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From putting PhD on hold to ending up homeless, this MMA champion has seen it all...

February 20, 2016 17:22 IST
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Amateur MMA champion Rebecca Heintzman’s long road to the ONE Championship cage

Rebecca ‘The Professor’ Heintzman

IMAGE: Rebecca ‘The Professor’ Heintzman reacts. Photograph: Facebook

Rebecca ‘The Professor’ Heintzman knows all about making sacrifices in order to achieve your dreams. From putting her biology PhD from Binghamton University in New York on hold to ending up homeless in Shanghai, she’s gone through trials few others have experienced in their lives.

All that has paid off, however, as the former NAAFS strawweight champion is finally living her dream by fighting in major Asian organisation ONE Championship on 20 Feb in Jakarta’s Istora Senayan against rising Singaporean superstar Angela Lee. And it all seemingly happened by chance.

A former collegiate soccer player, Heintzman soon found herself craving new challenges after graduation. To fill that competitive void, she decided to try mixed martial arts at a local gym. She was hooked in no time.

Rebecca Heintzman

IMAGE: Rebecca Heintzmans. Photograph: Facebook

“The owner of the gym was a great guy, who’s really supportive of women doing martial arts. He said I had potential and just really mentored me and convinced me to compete,” Heintman said. “After I started, I kept winning and just kind of fell into it almost by accident, but I like to think of it as fate.” Heintzman ended her amateur career undefeated at 6-0 before turning professional.

To pursue her passion in MMA, however, required her to give something else up. Heintzman was originally aiming to become a professor, as she loved teaching. In fact, that was how she got her nickname when she started competing in the amateur circuit. But her newfound love for MMA soon took over. “I’ve had to shelve one of my dreams a little bit to pursue a new dream. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of support in that.”

That support comes in the form of her fiancé, Kyle Rozewski, whom she moved to Shanghai, China, with. After establishing a business partnership, they began training and coaching at a gym there. However, that led to one of the most difficult times of their lives, as they discovered their partner had lied to them about money and was effectively stealing from them. Leaving the gym in a huff, they suddenly ended up with nowhere to live in a foreign land.

“Those are the moments in life where you have to ask yourself what you really want,” said Heintzman. “A lot of people said, ‘why don’t you just get on a plane and come back to America?’ But my fiancé Kyle and I decided that we weren’t going to let one person ruin our dream for us.” They vowed to figure it out, and they did.

Rebecca Heintzman

IMAGE: Rebecca Heintzmans. Photograph: Facebook

“If that had happened to me alone, I wouldn’t have gotten through it. But my partner in crime was with me the whole time.” After finding temporary accommodation in the form a friend’s guest room, the couple started selling prepaid packages for their personal training services, and it paid off. So well, in fact, they soon made enough to rent another apartment in Shanghai, and Rozewski even found a new job coaching in another gym.

Overcoming all that was a huge confidence boost for her, and she treats it as a great life lesson. “I’ve now been in positions in fights, in training, and in life that are horrible scenarios that I never thought I’d encounter.”

“If you don’t quit going through those things, nothing is going to make you quit in the cage,” she adds. “The fights and the shows are the fun part, and where you get to reap the rewards of things you endured and everything else.”

Her tribulations also reaffirmed her love for the sport. “What I love about MMA is that it truly allows me to be myself. I’ve done other jobs and realised that even if I’m paid more for something, if I didn’t like it, it was horrible. If you love what you’re doing, you can do it forever.”

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