Heath Herring heads south of the Equator in his non-retirement

"I want to go fight, but my problem is for a lot of it -- where are you going to put your energy and time and efforts?" Herring, momentarily in Las Vegas, told MMA Fighting. "And I think sometimes you start getting spread too thin, and pulled in too many directions. Itís not that I wouldnít fight. Thereís been plenty of offers to go do it. But obviously I had that UFC contract dispute, and there werenít a lot of other places to go. More than anything, thatís sort of been my problem I think."

At 35 years old, with five years of accumulated ring rust, the nomad from Waco would appear to be silhouetted on that far-off sunset. Though he and the UFC arenít on "speaking terms," and that dissension remains cryptic and personal, the UFC recently filed him some paperwork that said he is still under contract. Even still, Herring is in no big rush to take off his boots again.

One of the big reasons for that is that Herring has become, wouldnít you know it, a fight game promoter himself. He is breaking ground for professional MMA down in Argentina and the most southerly reaches of South America. These days Herring is learning legit Spanish (rather than the pidgin variety that's spoken from Beaumont to the Texas panhandle) and enjoying life on the outside of the cage where he can get his fight fix vicariously.

"I started a fight company down there actually called Combate Extremo," he says. "And itís doing really well. We had our first event in July in Buenos Aires, and it actually went phenomenal. It was sold out. We got a TV deal with Canal 13, which is like I guess the equivalent of their CBS to us, the largest TV network. That was really cool. It was really cool actually to go to the president [of Canal 13ís] office and talk to them."

Herring says he got into the racket of fight game promotion/production in his usual driftwood manner: Somebody tossed the idea out there half willy-nilly, and he said okay. In this case, it was film director/former kickboxer Hector Echavarria, an Argentinean living in Los Angeles whoíd worked with Herring on a couple of movies.

"Actually, last year when we were shooting a movie out in LA together, Echavarria said, Ďhey, have you ever thought about doing a fight company down in South America?í And I was like, no, not really," Herring says. "Iíve met so many crazy people in this weird life Iíve had. Half the time when people tell me stuff it goes in one ear and out the other. But they were like weíre going to do this, and weíll have you come down. So I was like, okay. Weíd shot the movie end of November, early December. They called in January or February, and said we got your ticket, come down.

"Worst case scenario I get a free trip to Argentina, make a little bit of cash, and I canít lose," he says. "So I went."
That free trip has led to many happy returns. The first show was held in a suburb of Buenos Aires, which Herring likens to Tokyo with its multitudes of districts. It will air on Canal 13 once the political season, which consumes the airwaves from morning ítil night, has passed. Meanwhile bootleg footage is hard to come by here in the States (and there are no immediate plans to stream the fights for northern interests).

Herring, who is listed as Combate Extremo's vice president, said the Buenos Aires locals turned out in fervor to see headliners Icho Larenas and Cristian Torres do battle. Much of the organizationís roster is comprised of Argentineans, and he says heís surprised by the amount of talent theyíre uncovering. Holding the event at a venue that "safely holds 5,000," Herring was happy to see the place was packed (perhaps, he says, a little beyond a fire marshalís comfort zone).

"We use the unified rules," he says. "There was a big debate about that. I think weíll have to do some training with the referees. The crowd, there were a couple of fights that went to a decision the crowd wasnít happy with, but mostly because an Argentinean lost."

Combate Extremoís next event will happen in Asuncion, Paraguay, sandwiched between Argentina and the MMA-hotbed of Brazil, on January 18, 2014. Itís not like heíll need a machete to hack away vines and drooping overgrowth en-route, but then again, there are challenges.

"Paraguay isnít that far away from Argentina geographically, but going with equipment from Buenos Aires to Asuncion is all rainforest, and thereís likeÖrebels and stuff, so itís a challenge," he says. "Even though it might be a dayís drive, it might as well be across the whole planet, because driving a million dollar satellite truck through the rainforest with armed rebels isnít really a kosher deal."

Herring didnít put up the most mind-boggling numbers in his time with the UFC, but it wasnít like he was facing stumblebums, either. Before being fed to Brock Lesnar at UFC 87, Herring had a 2-2 run in the UFCís heavyweight division. He beat Cheick Kongo at UFC 82 and Brad Imes at UFC 69.

Going back to his fights in Japan, though, Herring really did face a carousel of the fight gameís nastiest customers. Guys like Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (twice), Vitor Belfort, Mark Kerr and Mirko Cro Cop. He was fighting fellow Texas Evan Tanner when he was only 20 years old in the local corral. Though he was never a champion, Herring had his moments throughout his decade-long career, and is a live connection to the gameís historic figures.

And yet, even after a five-year absence, heís only 35.

Given that, along with the relative dearth of heavyweights fighting in the UFC right now, can he envision making another appearance in the Octagon before itís all said and done?

"Possibly," he says. "But Iím really trying to get this thing going on down south, because I enjoy that. Iím definitely not saying Iím above fighting, thatís for sure. Because I love the game, and I love to do -- and I keep thinking Iím old, but at 35 Iím not that old."

For now, though, Herring is cool with midnight dinners and goblets of good Argentine wine and walking the red carpet at Mannís Chinese Theater for his latest premiere of the B action movie, Chavez: Cage of Glory, in which he plays a bad guy.

"Iíve always got to have something crazy happening," he says. "For me it was just so much fun to be on the other side of the cage and be on the side of building it up and getting it going. It was really kind of surreal. And that first show was successful and went well. Iíd traveled so much all over the world and itís always the same -- everybody whoís there loves it, and everybodyís whoís there wants to see more."