If you talked to Jackson MMA's Heather "Hurricane" Clark without knowing her day job, you'd be forgiven for not jumping right to "professional fighter". If there is a mold for fighter personalities, particularly in women's MMA, then Clark certainly doesn't fit it.
"I'm actually really creative person." Clark explains "I love photography, I love art. I love any kind of outlet for creativity and self-expression. That's probably my biggest passion overall".
Meet Heather Clark, professional fighter training out of the most prestigious fight camp in the world. She's not exactly what one might expect, but Clark has been shattering those kind of stereotypes all her life. And in a few weeks time, shell look to open some eyes, as
On Saturday, January 7th, Ms. Clark will enter the cage for the 3rd time as a professional when she takes on April Coutino on a featured bout of Evolution Combat Sports Championship's "Friday Night Fights". It is the culmination of a long and strange road for Clark, but over the course of many life changes the 30 year old's motivating drive is perhaps the one constant.
"I like things that challenge me. My whole life, what's driven me are things that challenge my mind, my body, my spirit. MMA is one of those things that challenges all three of those things at once. More then anything else I've done, fighting and being a fighter pushes you and changes you in every way possible."
No one who competes in MMA does so because their high school guidance counselor told them to. No fighter trains mind, body and soul to their full extent because they saw a cool booth at a jobs fair. No one gets into fighting professionally because they're looking for easy money. Its far more complicated then that. The unique journey of a professional fighter often mirrors the fighters own unique journey through life.
Clark was first introduced to martial arts through her father, a student of noted Ukidokan Karate practitioner Benny "The Jet" UrquidezThrough this early immersion, Clark soon developed a passion for the martial arts that never abated.
"I've just always been a fan of martial arts. I loved watching boxing, kickboxing, and the early MMA [fights]. I loved watching anything like that."
She pauses for a moment as if considering something, then laughs.
"I guess its all sports really, sports in general. I grew up wanting to do it all, wanting to try...whatever."
That passion for new challenges has been a constant driving force in Clark's life. In college, she played Hockey at the division 1 level.
Then she played professionally abroad, in hockey-centric nations like Canada. The full-contact nature of the sport might intimidate some female athletes - or any athletes, for that matter. For Clark, it was a selling point.
"I started playing [Hockey] on an all boys team, because they didn't have any girls teams in L.A back then. I loved the pressure; I had to get better or I was going to get beat up!" Clark laughs as she recalls her days on the ice.
"Playing hockey with the boys definitely toughened me up and prepared me for MMA. I was getting slammed into the boards by 220 lb men night after night, so when its a 125 lb girl that steps into the cage against me I'm not really intimidated, you know?"
It was during her Hockey days that Clark stumbled upon what would be her second career. Dabbling in some boxing classes in between games, she was persuaded to take an amateur boxing match - and won. Subsequent trips to a kickboxing gym which also dabbled in MMA led Clark to start considering the sport as a career.
"I decided that if I wanted to get serious and pursue MMA as a career, I was going to give it everything I had. And that meant finding the best gym in the world to train."
That gym is Jackson's MMA, one of the most lauded MMA fight camps in the game today. Under the tutelage of striking coach Mike Winkeljohn, grappling coach Mike Van Arsdale, and head coach Greg Jackson, a veritable "who's who?" of the fight game ply their trade on a daily basis. Names like Georges St. Pierre, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones are just some of the luminaries you might find at Jackson's on any given day. It's a true shark tank - and for Heather Clark, it's perfect.
"They don't treat [women] any differently down here. There's no seperate change room, or seperate coaches or anything like that. Everybody who's here is a fighter, and if you can't hack it, you leave. But at the same time, there's no extra pressure because youre a woman. The coaches are all great; we have a great group of girl fighters here, and we all work together. It's a real family kind of atmosphere."
Everywhere she goes, Clark carries that title of "Jackson's MMA" fighter with her. She'll take it with her when she takes on April Coutino on January 7th. In spite of the challenge in front of her, as has often been the case in Clark's life, it pales to the challenge behind her, to the places she's come from.
"I want to represent myself and my gym well in everything I do. Against April, I know I'm in for a tough fight. She's a tough girl who's very well rounded. I know she's dangerous. But I also know I can win this fight. It's not something I worry about. I'm coming to win on January 7th and I want to put on a great show for the fans as well."
By Elton Hobson