Not every fighter’s name skyrockets to stardom overnight. For most mixed martial artists, it takes years of improvement and growth to finally become the athlete they want to be.
For John Heath, moving to Las Vegas two years ago was a choice he made to better himself in the sport. He packed up his van in Portland, Oregon, and voyaged to the desert in hopes of reinventing his MMA career. A product of Team Quest West, Heath is now training out of Syndicate MMA. These days he thinks he’s put together a finely tuned skillset that can help him advance his career to new heights.
A middleweight with an overall record of 9-6, 1 NC, Heath has seen his share of ups and downs. Between 2012 and 2014 he had four fights fall by the wayside. All were canceled for one reason or another. His last fight in Aug. 2013 resulted in a submission victory for Heath, but securing another bout has proven to be difficult.
On Apr. 25, the Oregon native will return to the Pacific Northwest to compete at Cage Sport’s Super Fight League 40. After 19 months of inactivity, Heath can’t wait to mix things up against Trent Tyler. Being that Tyler is also from the area, Heath knows he’ll face a tough, hard-nosed opponent. As for the rest of his fight plan, the 32-year-old has faith that his coaches will guide him to where he needs to be.
“It’s a fight,” said Heath. “Well honestly, you could go in there with all the gameplan in the world, but my attitude is you train for the fight that goes anywhere. I train with very high-level fighters. I’ve been doing my training camp with Tom Lawlor, Miles Hunsinger, Bryson Gutches has been helping me with my wrestling. Obviously, John Wood is the head coach there and then one of the new owners over at Syndicate is Jason Sargis who is great boxing and wrestling coach that’s been helping me quite a bit. I feel like I pick up his voice really well. I think he’s a good coach in addition to the team.”
He’s also spending time honing his grappling at Gracie Humaita in Henderson where he trains with Gabriel Checco. Clayton Hires of Team Quest also relocated to Las Vegas, giving Heath a chance to push forward with a familiar face by his side.
“I’ve been focusing as much as I possibly can on improving,” Heath said. “The big difference for me was back in the Northwest the wrestling and the grind is a lot heavier in the sense that every single amateur or pro, whatever card you’re on, there’s at least one or two national champions on it. There’s so many good wrestlers and grapplers out of that area that I felt like I came out of a decent enough background. Obviously, there’s always room to improve.
“Once I down here, it was nice because the Muay Thai and the boxing, the striking alone is just on another level. Obviously, Syndicate – Chaz Mulkey, I work with Master Nope, having Antonio Brown – just meeting good people in general has helped me quite a bit.”
Having UFC vets like Lawlor and Roy Nelson to pass on their pearls of wisdom to him has been inspirational. One of Heath’s aspirations is “to achieve that level of knowledge” and succeed as they have. But knocking down the door to the crack into UFC isn’t easy.
During his long layoff, Heath opted to finally take care of a pesky knee injury. In December, he had surgery on an old MCL tear. These days, he feels a newfound confidence in his surgically repaired knee and know it’ll no longer buckle or lock up on him. But spending almost two years sidelined wasn’t exactly what Heath has wanted to do.
“The most frustrating part was, I feel like over the past couple years I’d take like a fight and I’d spend 6 weeks training for the fight, and on the fifth week my opponent gets hurt and they can’t find a replacement or something like that. And that’s just kind of the fight game.”
Getting fights at the regional level has always been a struggle for Heath. Now that he is in the Fight Capital and has raked in new experiences and knowledge, he thinks that his luck will change.
“For me, it’s been very difficult [to book fights]. For me, it was easy to get my first 7 or 8 fights, but after that, it started getting pretty difficult, especially on the regional circuits,” said Heath. “I attribute that to being my own fault. I was training out of just a boxing gym for the first few years I was a professional. I got wrestled and taken down and laid on quite a bit. And I just wasn’t doing the right things when it came to the way that I trained and with my attitude and so, I feel like that move to Vegas has changed quite a bit of that.”
Heath’s dream to become an MMA fighter was much like the story of others who’ve gone down the same path. He grew up watching Royce Gracie’s fights on VHS tapes. Then, the wrestler era came along to continue peaking his interest. After becoming engrossed in Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal movies, Heath started Muay Thai, then jiu-jitsu and was into swimming and water polo before trying out for wrestling in high school. Trading leather under the bright lights of the Octagon one day would be the culmination of his efforts.
His journey towards that goal continues when he meets Tyler at Cage Sport Super Fight League 40. The event will air live on YouTube for free and on tape delay on Comcast on Apr. 25.