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Heath Pedigo

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Heath Pedigo is a jiu-jitsu black belt under Rodrigo Vaghi and the founder/head coach of the Pedigo Submission Fighting Academy (PSF), a gym set in an old “Daisy Fresh” laundromat in Mount Vernon, IL, United States. Although small in size and budget, the PSF became a highly prolific workgroup in the sport’s global circuit, particularly with the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation league (IBJJF), winning the 2017 and 2019 IBJJF Pan Championship team trophy (novice division) and a Top 10 placement at the World No-Gi Championship (adult) while producing high-level athletes such as Andrew Wiltse, Chad Hawkins, Sathya Wiltse, Chris Heatherly, and Alejandro Wajner, to name a few.

Heath Pedigo Jiu-Jitsu

Full Name: Heath Pedigo

Nickname: N/A

Lineage: C. Gracie > H. Gracie > Rickson Gracie > Rodrigo Vaghi > Heath Pedigo

Main Achievements:

  • Hook ‘n Shoot Veteran (MMA)
  • 2nd Place NAGA Chicago – Expert Div. (2011)

Favorite Position/Technique: N/A

Weight Division: N/A

Team/Association: Pedigo Submission Fighting

Heath Pedigo Biography

Heath Pedigo was born on August 16, 1983, in Mount Vernon, Illinois, United States, a small city located in Jefferson County.

Growing up, Heath and his brothers were strongly embedded in the sporting lifestyle, much to the credit of their mother who strongly incentivized and pushed her sons to participate in every sporting activity offered in Mt Vernon. Pedigo started through gymnastics, from there adding baseball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, football, track and field as well as swimming to his list of extracurricular activities.

Martial arts came into Heath’s life through his older brother, Randy Pedigo, who was a big boxing enthusiast and initiated him in the Sweet Science. In November 1993, the Pedigo brothers watched the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) live from their home and became obsessed with the sport. Randy, who was already working at the time, started saving up to buy VHS tapes of no-holds-barred (vale-tudo) footage, and the two brothers would religiously and diligently learn the grappling techniques they saw by rewinding the tape and mimicking the moves at home.

The interest in grappling quickly became an obsession. In an interview with BJJ Heroes in June 2020, Pedigo explained that he tried to learn everything he could about the sport: “I had hundreds of notebooks filled with what you would imagine a mad scientist crossed with a football coach’s notebook to look like. From that day in November, I always wanted to learn and teach. No matter how good I was at any other sport jiu-jitsu was all that mattered. It was my life.

In trying to get local training partners the Pedigo brothers had great marketing foresight: “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 neighborhood 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.

Although very young, Heath started traveling with Randy up and down the country for his fights. In 1999, on one of these occasions at a combat show in Northern Indiana, a fighter pulled out at the last minute, leaving one of the competitors without an opponent. Hearing this, Randy offered for Heath to step in as a late replacement. Although only 15 years old Heath competed and won his debut match via submission (triangle choke).

That no-holds-barred fight was the first time Heath had the opportunity of testing his skills against anyone other than his local community of sparring partners. Inspired by his brother, Heath and Randy continued testing their skills where they could, particularly the eldest of the Pedigo’s, who paved the way for Heath to establish himself as a jiu-jitsu instructor in the region.

For many years the Pedigo brothers adjusted their skills by way of videocassette, training, and competition in a trial-and-error type manner, often doing over 30 hours on a bus to compete. On one of those trips, Heath was set to grapple at a North American Grappling Association (NAGA) tournament, staying at the promoter’s (Joe Cuff) home overnight. Also spending the night in the house were the Nogueira Brothers (Minotouro and Minotauro), two well-known jiu-jitsu black belts, and MMA athletes with whom Pedigo had a chance to roll with at the house. After the sparring session, Minotauro praised the young competitor and advised Heath to seek a more structured instruction with a qualified coach who could add the gi to his routine. A piece of advice followed by Heath:

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.

When in need of cash, Heath would go back to fighting in the cage, doing 15 fights in a two-year span, going undefeated. Although successful, Pedigo had Minotauro’s advice in his mind and wanted to focus on the gi, a decision that led him to abandon the NHB world and move to East St Louis to live and train with Rodrigo Vaghi in 2007.

At Vaghi’s gym, Heath’s full-time drilling partner was none other than Jonathan Thomas, an athlete who would go on to gain plenty of success in the upper belt divisions. After two years in St Louis, Heath (then a blue belt) returned to his hometown with Rodrigo’s consent to open a jiu-jitsu gym there, this way starting the Pedigo Submission Fighting team in 2011.

Heath would teach at a friend’s garage and drive 90 miles (145 km) to Vaghi’s gym on a daily basis to train and learn from the black belt. In this new space, Heath experimented with the vast experience he had collected over the years: “Every class was made up of the best competition stuff I had learned from every gym. We would drill one move for one month in the first 30 min and the next 2 hours train hard. Everyday.“.

During 2016 Heath rented an old abandoned building, the former “Daisy Fresh Laundromat”, which had all the conditions for a grappling school, such as its own parking lot and a big enough area to place one full wrestling mat. There Heath finally fulfilled his dream of housing full-time athletes, with his first pro competitors being Eliud Lisboa and Andrew Wiltse.

2016 was also the year when Heath was promoted to black belt, a ceremony led by Rodrigo Vaghi on the first of August. Vaghi who awarded all of Pedigo’s belts in BJJ.

On February 2020 Heath Pedigo and the Pedigo Fighting Systems workgroup were featured on a docuseries produced by FloGrappling regarding the day to day lives of PSF’s the pro team. The successful series was called – Daisy Fresh: An American Jiu-Jitsu Story.

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One Comment

  • Dr. Bradley Drake says:

    Well written article. Heath lives the life to the core, and has positively influenced so many in our community. He has become, what I call, “a peaceful warrior”.

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