The last 9 months have been anything but kind to Strikeforce fighter Conor Heun, who now sits on the precipice of a possible retirement and mountain of debt all because he dreamed of being a fighter.
The story of Conor Heun goes much further back than the recent news he Tweeted that he was going to be released from his contract with Strikeforce after he was unable to take a Jan 12 fight against Pat Healy.
No, Heun’s struggles actually started more than two years ago when he battled Jorge Gurgel in Strikeforce prior to the company being purchased by Zuffa.
Heun lost the fight to Gurgel, but the two lightweights put on an exciting battle that thrilled the fans, but left the 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu fighter with virtually a broken body when it was over. The worst of his injuries was a knee that required surgery, and even though Strikeforce didn’t have the same kind of “out of competition” insurance that Zuffa does today, they still had fight night coverage to help out any fighters injured while competing on their cards.
Heun found out the hard way however that insurance doesn’t always mean “full coverage” unfortunately.
“When I was fighting for Strikeforce before Zuffa bought them I needed my ACL repaired after my fight with (Jorge) Gurgel, and I assumed everything was cool because we had the insurance coverage, but the coverage was only up to $50,000 and the surgery ended up being way more than that,” Heun explained when speaking to MMAWeekly.com on Wednesday.
When the final bill was tallied, Heun ended up owing his surgeons and doctors an additional $20,000 that was not covered by insurance, and it forced him into an extremely tough situation financially that eventually led to him filing for bankruptcy.
“I ended up going into bankruptcy right before Zuffa purchased Strikeforce to get rid of the medical debt that I had following that fight and operation. I’m in a pretty difficult spot financially,” Heun revealed.
Heun’s problems were only compounded recently when he had to undergo three different surgeries to repair injuries following a loss to Ryan Couture in 2012. The fighter suffered torn labrums in both hips, and upon further review his doctor believed there was an underlying cause at least in one of his hips that could create a duplicate situation down the road if it wasn’t repaired.
So Heun’s doctor opted to not only repair the torn labrums in his hips, but he also decided to fix the underlying issue that could put him back on the surgeon’s table again after his next fight if they didn’t take care of the problem.
“I had torn labrums and I had what’s called an avulsion fracture, where my hip flexor was too tight so it pulled part of the pelvis where it attaches, it pulled like a chunk of the bone off. So the doctor went in and said well we’ll repair the labrum, but here on the right side you’ve got a mild case of hip dysplasia and it predisposes you to hip injuries, you know having the labrums tear when you’re grappling. So the left side it tore but he said it doesn’t look like it’s going to be susceptible to re-injury,” Heun explained.
“The plan was go to in on the right side, they were going to repair the labrum, and do some stuff in there and then do this PAO (Periacetabular Osteotomy) where they basically change the way the femur fits in the pelvis to avoid contact between the ball of the femur and the labrum moving forward with martial arts.”
Knowing that he was getting his injuries fixed once and for all made Heun a happy man, but it didn’t take long for a dark cloud to once again circle overhead when he found out that Zuffa’s medical insurance would not cover the preventative surgery.
“The problem is the UFC’s insurance basically said that doing the PAO was to prevent a future injury or was based on a pre-existing condition, and that wasn’t necessary. Of course they don’t tell the doctor that before he does the surgery because he could have just gone in and repaired the labrum, and when it tears the next fight we’ll repair it again,” said Heun.
“It was basically the doctor trying to get me back as fast as possible and the best shape as possible to be able to continue in this sport.”
According to Heun, Zuffa paid out over $198,000 for his first two surgeries but when the final one came about, they finally had to back out and leave him to deal with the last trip to the doctor on his own. With three screws already implanted in his hip, Heun had no choice but to go through with the surgery knowing that the end result might land him back in financial hot water.
“They basically said the insurance company denied it, we covered the first two (surgeries), but that’s it you’re on your own,” Heun stated.
“Zuffa says I’m done with it and I’m stuck with the bill. (My surgeon) had a conference with a doctor from Zuffa’s insurance company a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Briana Mattison at the UFC following that, she said that they’re going to have another doctor talk to him, but as it stands, the claim has still been denied.”
With the claim denied, Heun now sits with another huge medical bill looming overhead, and with him being out of action since March, he has little to no way to pay for it.
“It looks like right now I’m sitting on like $40,000 in bills, and maybe more coming, don’t really know what the deal is,” said Heun.
As if $40,000 in debt due to medical costs wasn’t bad enough, Heun was already not sure what his future in fighting would be after battling back from 3 hip surgeries, one of which landed him in the hospital for 8 days after complications arose and he required blood transfusions. Heun remained on crutches waiting for his hips to heal, but he received a call from Zuffa on Wednesday asking him to step up on short notice to take a fight on Jan 12.
What happened next, Heun couldn’t imagine in his worst nightmares.
“They offered me a fight with (Pat) Healy on the 12th cause I guess Sean Shelby (Strikeforce matchmaker) didn’t know I was injured. So he called me and offered me the fight with Healy and I said “I’ll take the fight because I’m $40,000 in debt right now, I’m on crutches for another week and haven’t trained since March but I’ll take the fight if you’re offering it to me”. He said well never mind, we’re not going to offer you the fight based on that information,” Heun stated.
“I said well are you guys going to bring me over in January? He said if you won the fight with Healy, then yeah we’d bring you over, but since you’re not going to fight him, since you’re injured, no we’re not, expect your walking papers in January.”
On top of his medical debt, hips that are still healing, Heun now faces a very uncertain future without a contract in Strikeforce or the UFC.
Remarkably, Heun isn’t upset about his release because he knows it didn’t happen due to his injuries or inability to take a fight on short notice. It still stings no matter how you cut it however.
“Life isn’t fair, you take what you get, and you play the hand you’re dealt. I’m not here to whine about getting dropped. I’m 1-3 in my last 4 fights, that’s not spectacular. I understand that. You’re releasing me, I’m 1-3 in my last 4 fights, you’ve never seen me fight at featherweight, they don’t want to bring me over at 155. I don’t see it as them releasing me for not taking the fight, I see it more as they are cutting me because Strikeforce is dead and I’m 1-3 in my last 4 fights. That’s understandable,” said Heun.
Heun began fighting MMA back in 2006 after studying jiu-jitsu under legendary trainer Eddie Bravo, and he says fighting has been his life ever since. He’s literally given his body to the sport, and now with his body struggling to recover, Heun admits it’s been tough to seen the underbelly of MMA chew him up and spit him out.
“There’s definitely some of it that sours me to the sport, part of it is you have to take responsibility for yourself. This is the life I chose, this is the profession I chose. I really can’t complain about the injuries that come along with the choices that I’ve made. That being said, after I fought Magno Almeida at Strikeforce in Dallas, my arm dislocated in the second round, broke my arm, tore my MCL in my left knee, and coming out of that fight I got $8000 for it. I didn’t need surgery, but months and months of rehab. So after that fight I was kind of questioning what am I doing?” said Heun.
“I love fighting but it has always been my goal, outside of being a champion, and outside of fighting in the UFC, was always to open a gym and train my own athletes and give back. That’s my end goal.”
Despite a potential legal battle coming over his medical expenses and insurance, Heun still dreams of one day competing in the UFC, but he’s not sure it will ever happen. It’s been 9 months since he was able to step foot in a gym to train, and the prospects of going back to the regional circuit isn’t what Heun can get motivated for anymore.
This path has led Heun to a very tough decision, and that could mean the end of his fighting career.
“To fight for the UFC that is something I’m interested in. To go down and fight at the Western Star Complex in front of 2000 people in order to get that win off television, that’s tough. This most likely means my retirement, I don’t really see myself going back to the small shows,” Heun stated.
“Especially coming off these injuries and what I’m dealing with, that’s Zuffa kind of forcing my hand in that matter. If they had said “hey come on through” I was going to fight at 145 and try to get a title shot there, but as things stand with them saying you’re getting your walking papers, that’s probably it.”
Whether Heun’s fighting career is over or not, he’s still dealing with the debt incurred from his last surgery, so the company Fund-A-Fighter has stepped in to allow anyone interested to donate to help the former Strikeforce fighter with his medical bills. The effort is ongoing and more information can be found at Conor Heun’s Fund-a-Fighter page.
The final chapter in Conor Heun’s career may not necessarily be written, but right now his story is looking grim for a fighter who literally gave his mind, body and soul to the sport of mixed martial arts.