Last Saturday at UFC Rochester, Ian Heinisch (13-1) reminded everyone why they call him “The Hurricane” by battering opponent Antonio Carlos Jr. en route to a unanimous decision win. The middleweight standout is now 2-0 in the UFC and 13-1 overall, already toppling a ranked opponent and earning a number attached to his name the next time he enters the octagon.
Though he faced some adversity in the first round against “Shoeface”, Heinisch felt that good about his performance as a whole.
“I felt it was really good,” Heinisch told The Body Lock. “I had to weather the first round, getting in a very bad position against him, and just had to bounce back in the second [round]. Once I felt that [he had given] everything he had, I came out in the second round I was ready to go, ready to make this my fight.”
Heinisch believes that while he wore Carlos Jr. down physically, it was his mental game that sealed the deal.
“When you fight a guy who has submitted four or five people with rear-naked chokes in his past five fights, and then all of sudden he’s on your back and he can’t finish you, I feel that mentally kind of broke him,” said Heinisch.
The School of Hard Knocks
The ins-and-outs of mental fortitude are things Ian Heinisch knows all too well. As he penned in a revealing article in the athlete-led Player’s Tribune last November, the 30-year-old has lived more lifetimes than most, not all of them pleasant.
From becoming a fugitive of the United States government to being incarcerated in the Canary Islands, Spain, and the infamous Rikers Island prison, Heinisch has overcome serious hardship in order to get where he is now. More than six years sober and his trouble with the law behind him, he’s well on his way to achieving his dream of becoming the UFC middleweight champion.
This past March, “The Hurricane” returned to Spain for the first time since he was imprisoned there, having agreed not to return to Europe for five years in exchange for a reduced sentence back in 2013.
“It was only a few months after the five-year ban was lifted,” Heinisch began. “[I] got to go back, see my old stomping grounds…A lot of time just walking around like, ‘Wow, I’ve been here before’. A lot of old emotions brought up.”
Heinisch said it was rewarding to visit so many of his former friends and show them his good strides of late.
“[It was] really cool to see old people and friends, my old coaches…. show them how far I’d come, and they were so proud. That was a really cool experience,” said Heinisch.
While Heinisch wrestled in high school, he furthered his martial arts training in prison, learning the art of Lucha Canaria in the Canary Islands and taking up boxing in Spain. The newly ranked middleweight views his time at those facilities as being a major turning point in his life, helping him stay out of trouble.
“In Spain, getting a relationship with God and learning Spanish, boxing, wrestling; them letting me start an MMA program, it was just super busy all the time. [There’s] no time to think about getting in trouble or caring about what other people are doing.”
Regarding his time spent at Rikers Island, however, Ian Heinisch pulls no punches when it comes to his belief that the American prison system is horribly flawed. Heinisch and hopes one day use his platform to help change the status quo.
“It’s just not right for these people to sacrifice [prisoners’] lives for money. I truly want to be outspoken and hopefully have an impact on something or somewhere that I can. I know it’s not an easy industry to breakthrough to,” Heinisch said.
Heinisch paints a far different picture of the effectiveness of Rikers Island and the Spanish prison on recidivism.
“Over in Rikers and prisons here, it’s a fight over chairs and microwaves. There’s nothing to do. There’s no weights, there’s no nothing. There’s no rehabilitation at all implemented in the prison system, it’s just a revolving door.
It’s a money machine, and they’re sacrificing lives for money, and in every human way and standard that is just not right.”
Training at Factory X
Ian Heinish has spent years training mixed martial arts, from wrestling in high school to learning to fight in prison. But now, he’s joined one of the best MMA gyms in the world.
Currently, he trains at Factory X based out of Englewood, Colorado, and although he believes that all the skills he has learned up until now have made him the fighter he is today, instruction at the gym stands out for one reason—it feels like home.
“They’re all unique in their own way,” Heinisch said of his vast experiences training. “They all bring different things to the table right now that better me when I’m inside the Octagon, but Factory X has definitely been the place we are like family. My wrestling team was like that too, but Factory X is just crazy because coach Marc Montoya is so open to evolving.”
Heinisch lauded the gym’s willingness to embrace creativity.
“We’re just continuing to evolve as the sport evolves and staying above that curve. It’s just fun because it’s always new and always different; we’re always throwing ideas around… we’re just growing and evolving hopefully at a faster rate than the sport is.”
Heinisch’s quick rise through the ranks of the UFC is a testament to the gym’s ever-growing reputation. The team’s members also include Anthony Smith, who fought recently Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title this past March; and Zak Cummings, who scored a third-round submission victory at UFC Rochester himself. In fact, Heinisch believes everyone at Factory X brings something unique and beneficial to the team.
“Iron sharpens iron, and we’re all in there just improving each other. One of my main training partners, Dustin Jacoby, I’ve been striking with him and he’s just a beast on his feet, and he’s gonna make a comeback in MMA. I think he’s gonna fly to the top.
Also, Anthony Smith,” said Heinisch. “We’re both improving, and he just climbed so fast and I’m right behind him, and we’re both just growing so fast. There’s definitely no shortage of just amazing training partners. Our gym just doubled in size and we have new guys coming in from everywhere, so yeah, it’s just great.”
“The Hurricane” rages on
After proving just how sharp that iron is by breaking into the official UFC rankings at number eleven and defeating a top-fifteen ranked fighter, for his next bout, Ian Heinisch has a few specific opponents in mind.
“I would prefer [to fight] Jack Hermansson just cause he’s got all this momentum and steam behind him that I would like to take, but honestly I think it would be more of a possibility against [Derek] Brunson, and I think it would be something the fans would like. We both have good wrestling, good striking… We would just meet in the middle and throw down; it wouldn’t be him just trying to hold on to me like my past few fights have been.”
Though Heinisch had called out Hermansson and Brunson in his post-fight interviews last Saturday and believes one of them is the next fight to make, he’s also not opposed to facing a grappling legend in the sport who might be willing to stand and trade.
“Also, if ‘Jacaré’ is looking for a fight, might as well keep going with the jiu-jitsu guys. He’s definitely got some hands and explosive power on the feet, too.”
But for now, Ian Heinisch will take a much-needed break from the martial arts world to relax and recover, enabling him to return in as little as two months.
“Me and my girl are just planning a vacation right now. I gotta have some time to myself just on the beach: recovering, relaxing, phone [put] away, just so present of the people around me and what I’m doing; get that reset button and come back ready, fired-up to jump right into camp, and I could be fighting as early as late July or in August.”
Patrick is a consultant turned journalist who loves the fight game and everything to do with it. Focusing on the politics, business, and general state of MMA are his mainstays, though he'll dabble in analysis and best bets when he can. He also enjoys football, basketball, baseball, and great jokes in general so feel free to reach out and berate him on social media whenever you disagree with him.