Matt Heim enters retirement fight in Rumble in the Cage 64 main event free-spirited, and full of memories

Matt Heim
Matt Heim at Rumble in the Cage 58. (Photo by Joel Griffith)

Ontario-born heavyweight and light-heavyweight Matt Heim (1-10) will step into the cage for the final time tomorrow night in the main event of Rumble in the Cage 64 against Canadian MMA veteran Lee Mein (11-17). The promotion is, interestingly enough, owned and operated by Mein and his team.

Heim’s preoccupation with fighting began the same way it does for many young men: at a bar. While enjoying the company of one Jarrett, his best friend at the time, the two found themselves involved in what Heim simply describes as a “little sprawl”. Little did he realize his compadre had connections in the martial arts world, and was already connecting the dots for him.

“He didn’t know I could fight like that,” said Heim, 35, in an interview with MMA Empire. “He asked me to sign up for it (MMA training), he got me all my sponsors, and found me a gym, and got me my first amateur fight back in Moncton, New Brunswick. A year later Peter Martell from Titans (Martial Arts and Fitness) gave me my first opportunity to fight pro.”

With such a brief elapse between not training at all, and fighting professionally, Heim said the fresh memory of his amateur debut did not prepare him for the pressure of his real coming out party.

“I was scared s***-less,” he laughs. “But that’s how I am every fight. Until I get into that cage and I hear that door close on me, I’m terrified, I can’t lie. Even for this fight coming up with Lee Mein, I’ve been looking forward to it but I’m still scared s***-less.”

“And I say that even though I would consider Lee, honestly, a friend. He gave me one of my bigger opportunities on one of the biggest shows I’ve ever fought on. When Hard Knocks (Fighting) was around, he was a matchmaker for them, and the card was Hard Knocks 53. I was living in Nova Scotia at the time and he called me up, and asked if I wanted to take the fight (against Jeremy Perdue) on like two week’s notice. So I took it, and then I ended up moving to Alberta in 2018, and he asked me to fight for Rumble in the Cage. We just built a relationship over that time, I guess.”

With injuries and general fight mileage accrued over an impromptu career dating back to 2013, Heim says there is positively no doubt in his mind that tomorrow’s headliner opposite Mein will be his ride into a competitive sunset, and as such has brokered a deal with Mein which hearkens back to a simpler time in MMA: the era of the specialist. Though Mein has competed for jiu-jitsu championships, both men have a soft spot for trading blows, and the negotiation was therefore painless.

“It’s my last fight, it might be his last fight, so we just want to give the fans the best show possible,” says Heim. “So basically, if you can remember the Forest Griffin and (Stephan) Bonnar fight (at The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale), we wants to put on a show like that.”

“If he knocks me down, or if I knock him down, we’re going to let each other up. So the only way this fight ends is one of us wins a decision or one of us goes to sleep,” he said. “It’s the kind of fight I’ve been wanting for my entire career, and even though he’s well-rounded I guess he just also wants to put on a hell of a show.”

Despite the speed with which Heim has vaulted through his career, being in fight-ready shape is not something he has ever taken for granted, and the Covid-19 years have so far forced a fondness in him for competition out of its absence.

“A month before the pandemic hit I broke my tibia in a fight in Brandon, Manitoba on an event called Fight for the Troops,” he said. “I couldn’t do nothing for almost a year after that. I basically had to learn to walk again, you know.”

“Most of my fights, they have been short notice,” said Heim. “Like, ninety percent of them. Like I said, I’m always scared going into the cage, before the fight, when I know I got it, but I love the pain. I love the excitement, I love just the people you meet, the look on people’s eyes. especially when they’re watching for the first time. The kids that get to watch it and grow up with it, whether or not they should, that could be the next generation of it all, the sport. So for me to go out there, and do this? I just love doing that for people.”

“Nobody knew I was retiring this fight but Lee,” he said. “I honestly was going to retire when we were scheduled the first time (in October 2022) but I told him I wasn’t going to retire unless it was on his card. I’ve fought for a lot of different promoters, and his is one of the best I’ve ever fought with. They are respectful, they treat you right, the fighters from his gym are amazing people. My first fight with them was against one of his guys, Colton (Cronkite), and I missed weight, but when the commissioner campaigned me, Lee wouldn’t take the (20% forfeiture) money from my purse.

“And his fighters, on top of all that,” said Heim. “They were there before weigh-in’s, trying to help me cut my weight. To me, technically, I always look at the fighting world as a big family. We should always have each other’s backs.”