by Brendhan Conlan
The Conor Heun competing in the cage this weekend in Dallas at “Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum” may physically resemble the 8-4 lightweight who was last seen going toe-to-toe with K.J. Noons a year ago but ask Heun and you’ll find out appearance and attitude are where the similarities stop.
A long-time staple at Legends MMA and 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu in Los Angeles, the 32-year old recently packed up shop and headed to New Mexico where he now resides as part of Greg Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque. Location is only one of the changes for Heun has undergone since nearly outpointing Noons last June, and, as he shared with Five Ounces of Pain, a big part in why people who watch his fight should expect to see an upgraded “Hurricane” hit the ring on Saturday night.
“They’re not gonna recognize me,” Heun said of MMA fans. “I’ve got a whole new set of skills, a whole new gameplan, (and) new coaches. Everything should be different, right?”
“I’ve definitely made a lot of changes,” he elaborated on the subject of his new surroundings and skills. “I left Legends MMA in California and 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu and moved out to the TapouT Ranch in Edgewood, New Mexico where Leonard Garcia and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone train. I train with those guys at Jackson’s. I wake up. I go running, I come back and do my yoga, then drive down to Jackson’s in Albuquerque and spar with the guys. Drive back in the afternoon, usually get a grappling workout or pad workout in come evening. And that’s really all that there is. There’s no going out, there’s no bars, there’s no girls. There’s nothing but fighters trying to be the best they can be.”
Working alongside the likes of UFC veterans close to his weight like Cerrone and Garcia was a core component of Heun’s decision to move East, explaining, “I just didn’t have the quality of sparring partners like I needed (in L.A.) – there was only one other pro in the gym at the time and that was Matt Horwich. Legends MMA has great guys but they’re all amateurs. In fact a lot of them are looking to make their pro debut in July for Shark Fights.”
Other bonuses to his new home include the ability to increase his fitness based on altitude, an aspect of his arsenal also assisted by the inclusion of his brother Aaron Heun who also happens to be a professional cyclist.
“He always thought my cardio was my strong suit but after seeing my fight with Noons he sorta asked me what happened where I gassed. He’d never seen that before,” Heun said of his younger sibling. “He’s really a genius when it comes to the science of cardio and physical performance. He’s just a real bright kid.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in better shape than I am right now,” he continued. “I’ve never sparred with the caliber of guys I’m working with every day. I’m getting the baddest men on the planet every single day in the gym.”
The only downside to training at Jackson’s MMA? “It takes a little bit of toll on my confidence so I’m not as quite as confident as I normally am going in to the fight,” Heun joked of his improved training partners.
The fight Heun is of course referencing is tomorrow evening’s preliminary pairing against Magno Almeida, a 9-1-1 BJJ blackbelt who has won his last five fights. Heun spoke candidly about his mindset in reference to Almeida saying he didn’t expect to tap out no matter the situation and had no real concerns about the Brazilian’s striking.
“I know he likes Kimuras and Keylocks and Armbars, but I’ve been wrestling since I was five years old…I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu with Eddie Bravo since 2006. I feel pretty comfortable (on the ground) but he’s got eight submissions in nine victories so he’s a submission machine.”
“He’s certainly not going to finish me with an Armbar,” said Heun. “I mean he can take it off and mail it to me COD if he wants. I’m not tapping to an Armbar, that’s for damn sure!”
“If he wants to finish the fight with me he better knock me out and a lot of the best guys in the world have tried. Noons is considered to be one of the top strikers in MMA, definitely at lightweight, and he couldn’t knock me out. According to Compustrike numbers I hit him more times than he hit me. My chin’s been tested. People say it’s granite but its titanium. I got a titanium plate in it when I fought Marlon Matias. He broke my jaw with a knee a minute and a half into the first round. If I’m not going to drop when you break my jaw I’m certainly not getting knocked out by a kid with no knockouts.”
Heun’s focus on victory is as clear as the desire to compete after only fighting twice in the past two years due to injury and contractual issues, both matters since taken care of.
“I’m willing to take this fight wherever it goes but I want to beat this kid up, I want to hurt him,” Heun passionately stated. “I want a knockout standing. I only have one TKO and I’ve been working on my striking. I flew back to LA and worked with my boxing coach, Frankie Liles. I’ve been working with all the great coaches out here in New Mexico. I mean I’ve got a lot of pent up aggression fighting once a year. That doesn’t sit well with me. I’m ready to let it all hang out.”
“I got my contact re-signed by Zuffa after the purchase and obviously it wasn’t for winning fights – it’s for the way that I fight,” Heun continued. “I go out and I try to finish. I march forward throwing bombs. And that’s what everybody’s gonna see this time except I’m not going to get tired so I’ll be throwing just any many bombs, just as hard, in the third round as I’m throwing in the first round if he makes it that long. If he wants to take it to the ground and manages to get me there, good luck…I’m pretty deep down there too. I just want to put on a show, show my heart – my improved cardio and my improved striking – and I’m force in this weight-class. I’m 32 years old, I’m getting up there…but I want the belt.”
“I’m here to let people know I’m the real deal. I’m no pushover. Anyone who fights me wakes up the next day and knows they’ve been in a fight, but that’s not enough…I need to get my hand raised. No one else is doing it for me so I’m looking for a knockout, a TKO, a submission. I’m marching forward and there’s no way I’m getting tired. I’d be really impressed to see me anybody match me cardio-vascularly and match my heart. I don’t think I can be knocked out. I know that sounds cocky but I’ve taken some shots and I don’t go down. I sure as hell am not tapping to an Armbar. Edson Berto had my arm and popped it but in a fight you gotta do something better than that. You’ve got to turn off the switch and stop the flow of blood to my brain. If you can put me to sleep, more power to you.”
Stopping Heun is something no fighter has done yet, a fact not lost on the fiery Californian with three Split Decisions in four total losses. “I would like to leave a fight feeling like, ‘Okay, that guy was better.’ I’ve never felt that, like I’ve lost a fight. I’ve only been a little behind on the cards when the time ran out.”
A number of other notable lightweights like Noons, Justin Wilcox, Jorge Masvidal, and J.Z. Cavalcante will also see action this weekend. All of those match-ups intrigue Heun including Noons who he feels he defeated regardless of the judges’ rendering in their 2010 throwdown.
“Noons is fighting Masvidal for the #1 contender’s spot and I feel like I beat him. He cut me up and I understand damage plays a huge part but I had a near submission in the first round,” Heun explained. “ If I’d been a little more in tune with what was going on I might have capitalized on that. There were no elbows on the ground and I think I may have finished them if there were. I’ve never lost a fight where elbows were allowed. I’m coming in here in the best shape I’ve ever been in to do damage.”
However, Heun stopped short of calling the hard-hitting Hawaiian out.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Noons. I talked to him in Vegas at the Zuffa Fighter Summit, and if he gets through Masvidal and beats Gilbert Melendez – a pretty steep hill to climb – and he’s holding the belt then I’ve got my eye on him. But I really just have my eyes on whoever is in front of me.”
In closing Heun mentioned fans can check him out on Twitter and also made sure to stay true to his roots by showing love to a few sponsors who won’t be able to advertise on his gear at “Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum” due to policy regarding certain types of support.
“I’d like to thank the sponsors that have been with me forever – Melee Fight Gear, On the Mat, and Bite Defense. Those guys started out with me and I don’t think they’re able to do anything for this fight due to the Zuffa sponsorship thing. Basically a week ago we found out a week ago all nutrition or apparel sponsors have to pay $10,000 per fighter or $100,000 per year. It really sucks I’m not able to help those people who helped me to get where I am. So Steve from Melee, Scott from On the Mat, and Mike from Bite Defense…those guys have been behind me, helped me out, and I really appreciate that. (Fighters) start out and those guys were sponsoring me when they weren’t getting anything for it. They’re giving me $500 to watch me fight in front of 500 people and get no return on it. It’s a shame that now I’m fighting on TV that I can’t return the favor and show them some love.”
Heun’s in-ring affair with Almeida can be seen live on HDNet along with the rest of the Strikeforce prelims starting at 8:00 PM EST. Other bouts include Mike Bronzoulis vs. Todd Moore and Wilcox vs. Cavalcante.