him go weak,” he said. “That’s one of the best feelings in the world, and I pride myself on being able to break anyone in the world.”
Next on the list is beating perennial contender Brunson, just the latest step in a quest started decades ago.
“I believe my whole life has prepared me for these moments, starting from wrestling at age 11, and then powerlifting for a few years, getting that strength that I’ve acquired,” he said. “Then boxing for a few years, going to prison, building that mentality of beating an addiction, finding God, and then training MMA and putting all that dedication and energy I was putting toward bad things towards MMA. So I feel like it’s catapulted me. But you know what has surprised me, how fast everything’s moving in the past year and coming along in my life. It’s awesome and I just believe all that hard work is paying off. But I knew I was on these guys’ level. I’ve always believed that and I believe I’m on a different level than Brunson.”
On Saturday, Heinisch and Brunson meet. With a win, it may be nearly 13 months since his win over Justin Sumter on season two of the Contender Series, but for aesthetics, let’s say it’s one of the wildest (in a good way) years of Ian Heinisch’s life.
So how does he top it in the next year?
“I’m just enjoying this ride, and I don’t even know what God has in his plan, I just try to stay out of his way because he’s working so fast,” he said. “My goal is to be top five by the end of this year, so I go beat Brunson, I fight someone like ‘Jacare’ (Souza) or Jack Hermansson or someone in the top five, get in that top five spot, and then I’m hoping for a title shot next year or in talks for one, and then possibly winning the belt by the end of next year.”