UFC Fighter Ian Heinisch’s Journey as a Drug Dealer Ended at Rikers Island: ‘I Had Failed Myself’

Fighting is a tough sport. Unsurprisingly, many UFC fighters come from rough backgrounds where they learned to defend themselves. Like many Americans, these MMA pros are no strangers to addiction or the justice system — as was the case for Ian Heinisch. Let’s look at how he turned his troubled life around after going to prison at infamous Rikers Island.

How it all started for Ian Heinisch 

Like he said himself on The Players’ Tribune, Heinisch’s teen years were quite troubled to say the least. He was a high school wrestler, but he was expelled in his senior year. Heinisch got addicted to the drugs that he took to control his ADHD.

To top it off, the world’s economy was collapsing. Without any college prospects, Heinisch moved to Canada to try to make a living selling natural gas. There, he met a guy with a drug connection. All those factors culminated in him returning to his hometown of Denver, Colorado, to become a drug dealer.

Heinisch was selling thousands of pills of ecstasy. Like he said, “I was a mess. I had failed myself. I had failed my family. And the medical system had failed me.” But the party had to stop.

Heinisch got arrested at 19, and his mom bailed him out. He was looking at four to six years of prison, but instead of facing his crimes, he ran from the law. 

The life of fugitive Heinisch

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HeinischHe said goodbye to his mom then took a bus to New York to say goodbye to his dad. From there, he flew to Europe. Heinisch landed in Amsterdam, but he moved countries and cities often. He got a job at a club, but they mostly paid him in drinks. Not long after, Heinisch became a “full-blown alcoholic.” All of his money went to drugs or drinks, and he couldn’t afford to sleep in a bed. Instead, he slept on the beach.

But just like in Canada, another drug dealer found Heinisch. Not long after, he became a drug mule, smuggling coke from Columbia to Europe. In 2011, he was arrested again and got three and a half years in a Spanish prison. However, Heinisch got a break. The Spanish authorities gave him a deal where they’d cut his sentence by a year if he agreed not to enter Europe. So he did just that.

They sent Heinisch back to the U.S. The authorities almost immediately dropped him off at Rikers Island. Due to his fugitive status, he went to a dangerous wing of the prison. At one point, Heinisch even had a hit put on him. However, before the other inmates could kill him, the U.S. Marshals transferred him to another jail in Colorado. By 2014, Heinisch was free; he proved he was a changed man.

Ian Heinisch’s UFC career so far

Ian Heinisch has his hands wrapped backstage before UFC 245
UFC fighter Ian Heinisch | Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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One of the ways that Heinisch showed he had changed was that he was training in the one thing he was good at: fighting. He also had a day job at a gym, but his fighting skills proved to be something else.

In 2015, Heinisch made his pro MMA debut, and by 2018, he had joined the UFC. After beating high-ranked contenders like Antonio Carlos Junior and Cezar Ferreira, he proved to be a contender. 

But eventually, the likes of Derek Brunson and Kelvin Gastelum derailed Heinisch’s hype train. Regardless, with a record of 14-4, he still has a bright future ahead of him in the UFC’s 185-pound middleweight division.