‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Meet contestant Heather Jo Clark

The Ultimate Fighter's Heather Jo Clark 

Heather Jo Clark will bring plenty of drama to the upcoming season of "The Ultimate Fighter," but that has nothing to do with her long-standing rivalry with fellow castmate Felice Herrig. While Clark certainly won’t be sending Herrig a Christmas card any time soon, when you hear the word "drama" associated with the 6-foot-4 veteran fighter it actually has more to do with her upbringing as a theater actress.

Before she was punching faces and submitting foes, Clark was actually a theater major in college because acting is something that’s always come naturally for her. Even when she was a kid, Clark would routinely put on plays for her family and record movies with a home video camera.

She would even get behind the camera — there was just something about performance art that spoke to Clark even at an early age.

"I was always that kid who was putting on performances for my family, putting on dances, pretending and putting on plays. I always just loved performing. I always saw myself wanting to do acting," Clark told FOX Sports. "But then again, my dad would be filming me on camera all the time, and I was like, ‘It’s my turn, I want to film you,’ so I liked being the director and the photographer.

I have been successful. A belt or a title isn’t going to be the force to say whether I’m successful or not. I have to realize that every moment and everyday waking up and doing the things I love, I’m already successful

— Heather Jo Clark

"I’ve just always loved all of it."

While her theater career ended after college, Clark still loves to get behind the camera. While she’s been pursuing her dreams as a fighter for the past four years, she’s also become a professional photographer specializing in portraits.

Most recently, Clark has found a passion for more intimate photography that she’s trying to spin into a new business to keep her busy once fighting is done.

"It’s a reason why I became a pro photographer, and I’ve been doing that for nine years. I guess I just like to be creative," Clark explained.

"I’ve really been into shooting boudoir photography, that’s something I was getting into while I lived in Vegas. I was able to give women a sense of confidence and give them some sexy back in their relationships and encourage them to feel good about themselves in a way they may not have felt before. That, I’ve found, has been really rewarding. I really love doing portraits."

Now it may seem strange that a theater major with an eye for photography would somehow end up in MMA, but Clark was not just your average, everyday actress in college. While she was pursuing her love of performance art, she also was competing in Division I women’s hockey.

From sliding on ice and smashing opponents against the boards, Clark discovered boxing and MMA as another creative outlet for her to explore.  While she was forced to give up martial arts while living in Los Angeles because of the cost of training at some of the high-end gyms in town, Clark eventually found her way back, and now she couldn’t think of anything she’d rather do than to be a fighter.

"I actually started boxing when I was doing Division I hockey in college. I had one amateur boxing match and I loved it," Clark said. "I moved back to L.A. to finish my degree, and I couldn’t afford any of the gyms in L.A., so I kind of gave up on martial arts. It wasn’t until I had finished college and gone to Maui and started doing photography that I found my way back into martial arts. 

"It’s pretty amazing how my life has been just one synchronistic event after another and how lucky I am to constantly be doing things that I love and just have this constantly fulfilled life."

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As she approaches the upcoming season of "The Ultimate Fighter," Clark is concentrating on MMA for the biggest part of her time these days. She’ll always have one foot in creating new artistic projects like her photography studio and hopefully one day doing acting again, perhaps this time as a stunt woman or maybe as a director behind the camera.

It may seem like Clark is being pulled in a lot of directions while some of her potential opponents are focused only on fighting, but she says having hobbies and passions about more than just MMA actually helps during her down time.

There’s nothing worse than thinking about nothing but fighting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Overthinking her role on the show played a big part in Clark’s initial nervousness about even doing "The Ultimate Fighter."

Thankfully, her trainer — a famed kickboxer who also trained actors like John Cusack before turning into a thespian himself — offered Clark some words of wisdom before she came to do the show.

"When I was training for the show, my sensei Benny ‘The Jet’ (Urquidez) said, ‘Heather, what are your fears?’ and I said one of my fears is not being successful. He said, ‘You’re already successful, you’ve got to let that go right now.’ He said, ‘Now take the roof off; it’s limitless, the sky is the limit.  Get rid of that fear right now,’" Clark said.

"He is right — I have been successful. A belt or a title isn’t going to be the force to say whether I’m successful or not. I have to realize that every moment and every day waking up and doing the things I love, I’m already successful."