Heath Herring (right) file photo: Sherdog.com
The last time mixed martial arts fans saw Heath Herring in a fight, he dropped a unanimous decision to former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar at UFC 87 in August 2008. With no fights in the last two years, Herring seemed more likely to end up on the side of a milk carton than inside the Octagon.
“There were a couple of times [since the Lesnar fight] where the UFC wanted me to go overseas and do a fight for them, but it was tough,” Herring told Sherdog.com. “The UFC would do things like ask me to fight overseas but then only pay for one hotel room for me and my coaching staff. If I’m having to pay for hotel rooms, and they’re making as much money as they are on pay-per-views, it’s just not financially worthwhile for me to take that fight.”
Herring wants to fight again as soon as possible. However, he has no idea when that might be.
“I’m kind of in a weird deal with the UFC right now,” said Herring. “Supposedly I’m free and clear, but the UFC is able to match any offer I get for a year. I’ve had some offers, but I’m not sure if the UFC would let me sign somewhere else.”
“The Texas Crazy Horse” has not been idle during his time away from the cage. Instead, he has focused on building an acting career while living in California and Las Vegas.
“I did quite a few movies [in 2009]],” Herring said. “This year, I’ve done two or three movies and some reality show pilots, but the economy has really slowed things down lately. I’m supposed to be in a movie with Jean Claude Van Damme and Wesley Snipes called ‘Havana Heat’ that we’re going to shoot in Colombia, but I think that’s going to be put off until after the holidays.”
Herring’s acting turn has been successful, but the transition from the fight world to the silver screen has not been easy.
“I definitely miss fighting,” said Herring. “I didn’t know anything else for 14 years, and everything I have comes from mixed martial arts. This isn’t what I’m used to doing. Sometimes it gets me down, but I’ve been in eight movies in about two years. It’s weird to not have a fight to look forward to, but I try to keep myself busy with work and have a goal to work towards. Still, sometimes it’s hard not to go stir crazy.”
Along with acting, Herring has conducted seminars and traveled overseas to Iraq to work with United States military personnel. It has allowed him to maintain contact with MMA fans, who definitely have not forgotten him.
“I get a whole lot of questions from people,” said Herring, who has 23 finishes among his 28 professional MMA wins. “They run the whole gamut, from which fight was my toughest to which fight was my favorite to the kiss incident. That’s what probably people ask me about the most.”
The “kiss incident” Herring refers to took place prior to his scheduled fight against Yoshihiro Nakao at K-1 “Premium Dynamite” on New Year’s Eve in 2005. While the fighters were receiving their instructions from the referee prior to the bout, Nakao leaned forward and kissed Herring on the lips. Herring responded by punching Nakao and knocking him out, leaving the result of the bout as a no contest. A video of the incident on YouTube has been viewed more than 600,000 times in the four-plus years since it occurred.
After a fight with K-1 Hero’s in March 2006, Herring signed with the UFC and made his Octagon debut in January 2007, losing a unanimous decision to Jake O’Brien. In five fights with the UFC, Herring has alternated losses and wins, picking up a unanimous decision over Brad Imes and a split nod against Cheick Kongo, while losing decisions to Lesnar, O’Brien and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Herring, who made his professional debut all the way back in 1997, remains the only fighter to extend Lesnar to a third round or a judges’ decision.
Along with Kongo and Imes, the 32-year-old Herring holds wins over Gary Goodridge, Hirotaka Yokoi, Gan McGee, Mark Kerr, Igor Vovchanchyn, Enson Inoue and the late Evan Tanner. Those victories -- combined with fights against Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Fedor Emelianenko and Vitor Belfort -- give Herring an impressive resume and have left many to wonder why he has not fought more often in the last few years.
While his contract situation plays itself out, Herring seems content to continue building his acting career, conducting seminars and working with U.S. troops overseas.
“I’m working out all the time, but there’s a clear difference between training just to stay in shape and training to get ready for a fight,” said Herring. “I’ve been making ends meet. I know I’ll be doing more seminars, and I might be going to Korea to work with the troops over there. I like working with the troops and working with people.”