by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Win or lose, Heath Herring will never stray from a 13-year credo: entertainment first, results second.
The “Texas Crazy Horse” has never had it easy, in Pride or the UFC. He’s faced enough top-ranked fighters for three men’s careers. The difference between the two organizations, he says, is that entertainment is job security in Japan.
“It was a whole different thing,” said Herring. “The fighters were pushed more to go out there and put on a good show. The UFC’s definitely, if you don’t win – especially with the contracts they have – they’ll cut you with a loss. So I have had to change my mentality a little bit.”
Given the mismatches that continue to dot the Japanese scene, not much has changed.
“In Pride, I used to take fights on 10-day notice, one-week notice,” he continued. “And as long as you went out and put on a good show, you were fine. You’d be back next time. UFC’s a little different. And I think the drawback of that is that sometimes you get really boring fights. You have guys that are worried about winning; they’re not really worried about putting on a show. I think you’ve seen that in the last couple of events in the UFC, and that’s the double-edged sword.”
For much of the decade, the 31-year-old has held a spot on Top 10 heavyweight lists. He’s fallen short to the division’s elite, but had many high-profile wins, particularly in his early Pride days.
Whatever the outcome, he believes fighting is about the show, or more aptly, the rodeo.
He’ll face Cain Velasquez next month at UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany, a stress test for another rising star in the heavyweight division. Since his Octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 8, he’s hop scotched between losses and wins. Wrestlers have given him trouble. He’s also caught some bad breaks: failing to finish an unconscious Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 73, a broken orbital bone from Brock Lesnar’s first punch.
Entertaining, always. But in the UFC, he notes, it doesn’t buy him much. Against Velasquez, maybe the remainder of his contract.
“A quarter pounder at McDonald’s,” he laughed. “That’s about it, to be honest with you. It’s just another fight on my contract. Me and Kongo fought, and they said it was going to be for a title shot. Obviously, that didn’t happen. I’m not holding out any hopes.”
Conventional wisdom says the fight will be about takedown defense. Velasquez, a staunch perfectionist, will not hesitate to shoot if he can’t dominate Herring on the feet. The veteran’s best chance is to grind it out from the top or slug it out.
Predictions aren’t of much use to Herring.
“This ain’t my first rodeo,” he said. “You’ve just got to be ready for everything. I think the best laid plans, as soon as you get in the ring, get thrown out the window anyway. So it’s a lot more important to concentrate to be in great shape, come out and have a great fight, and we’ll see what happens.”
He’s currently training in Vegas, logging time at former Pride stablemate Wanderlei Silva’s new gym and nearby Warrior Training Center. He lives with his trainers in a gated Las Vegas community. The rented house doesn’t scream Texas. Its carpets are a bizarre mix of purple and blue and there’s Vegas kitsch everywhere. In the middle of everything are these fighters, biding time before the big show.
Herring says he’ll depart to Cologne, Germany just in time for the weigh-ins, an old trick from his Pride days. If he isn’t there for long, there’s no chance for jet lag.
And he’s diversifying, with a new line of hair products to be sold online and at local salons.
If his roller coaster ride with the UFC has put his back to the wall, he’s resigned to whatever happens.
“It’s a lot of added pressure and stress,” he said. “I think the most important thing is to go out there and put on a good show. There’s other organizations out there, other promotions out there. I think at the end of the day, even if the UFC was to cut me, I’ll go back to Japan or find somewhere else. Worse things have happened.”