Lee Higgins: Fifteen Minutes That Could Change His Life

“This is what I want and nobody can take it from me.”

Written By: Barry Laminack

It hasn’t always been easy for Lee Higgins; but then again if it was he wouldn’t be the person he is today. He wouldn’t have the drive and determination that has helped him become a hot prospect on the Houston MMA scene. He also wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to show the nation what we have quickly learned here in Houston, that Lee Higgins is a talented fighter.

Higgins stumbled out of the gate as an amateur, losing three of his first four fights, but quickly turned things around and won his last two fights before turning pro. After turning pro, he saw a few fights fall through before he finally got a chance to shine, and shine he did.

Higgins has rattled off two wins in a row, including his latest victory over a very tough Gilbert Jiminez. Jiminez was riding a four fight win streak of his own before running in to Higgins, who promptly submitted him in just over two minutes and thirty seconds in the first round of their fight at the IXFA on Dec. 4th here in Houston.

Fast forward to now and Higgins has the chance of a lifetime.  Higgins has been signed by Strikeforce to face Ryan Couture (son of MMA legend Randy Couture) on the main card of their February 18th Challengers 14 event in Cedar Park, TX.

I caught up with Lee at his gym, Urban Jungle, shortly after the story broke and we talked about the opportunity in front of him and what he was doing to take advantage of it.

TCD.net: First of all, congratulations on getting the fight with Strikeforce. How does it feel?

Lee: At first, when I heard I was real emotional because of the name and the opportunity. Now that I think about it and it’s settled in it’s just another fight, but it feels great. It does feel good to know that my last two fights I worked hard and somebody noticed enough to give me a shot.

TCD.net: How did you find out about it?

Lee: We were heading out to the fights in San Antonio and my coach Tony [Torres-Aponte] called and said, “Listen, Strikeforce is looking for a 155er to fight Ryan [Couture], Randy’s son.”

I absolutely took the fight; there was no question about it. I even called Tony back to make sure I was going to get that fight, I wanted it that bad.

TCD.net: After the initial wave of excitement wears off, what’s next?

Lee: Just train man, just train. I mean, that’s all there is to it. I don’t know though, I’m going to take it all in. This is my shot, not just because of who I’m fighting, but because the spotlight will be on and everyone will be watching so it’s a good chance for me to put on a good performance and really showcase me, who I am as a fighter and really try and make a name for myself.

TCD.net: Both you and your teammate Marc [Ramirez] are hot prospects right now. Do you ever worry about having to compete with him for opportunities? How did that work out in this case?

Lee: I don’t know, I’m just in the gym every day, Marc’s in the gym every day and we train together. Any exposure for either one of us is good for the gym. I don’t know how Tony made the decision or how it went down, Tony just asked me if I wanted to fight. I would imagine it’s because I’m 2-0 and Ryan is 1-0. [Author’s note: I later confirmed with Tony Torres-Aponte that this was in fact the case. Strikeforce was looking for a fighter with 2-0 record].

TCD.net: How much of a role did Tony play in the whole process?

Lee: Everything funneled through Tony.  He’s taking care of all that stuff. As soon as he knew, he let me know. Tony has been there for me for all my other fights too.

TCD.net: I know when you and I talked before and it was tough for you just getting to your debut fight.

Lee: Yeah, it was. [laughs]

TCD.net: So how do you describe the feeling now, at this moment? What are you feeling emotionally?

Lee: I was thinking about this the other day. I have won my last four fights; my last two as an amateur and my first two as a pro.  They happened in their own time and I look back and think, oh yeah I did do that; I did win that fight. Then I look at how I have progressed since then and it feels good. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m decent enough and good enough for somebody to look at me and give me that shot.  Especially after my amateur career where I went through three losses in a row, that sucked.

TCD.net: Was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would keep fighting?

Lee: You know what’s funny?  I’m kind of glad that I went through them already. Not to say I won’t hit bumps in the road again, but I went through three losses in a row and most guys would have quit.  Again, I have my own dreams and I have my own reasons why I do this. This is what I want and nobody can take it from me.

TCD.net: You’re fighting on the main card of a Strikeforce show, on Showtime, against a guy who everyone will be watching because of who he is, or more specifically what his pedigree is and who his dad is.  Do nerves play a roll in this fight?

Lee: Yeah, obviously. I’m nervous before every fight. I don’t really get nervous until right after weigh-ins, right up until I get to the arena. For some reason, when I walk through the door (or right around when the rules meeting starts), I stop being nervous.

TCD.net: So I guess you don’t do much sleeping the night before your fights?

Lee: I’m a big fan of Nyquil. A couple of shots and I’m out.

TCD.net: Better than drinking I guess.

Lee: Absolutely.

TCD.net: Do you think you have more pressure being relatively unknown and having to impress people on the national scene, or does Ryan have more pressure because he is Randy Couture’s son?

Lee: Man, you know what, in the end, this is just another fight. That’s how I’m looking at it. If I hype it up I’m just going to put more pressure on myself. I’m sure Ryan has some pressure on him because of his name; Couture is a huge name in MMA.

As for me? Of course I have pressure because now, like you said, everybody in Houston is going to be watching. Everybody knows the whole point of your website is to help us local fighters get national exposure, so I want to go out there and represent Houston, represent TheCageDoor and represent Tony (and Urban Jungle) well. So yeah, there is a little bit of pressure, but I welcome the pressure; because with out it how am I ever going to know what limit I can get to.

TCD.net: So what does a win in this fight do for you?

Lee: I’d be foolish to think it doesn’t do anything for me. If I beat Ryan on national TV, in the national spotlight, people are going to wonder where I come from, and I come from Tony Torres-Aponte and Urban Jungle.  People will start asking some questions. Tony is already a notable trainer look at Mark and myself, not that I’m talking myself up but we have some decent fighters out of this gym. Hopefully it opens some eyes and lets people know we are no joke over here at Urban Jungle.

TCD.net: Where is the watch party going to be?

Lee: Honestly, I have no idea! [laughs] Somebody will figure that out. The only thing on my mind right now is 15 minutes that could change my life. That’s how I’m thinking about it. I’m going to put those 15 minutes in the cage to hopefully change my life.

TCD.net: Anybody you want to thank?

Lee: Yeah, first and foremost, I want to thank Tony and Michelle [Tony’s wife]. They have been so great to me. I want to thank Phil Morales, my best friend. He’ll know why. All those conversations on the couch that have led up to this, I can’t thank him enough.

I want to thank Cory, Beau from Uptown Fitness and I want to thank you guys at TheCageDoor.net. Also, thank you to any sponsors out there that want to sponsor me!

You can check out Lee’s blog at http://www.thecagedoor.net/leehiggins (he told me he plans to really add to it over the coming weeks)

Tickets for the event go on sale on January 20, 2011.  www.strikeforce.com