Jay Hieron will have gone a touch more than seven years between UFC bouts when he steps into the Octagon against Jake Ellenberger at UFC on FX on Friday.
Bouncing from promotion to promotion in the years prior, however, doesn’t quite compare to the tumultuous events the 36-year-old New Yorker overcame — on multiple occasions — earlier in his life.
“My sister just said to me recently, ‘You have it in you,’ ” Hieron told FOXSports.com. “I’ve never had anybody force me to go wrestle or anything like that. I chose to go boxing and wrestling to protect myself. It turned into college and a career from there. I think it’s just something deep inside me.”
Growing up mostly in a single-parent household on Long Island, Hieron chose combat sports as a way to cope with his tough neighborhood. He soon realized he had a knack for wrestling, and, after a couple of collegiate stops along the way, he received a scholarship to wrestle at Hofstra University.
Then his demons, as chronicled on Xtreme Couture MMA’s website, got the best of him. He tested positive for marijuana his senior year at Hofstra and was thrown off the wrestling team, ending his dream of an NCAA title. He soon began selling drugs — before he landed in jail for six weeks.
He began training with Phil Baroni as those court proceedings wrapped up and found a new, legal, vocation after he was sentenced with probation.
“I reached out to Phil,” Hieron said. “He was in Las Vegas telling me to come help him train and try this new sport, MMA. I really didn’t know much about it. I helped him train and that’s where it started for me. I ended up moving out to Las Vegas a couple years later.”
And that’s where he’s remained, right where UFC is headquartered, the locale of many of the promotions top fights.
Hieron has only been involved in one of those major bouts. And involved might be an overstatement. The bout lasted all of 1 minute, 42 seconds as Georges St.-Pierre earned a TKO at UFC 48 in June 2004. Hieron lost his only other UFC fight as well, this one against Jonathan Goulet, at UFC Fight Night in October 2005.
“It is tough, living in Vegas, living in the UFC’s home town, and seeing all these big cards all the time,” Hieron said.
His bout versus Ellenberger is on the undercard of the Travis Browne- Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva main event.
Since his last UFC fight, Hieron has fought in a few promotions that no longer exist (International Fight League and Affliction) before his career renaissance at Strikeforce and the Bellator Fighting Championships.
“I have cornered on big UFC shows and wondered when I would be back,” Hieron said. “I had people ask me if I was an amateur fighter, because why wasn’t I in the UFC? I’ve had great runs, beaten top guys, but it just wasn’t my time. Either I was signed or I was injured, it just never worked out for me to come back to the UFC, but I never got deterred.”
One of those fights included a decision victory over Ellenberger, his combatant on Friday, in an IFL fight.
“I couldn’t ask for a better comeback fight,” Hieron said. “I beat him before, and I will beat him again. I fought him back in 2006 and he was a hot prospect, he didn’t know he could lose and I beat him on points. I know he’s super-tough and a much different fighter with a ton of experience, but I know I can beat him again. I know him very, very well.”
This fight was supposed to take place at UFC 151 in Las Vegas over Labor Day weekend before the event was canceled due to the injury to Dan Henderson. For a guy who has waited seven years between UFC bouts, an extra five weeks was nothing.
Hieron seemingly shelved any self-doubt years ago.
“A lot of people (disparage) my career and focus on all the bad stuff I’ve been through,” Hieron said. “I’ve become a professional fighter. I have way more good things happen to me. It’s changed my life. I’m a kid from New York who has been all over the world: Australia, England, Croatia, Hawaii, Ireland. It’s been great. It’s definitely something I love.”