Former star wrestler Heyman gets started in MMA
In high school Tioga's Derak Heyman was in control pretty much every time he had a match.
A two-time state champion Heyman was The Daily & Sunday Review All-Region wrestler of the year.
He was a Division I college wrestler at Binghamton University.
He was one of the best around in his sport. But, for Heyman something was missing.
There was something about wrestling that just wasn't exciting him anymore, so the Tioga graduate knew it was time to give up the sport he was so good at. The thing is Heyman is a competitive person.
He has that drive that made him a state champion and without wrestling he quickly found something new. He quickly found MMA.
"After I stopped wrestling I was bored and it was always something I wanted to do," Heyman said. "I knew my trainer, Jason (Porter) he's kind of a family friend, so I gave him a call and he invited me and I've been training ever since."
While there are things about MMA that are similar to wrestling, it's a different sport and so while he was no longer interested in wrestling, this is a sport that he is enjoying.
"I don't know exactly what it is, I can't put my finger on it," Heyman said of why he gave up wrestling. "I guess I was kind of getting burnt out in the sport.
"For me these are two completely different things. Starting MMA there is a lot more I can achieve."
While the two sports are different, there is one big similarity between the two and that is the competition.
"I'd say I've always loved competition more than I loved any single sport," Heyman said. "I love the fact that this does fill the competition gap."
And, having a background in wrestling does help in making the transition to MMA.
"It has helped tremendously on my feet, but it's actually made striking a little more difficult," Heyman said. "It has it's good and bads, but overall it's a huge plus having a wrestling background.
"There are a bunch of the top guys in the MMA that have a wrestling background. You can dictate where the fight goes. Then again, there are a lot of wrestlers that didn't make it very far."
One other advantage for former wrestlers, and boxers, is being used to making weight in the sport.
"In this sport it's a lot easier to drop more weight,"
Heyman said. "You have 24 hours before you have to compete and in wrestling you had one or two hours. Wrestlers do have an advantage when it comes to weight loss."
Heyman's first fight was at 150 pounds, but he's hoping to drop to 140 by his next fight.
It took some time for Heyman to get used to the new sport.
"At first it was very difficult, I kind of got beat up at first," he said. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but overall you learn, you develop. I'd rather have a wrestling background than a boxing background."
One of the challenges that Heyman, and all former wrestlers face, is getting adjusted to the striking in MMA.
"The wrestling I already got pretty much down, but it's the different variations of wrestling and then throw in jiu jitsu, boxing, karate, kick boxing, there's a lot to learn.
"I have so many different coaches. Jason Porter, who is my trainer, he works a ton with my hands since I have started this process. I have a bunch of jiu jitsu coaches and I have to focus on just letting my hands fly." There will still be times when Heyman feels uncomfortable with his striking and for now he uses his wrestling background to help him in those situations.
"I'm practice it's more natural to fall back into it," Heyman said. "Going into my fight if I ever felt uncomfortable I was instructed to take it to the ground. I have made huge gains in it so far."
Heyman is currently training at Power 1 in Vestal.
"I train there probably four or five times a week," Heyman said.
Last weekend Heyman had his first bout, in Utica, N.Y., winning by TKO in just 35 seconds. Heyman plans to have three more fights before the start of October, then take a little time off after that.
"It was a huge confidence boost," Heyman said. "I understand I'm going to be tested coming up soon. It's a completely different experience than I thought it would be. It's a completely different feeling. This is a huge confidence booster, it's more motivation." For Heyman being back out there going head-to-head with an opponent, it felt familiar, but it was also very different from wrestling.
"The whole surroundings, it felt the same as wrestling, but this was a different feeling," he said.
In wrestling everyone knew Derak Heyman. He was a state champion. A Division I wrestler.
In MMA he's just getting started and he has a chance to make a new name for himself.
"It allows me to have a fresh start, a different outlook on how I see myself in the future," Heyman said. "With wrestling I was reliving things in a way. But, wrestling will still be in my background.
I have never been overly concerned with what people thought and expected. But, no one knows who I am when I enter the octagon. I get to fight who I truly am instead of who I was."
And who Heyman is now is an MMA fighter, just starting out, dreaming of the big time, but knowing it will take a lot of work to get there.
"I would love to one day be in the UFC," Heyman said. "But, it's a long, long ways away."