Pride 12 Post-Fight With Heath Herring
By Josh Gross
President Elect George W. Bush isn’t the only person from Texas that’s gained international notoriety lately. Fellow Texan Heath Herring burst onto the world stage after defeating Tom Erikson in Pride 11. The victory made many people take notice of Herring and discover something pretty interesting–he was no longer just a ground-and-pound wrestler. A year after moving to Holland, the brash 22-year-old has managed to become one of the most well rounded athletes competing in the fast growing sport. Adored by many Japanese fans, Herring has established himself as a serious contender for the title of best young heavyweight in the world.
FCF: First off, tell me a little about your background.
HH: I grew up in Amarillo, Texas. There’s not much to say about that. I wrestled my senior year in high school and in my first year went to State. I didn’t place in State but I think I was in the top-10. It was fun my first time, I got beat but I never wrestled before so I was happy with it. I got a football scholarship to play for the West Texas State Buffalos. I got into the shootfighting a little about because Steve Nelson started giving some lessons. The August before I went to report for two-a-days there was a shootfight in Amarillo and I fought in it. There was no money of course. I think there was a belt or something. I fought Paul Jones in the finals and I caught him in a key lock. He used a rope escape and then he caught me. I used a rope escape and he finally caught me in a choke. I think I just turned 18 at the time and I did a lot better than I thought I would so I stuck with it. My parents came to see it and thought their idiot son with too much testosterone needs to get his head beat in once and then he’ll be happy. But, then they saw I actually had a little ability for it and they encouraged me and said I should do it. That’s kind of how I ended up where I am now.
FCF: How did you make that big step from living in Amarillo and fighting in the USWF to training in Holland?
HH: Yeah, that’s a very long story. I think God has a lot more to do with that than I do. I have some really good people in my life and I pray a lot about it and things worked out. If I had to repeat it all over again there’s no way it could happen. As a matter of fact, before I met my manager Ron (Nyvquist) who’s in Holland, I was in Pennsylvania wrestling in a college up there. I just got a football and wrestling scholarship up there and then after two months Ron said come over. That was a really hard decision because you just get a scholarship, get moved into a college you’re about to start, everything is taken care of and then a pie-in-the-sky deal comes along. It was a really tough decision, but I think I made the right decision because here I am. The college said if I ever wanted to come back I could come back and play for them.
FCF: You’ve been in Holland for over a year. How long did it take for you to adjust and how long did it take for the people over there to accept you?
HH: The Dutch accept you right away. If they like you, they like you. If they don’t, they don’t and that’s kinda how people are back home in Texas. I think they could sense that with me. I wasn’t trying to play games or bullshit them. I really enjoy everyone over there. Gilbert [Yvel], Ron, Cor Hemmers and Roman Dekker and I are all good friends. We hang out all the time.
FCF: What’s the training like in Holland compared to your training in the U.S.?
HH: All I have to say is I have the best trainer in the world, Cor Hemmers. We clicked right away. His family is like my second family, I do everything with them. His son is like my little brother and I’m very close with his wife. Also, Roman’s mother is actually Cor’s wife so we’re all a very close-knit group over there. I think they’re going to come and visit me and my family in Texas sometime this summer. When you develop a relationship with someone like that, it makes it that much easier to train and put your heart and soul into something. Cor believes in it and I believe in Cor, so when he says for me to do something I don’t think there is an agenda there and I know it’s the best for me.
FCF: What is your relationship with the Golden Glory team?
HH: Yeah, really our manager, Ron Nyqvist, brought in all Dutch fighters other than myself and brought us together. There are some big names in it. Gilbert, Remco Pardoel, Alistar and Valentijn Overeem from RINGS and a few other guys doing Shooto stuff. Alistar is in the upcoming King of Kings tournament and I think he has a good shot of winning it. Right now the team is coming together. It’s a little difficult because everyone lives in different parts of Holland. Remco lives close to where I live so we train together at his school. We have a few guys from Germany that are training with us that should be coming into the game pretty quick. They’re pretty good on the ground and they’re picking up stand-up skills really quick.
FCF: Now you’re going home for a little while. How long are you planning on staying in Amarillo?
HH: I hope I’m there for about a month. I need to get back to Holland by the end of January. Remco is going to fight and I’m going to work his corner. Valentijn is getting ready for the King of Kings and I need to help him get ready for that. Then there is a big show in Europe that Ron’s putting on. I think Gilbert will have a rematch against Vanderlei Silva and I think Igor Vovchanchin is bringing his sparring partner over to fight. I’m not going to fight because I’m hoping that I’ll be in the Grand Prix and I want to concentrate on that.
FCF: Amarillo is a small town and you’ve been gone for a year. Before you left you had a big rivalry with Evan Tanner. Describe your relationship with him and, now that you’ve been gone for a year, if it’s changed in your mind at all.
HH: I’ll tell you, I haven’t even given him a thought. I guess Evan has been talking a lot about me lately and I don’t know if he has a complex, but it seems like he’s become obsessed about wanting to fight me. I don’t even feel we’re even in comparable states right now. I don’t want to be rude I just don’t think he’s on my level right now. I don’t think he’s on the level of Tom Erikson. I feel I’ve put myself on a certain level right now I don’t need to be concerned with him. I’ll admit, I don’t much care for him. I don’t like the guy. I beat him when I was 19 and I’ve grown leaps and bounds. I don’t think I’m even the same person I was and I think he’s matured as a fighter also. I don’t think he’s the same fighter, but I don’t think we’re comparable at this point. I think there was a thing that maybe Pride was going to have him come fight me and I don’t think they’ve thought twice about bringing him in to fight or not. I don’t want to get anything started really bad and I don’t want to be rude, but if you really look at it, it’s like a B-level fighter wanting to fight Kerr. It’s not feasible.
FCF: The boxing commission in your home state has really caused a lot of problems for the USWF and other local promoters. Now that you’ve started to have success on the world stage do you think you might try and help?
HH: A lot of that comes from people fighting with each other. If the promoters would get along with each other instead of trying to shut each other’s show down then that might help. My dad ran shows in New Mexico and he wanted to run shows in Texas but some promoters would try and shut down shows if they were in the same town. They’d tell the commission about some small infringement and so it got to the point where the commission got tired of all these little kids squabbling and they shut down everything. The problem is the boxing commission doesn’t like it because MMA will take out boxing and if they have a reason to shut it down, they will. The fight game has to come together for the common good and that’s the only way it will survive. Otherwise, you’ll have all these little faction groups and it’s not going to become mainstream. You have to do something like boxing, where you have a unified title and, more importantly, work together to promote the sport.
FCF: Okay, let’s move from your past to the present and future. You’ve had three convincing victories with Pride. You beat Enson Inoue in your most recent match. Before the match you said you expected him to come out very aggressive but he didn’t.
HH: Right, it was a total surprise. I even asked Enson about that. It was the first fight I’ve ever seen Enson in where he didn’t attack like a bull. I think, like I said before, that Cor Hemmers being a legend in Thailand had a lot to do with it. They respect him and they know if you train with him you know what you’re doing. I am by no means an expert Thai Boxer but the quality of training you receive is so high and Enson said if you’re training with Cor you have to be respectful of that. That’s what he did. He came out and was worried to charge me. I had a knee planned but he didn’t come in so it didn’t work. I think I did okay standing up with him. I made a few mistakes, I should have thrown more punches and I should have moved more but it all ended up okay. For Cor it’s very nice to see someone respect a fighting system so much that they change their game plan.
FCF: During the fight you had a key lock on him that was very tight and you were cranking pretty hard but he didn’t tap. What happened with that?
HH: Yeah, Enson’s tough man. He’s a monster and I give him all the respect in the world. I couldn’t take the arm any farther at the position I was in and I’m still in the mentality of not to give up position for a submission. I heard it rip two or three times. I think he’ll be okay, it was just some ligaments. It was the same situation I had with Bobby Hoffman in SuperBrawl. He’s a tough guy.
FCF: What’s in your future, you said you want to fight in the Grand Prix correct?
HH: I hope so and I’ve heard rumors but I don’t want to start anything.
FCF: Other than the Grand Prix is there anyone specifically you’re aiming at?
HH: I gotta take anybody they throw at me. I’m still a young guy.
FCF: Where do you see yourself in a year from now?
HH: I don’t know. A year ago I wasn’t near the fighter I am now so who knows. I think I’m rated number seven right now, it’s incredible to me.
FCF: When you first started did you think you could get to this level?
HH: Yeah, of course. If you don’t you shouldn’t be doing this. When you start, you gotta aim for the top and I think everyone has too, otherwise they don’t need to be doing it. If you really don’t believe you can be the best at it there’s no point. I’ll tell you right now I’m more surprised than anybody. Whenever I see myself in a Japanese newspaper or something it blows my mind and then when I start thinking about Erikson and Inoue it makes me crazy.
FCF: What’s the story behind your hair?
HH: Actually, it’s my manager’s idea. He owns a big sports center in Holland and they have a hair cut place in there. He’s a real famous guy and before every fight he does some crazy stuff. The Japanese really seem to like it and they always want to see what’s different each time. It doesn’t bother me.
FCF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
HH: Oh yeah. I hope the fans in America really take to Pride. Now that it’s coming on pay-per-view, they should really try and watch it. Pride is the biggest show in the world right now and they’re really trying to get all the best fighters in. I think they want to start coming to America and do some big things. Hopefully the American public will grasp it. I know everyone in the U.S. is still stuck on the UFC, but I don’t think that they can put on the type of fights that Pride does right now.
FCF: Thanks for your time Heath. Congratulations on your victory over Enson.
HH: You’re welcome.