MMA Pioneer Jason Heit Back in the Cage After Eleven Year Absence
On October 18 in Vancouver Island, a Canadian MMA trailblazer will be fighting his second career fight at an Island King of the Cage event. Oddly enough, Jason Heit has had only one MMA fight and that occurred 11 years ago. If fellow Canadian MMA pioneer Gary Goodridge has had 42 fights since 1996, how can Jason Heit be called a pioneer with only one career MMA fight?
One has to consider Jason a fighting legend considering his substantial resumé. Back in 1987 (6 years prior to UFC 1), Jason began training in martial arts. By the time he was 17, Jason had won his first Island Tough Man competition. Forced to make a decision between his two loves, rugby or fighting, Heit chose fighting – boxing, in particular. This was a good decision for fight fans as the British Columbia native quickly rose up the Canadian amateur ranks – winning provincial and national titles in the Light-Heavyweight division in 1995.
Always interested in all aspects of fighting, Heit moved south to Los Angeles in 1996 to train under Royce Gracie before returning to Duncan, BC to open a small gym – “Jay’s Garage” and fight in the first ever sanctioned MMA card where Jason won by KO. “Boxing was still my chosen profession at the time,” says the welterweight, “but I wanted to fight in that first card to test my complete fighting skills.” Jay’s Garage was one of the first gyms in Canada to teach MMA as Jason blended his deep knowledge of boxing, kickboxing, and jiu-jitsu to train students. In fact, this gym spawned one of the Canada’s great mixed martial artists, John Alessio – a UFC, TKO, and WEC veteran. Heit continues to train and occasionally corner Alessio, although he will have to miss Alessio’s fight this weekend versus Gideon Ray due to his own training schedule.
Boxing kept calling though and Jason moved back to California to start his professional boxing career in 1999. Jason was a powerful cruiserweight in a non-lucrative boxing division and was forced to work security at bars throughout L.A. Just as he worked his way up the boxing rankings with the help of famous managers Burt Young (Paulie from Rocky) and Lou Duva, Jason also worked his way up in security from seedier LA bars to Hollywood star hangouts.
Eventually winding up working security at the famed Whiskey Bar, Jason was lured away from boxing to the world of close protection work. Jason took fire arms training and became employed by a security agency. Jason protected Drew Barrymore, Nicholas Cage, Russell Simmons, and other stars before opening his own security firm which landed him a two year gig on tour with Robbie Williams. All the while, Jason continued training in MMA and working with John Alessio and other professional fighters like Bas Rutten.
After The Ultimate Fighter 1 premiered in 2005, MMA started to explode. Money started flowing into the sport in terms of sponsorship dollars, better fight purses, and more students wanting a place to train in the sport. Heit now had two children and “L.A. is no place to raise kids,” says Jason. Jason packed up the family and moved to “the greatest city to raise a family,” Victoria, where he opened a gym – Island MMA Training Center.
Along with the high of opening his gym in 2007 came the low of being a late cut of The Ultimate Fighter 7. The UFC took 32 fighters and Jason was in the last group of 40. “It was very frustrating to get passed over, especially because I wasn’t able to show my skills,” laments Jason, “I had a great time, but it hurt to watch the show because I felt I belonged there.” There were some positives as Jason made some great friends like Jeremy Lang who is helping Jason hone is wrestling. Jason also got to see training partner Mac Danzig win TUF 6 and help John Alessio prepare for his WEC fight against Todd Moore.
Now Heit is preparing for his own battle against Elmer Waterhen (5-4) – by no means an easy fight when you have eleven years of ring rust. Waterhen, from Saskatoon, is a tough experienced fighter who has fought the likes of TJ Grant and Jesse Bongfeldt. Heit expects a war with Waterhen, who Heit calls a fighter who “is a tall awkward lefthander with great toughness.” Heit should have the stand up advantage as 80% of his combined boxing, kickboxing and MMA fights end up with his opponent knocked out. His ground game also sounds very tight as he has been working at his club and Extreme Couture, with Mac Danzig and his cornerman John Alessio, in preparation for the fight. However, Jason must “listen to his body” to ensure he does not expend too much energy too quickly and gas out in his return to the cage.
John Cooper, promoter of the Island KOTC card, expects a great main event. “Heit is basically making his MMA debut against a King of the Cage veteran in Elmer Waterhen. Heit’s ring experience as a boxer is impressive…and Elmer’s durability and cage experience should match up well for an exciting fight !”
For Island King of the Cage ticket information, visit: www.vimma.ca.
Island MMA is open Monday – Saturday. For Island MMA Training Center info, visit: islandmma.com