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6/26/2007 4:22pm,
Doug Humphrey wrestles with Joe Heiland on Wednesday afternoon during wrestling camp at Shelby High School.

Ex-Shelby wrestler unbeaten as mixed martial arts fighter

SHELBY -- He came within one win of a high school state wrestling championship for Shelby and one point of becoming a college All-American at Baldwin-Wallace.

Memories of falling excruciatingly short are all the incentive Joe Heiland needs when he enters the steel Octagon as a mixed martial arts fighter.

Unbeaten in seven bouts as an amateur, the 25-year-old Heiland won his professional MMA debut this month during Fight Night in the Flats in Cleveland. He was declared the winner by TKO 30 seconds into the second round of the scheduled three-round welterweight match, the sixth time in his budding career that he has won without going the distance.
"I always wanted to be the best at what I did," said Heiland, a 2000 Shelby grad, "so coming up short in high school and college is like a fire burning. It's irritating coming back here and seeing a picture of me as a state runner-up."

Heiland was back at his alma mater last week as a guest instructor at coach Mark Kirby's wrestling camp. A school teacher in Kent, Heiland's dream is to become another Randy Couture, a real-life Maximus Decimus Meridius among the gladiators who have competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the most popular enterprise of the MMA.

Couture parlayed his success as a college wrestler into a UFC heavyweight championship and cult following among extreme fighting aficionados.

"When I first heard of the UFC, the first person I thought of was Joe," Kirby said. "He was a great wrestler, and with his boxing background, I knew he'd jump on it in a heartbeat."

The "striking" part of an MMA fight -- which weds boxing and kickboxing with the "ground game" of jujitsu and wrestling -- came naturally to Heiland.

"I've always known how to box from dad (William); he did some sparring when he was younger and taught me the basics," Heiland said. "Having two older brothers growing up and always pound-

ing on me was where I got my competitive spirit.

"In college, when I lost to the national champion in overtime, I said to my dad, 'Man, if I could have punched that guy, I could have beaten him.' I remember watching (extreme fighting) back in high school and thinking I could do that."

After graduating from Baldwin Wallace in 2005, Heiland turned those thoughts into action.

"After I lost my last match at nationals by one point, I told my dad I have to compete -- whether it's boxing or MMA," he said. "I talked to a one of the fighters who told me that I had good hands and that with my wrestling background I had the skills to get in the MMA. Luckily, I hooked up with a good team."

Heiland represents Strong Style, a club out of the Cleveland suburb of Independence. He trains from three to five hours a day, six days a week.

"I take more of a beating in the gym than I do in the fights," he said. "The fights are like a night off."

Part of Heiland's workout routine involves flipping semi tires and running hills lugging 40-pound Russian kettlebells -- basically cast iron bowling balls with handles -- in each hand.

"I'd get off work at 2:30 and go train," Heiland said. "It really is a second job. You have to dedicate the time to be successful. Hopefully, the fight game will take over for my income, but I have to make all the right moves."

There were no missteps in the amateur ranks. He fashioned a 7-0 record with five knockouts, defeating the top five welterweights for the 2006 North American Allied Fight Series national championship. He was also named NAAFS Fighter of the Year.

"I can finally call myself a national champion," he said. "It solidified my spot as an amateur and I was ready for the next level. But I spent six months just on training. Yeah, I have the wrestling background, but I knew I had to be great on my feet and great on my back and learn so many disciplines to be great. So I trained like mad for six months just to fine-tune stuff for my pro debut."

A Hollywood film crew spent seven days with Heiland leading up to his pro debut for an upcoming documentary. He's apparently made a quick impression in the few-holds-barred sport that boasts box office records at major arenas throughout the country, including Nationwide in Columbus.

"UFC 68: The Uprising" sold $2.8 million in tickets this March, the most in Nationwide's six-year history. Two concerts by the Rolling Stones are the only other events held there to top $2 million.

"What I liked most about wrestling is that it's a one-on-one sport where you can take somebody down and impose your will," Heiland said. "In MMA, a lot of the action goes to the ground, and that's why wrestlers have success, especially if they can strike.

"In the amateurs, the only thing you can throw to the head is your fists; in the pros, there can be knees and elbows to the face. It's so exciting ... it's more toys to work with, where I can ground and pound."

Heiland is extremely passionate about his pastime, perhaps unaware that such comments feed the perception that this mano-a-mano combat among warriors wearing little more than trunks and open-fingered gloves is medieval in its savagery and brutality.

"People think it's human cock-fighting, but it's really a sport so technical, it's almost like a human chess match played with your body," Heiland said. "Like boxing and wrestling, there's certain situations you can put yourself in to avoid trouble. It comes down to how well you know the techniques of each discipline.

"Some fighters are better kickboxers than wrestlers. I go with my wrestling and stand-up (boxing) background. I think I can stand on my feet with anyone."

That's becoming more apparent with each bout.

"At first, Joe's strength was his wrestling, but now he's more explosive in everything he does," said Strong Style coach Marcus Marinelli. "He's becoming a phenomenal boxer. He's super athletic and talented ... and he's got heart.

"He has all the qualities to succeed in the sport. He's got the potential to be a good UFC fighter, and that's saying a lot because a lot of guys are vying for those positions. With a couple of good breaks he would be a good addition to the UFC. Once he gets his foot in that door ... that's the Super Bowl of our sport."

Given that his nickname, "Smokin,'" was attached at birth, Heiland's success on a raised stage - whether in a ring or steel cage - appears preordained.

"Smokin' Joe Frazier was a boxing champ at the time and my dad couldn't get over my size, so he wrote in my baby book that I was going to be his champ," Heiland said.

"God blessed me with a great chin. When I get hit, that fires me up. At first, I would attack with double-leg takedowns and then let my instincts and adrenaline take over. Now I'm knocking guys out on my feet. If I don't have good exchanges on my feet, then I can go to the ground."

Looking back at some of their sparring sessions, Kirby has no doubts that this latter day Smokin' Joe will continue to blaze a trail of success.

"We wrestled plenty of times when he was in high school, but I wouldn't want to do it now ... not at all," Kirby said. "A couple of years ago he had me on top, trying to keep him pinned, because he was working on his jujitsu. I was sore for three days.

"A lot of people don't realize the technique involved in MMA ... they just think it's a backyard brawl."


This is a pretty good article.
I'm happy to say that more and more I'm seeing are mor educated articles on MMA where proper research and terminology is presented.