Heath Pedigo was born on August 16, 1983, in Mount Vernon, Illinois. Located in Jefferson County and home to just over 10 000 people, it’s a small city.
Growing up in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, Heath Pedigo was immersed in a sporting lifestyle largely due to his mother who supported and encouraged her sons’ participation in plenty of sports. His first step was gymnastics which led to baseball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, football and track and field as well as swimming.
The Pedigo brothers were first exposed to martial arts through their older brother Randy, who was a boxing enthusiast. They were watching the first UFC live from home and became captivated by it. Randy managed to save money working his full-time job at the time for the original no-holds-barred UFC tapes. This is where the two brothers studied the tapes with earnest until they mastered grappling techniques
Pedigo tried his best to learn as much about the sport of jiu-jitsu and spent all his time practicing with other students. “I had hundreds of notebooks filled with what you would imagine a mad scientist crossed with a football coach’s notebook to look like,” Heath said in an interview.
“The windows of the room [where they trained] opened onto the front porch and the alley. We kept them open so everyone could see us, hoping they would want to come to learn. For the first few years, there were only a couple of people who would come and go.”
“Mostly neighbourhood street kids. My brother kept working and we kept teaching. No fees to train, just the promise to keep coming and working hard. Most didn’t, but over time the porch slowly started to fill up. The room wasn’t big enough for anyone to stand so we had people wait on the porch and climb in and out the windows when it was their turn.”
“We were able to test our new techniques on more than each other and my brother was able to finally start entering Vale Tudo fights around the United States.” Heath described.
Heath, aged just 15, had his first fight at a combat show in Indiana. After another fighter pulled out due to injury just days before Randy’s scheduled bout, Heath stepped up and helped keep the event on schedule with an impressive victory by submission (triangle choke).
Heath was always inspired by his brother, and he got a chance to test his skills against someone who wasn’t from their community for the first time in high school. This helped him pave the way for himself as an acclaimed jiu-jitsu instructor.
The Pedigo brothers adjusted their water skiing skills by following the trial-and-error approach for many years. They often rode over 30 hours in a bus just to compete and used video cassettes to train.
On one of the trips, Heath was set to grapple at a North American Grappling Association (NAGA) tournament. To make for a better experience, he booked to stay with the promoter Joe Cuff overnight.
At their house, Pedigo had the chance to roll with two well-known black belts in jiu-jitsu (Minotouro and Minotauro) and mixed martial arts athletes.
After the sparring session, Minotauro praised the younger fighter and advised Heath to seek out a coach who could teach him Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with an added focus on incorporating more gi grappling techniques.
“After competing in the tournament [NAGA] I spent the next 30 hours writing letters to every address I could find in an old copy of a Full Contact Fighter newspaper, asking them to come live/ train in their gyms.”
“When I arrived home I had a message from Dan Caldwell, owner of Tapout clothing. He and his friend Scott Proffitt sent me to California to stay with Scott and his family. I lived in gyms from Eugene Jacksons in Northern California all the way down to Scott’s family in Southern California.”
“I slept on Dan’s couch when he was still selling Tapout shirts from home. Those 2 helped me train, travel, and learn in so many different places, I am forever grateful to both,” Heath describes
After being away from the cage for a few years and in need of money, Heath went back to fighting in competitive Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights. He did 15 consecutive matches in 2 years and won them all, but he had Minotauro’s advice firmly in mind as well. Pedigo wanted to focus on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), making the decision not to participate in MMA and move to train with Rodrigo Vaghi
Heath’s full-time drilling partner while in St. Louis was Jonathan Thomas, an athlete who would eventually gain lots of success in the upper belt divisions. After two years away from home, Heath (then a blue belt) returned to Mount Vernon with Rodrigo’s consent to open up Pedigo Submission Fighting team (in 2011).
Heath would teach BJJ in a friend’s garage and drive 90 miles (145 km) to Vaghi’s gym every day to train with the renowned black belt. He experimented each day, incorporating his years of experience: “Every class was made up of the best competition moves I had learned from every gym. We would drill one month in the first 30 min and the next 2 hours train hard. Everyday.“
Heath rented an old, abandoned building, which had all the right conditions for a grappling school. The building was formerly a laundromat (Daisy Fresh) and had its own parking lot and enough space to house one full-sized wrestling mat.
With the help of his long-time business partner, Heath fulfilled his lifelong dream of housing full-time athletes with their first pro competitors being Eliud Lisboa and Andrew Wiltse.
All of Heath Pedigo’s belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are awarded by Vaghi. In 2016 he was also awarded his black belt from Rodrigo Vaghi on the first of August.
The Pedigo Fighting Systems’ workgroup was featured in a docuseries by FloGrappling in February 2020. The series, called Daisy Fresh: An American Jiu-Jitsu Story, followed the team and documented their day to day lives.