UFC Fighter Ian Heinisch Learned About MMA in a Foreign Prison: ‘I Turned My Body Into a Weapon’

UFC fighters, like many regular people, are well-acquainted with things like drugs and alcohol abuse. Ian Heinisch is one of those fighters. Like many who struggle with addiction, he went to prison for his crimes. However, in prison, Heinisch was given a chance to learn about MMA. Here’s how.

How Ian Heinisch became a fugitive drug dealer

Ian Heinisch poses on the scale during the UFC 245 weigh-ins
UFC fighter Ian Heinisch before UFC 245 | Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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As he wrote in The Players’ Tribune, Heinisch had few prospects when he was expelled from high school. His family was coming upon hard times, and so he moved to Canada to sell natural gas door-to-door. Eventually, Heinisch met a guy who could supply him with drugs, and when he returned to Colorado at 19, he became a drug dealer. 

Heinisch was moving thousands of pills of ecstasy, but the cops eventually caught him. After getting bailed out though, he decided to run from the law rather than go to prison. So, Heinisch flew to Europe. He bounced around from country to country, and he spent the majority of his money on drugs and alcohol.

Eventually, Heinisch became a drug mule, and he smuggled cocaine from Columbia to Europe. He would swallow balls of cocaine to get past security, but just like in Colorado, the law caught up with him. Since Heinisch was operating in Spain, he got sent to a Spanish prison in the Canary Islands. 

What a Spanish prison taught Ian Heinisch

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Unlike the prisons in America though, Heinisch had a pretty decent time in that Spanish prison. Like he wrote, “They want you to get out and not come back. They want to fix you.” As such, Heinisch took the opportunity to improve himself in all ways possible. He learned Spanish, he learned about philosophy, and of course, he took some wrestling classes. 

Heinisch had wrestled in high school, but this wasn’t that. This was Lucha Canaria, which, like he explained, meant Canarian wrestling, and it’s actually somewhat similar to MMA. After training with his team and his coach for a few months, a local team came by to challenge them. According to Heinisch, he beat them all. This upset somebody at the prison, and so he was transferred to another prison.

There, the Spanish authorities cut Heinisch a deal. They told him that if he didn’t return to Europe for five years, they’d trim a year off his sentence. He agreed, and he spent the rest of his time in that prison bettering himself.

Heinisch took more Spanish classes, he took kickboxing classes, and he even ran an MMA class. “I turned my body into a weapon,” he said. As such, the other inmates gave him a nickname, “el huracán”, which meant “The Hurricane.”

Ian Heinisch’s career so far

After finishing his prison sentence in Spain, Heinisch was sent back to New York. He was arrested immediately, and he ended up going to Rikers Island. There, his life was threatened, and Heinisch said that the other inmates had a stab-on-sight order on him. Fortunately however, he was transferred to a prison in Colorado, and there, in 2014, he was eventually released.

In 2015, Heinisch made his pro MMA debut, and not long afterwards, he was in the UFC. He’s beaten some notable people, but he also lost to a few top contenders like Kelvin Gastelum or Derek Brunson. With a record of 14-4, he has a promising future ahead of him, but he wants what he got for everyone else. 

Heinisch hates the U.S. prison system. He calls it an “endless money-machine,” where prisons don’t rehabilitate prisoners. He wants American prisons to become like the Spanish prisons that successfully changed him. In the meanwhile though, Heinisch wants to open a halfway house, a place where people, “can be healed, both physically and mentally.”