Jay Hieron is used to battling through adversity and coming back from difficult situations. Being relegated to the preliminary card for two Strikeforce shows is nothing for the last welterweight champion of the IFL.
Waiting for a title shot is easy when you've spent time wondering if you're going to prison and for how long, a situation Hieron endured before turning his life around and becoming a successful fighter.
Hieron was kind enough to take a break from training to talk to us.
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ESK: We'll start by focusing attention where it matters most right now: Jan. 30, 2010, in Miami against Joe Riggs .
How is camp going?
Hieron: Camp's going great; body is healthy, my mind is right and I can't wait to get back out into the cage, do my thing.
ESK: Has cutting weight gotten any better since those days of hating it in high school?
Hieron: Yeah, of course. In high school, I was pretty much starving myself when I had to cut weight, and also, I was cutting a lot of weight when I was a kid, and I really didn't know how to do it. I kind of got my body down now, but I don't think anybody likes to cut weight.
ESK: The pros and cons of weight cutting have been discussed a number of times. Is it something that you think we'll ever see removed as a factor in this sport, or so long there are divisions and advantages to be had from dropping weight it will remain a part of the game?
Hieron: Yeah, I think so; it will always be a part of the game. Like wrestling, you know, a guy is going to go down to the lowest weight possible so he can do the best he can and feel the strongest he can. The flip side of it is that the guy across from you is doing the same thing.
ESK: Have you brought in anyone new to help you get ready for this fight, or is it the usual cast of characters from Xtreme Couture putting you through the paces?
Hieron: That's one of the great things about Las Vegas: we've got so many great fighters out here, and not just mixed martial artists. We've got boxers, we have Muay Thai fighters, so that's been great.
I had some good sparring partners come in and help me out. Anthony Brown, he's like 25-1 as a pro Muay Thai fighter, he's been helping out a big deal, and definitely all my training partners at Xtreme Couture . Everything's been going well.
ESK: You've said numerous times before (and rightfully so) that you're one of the best unknown fighters out there. Where would you put yourself in the welterweight division overall?
Hieron: I think I match up well with anybody, man. I think I'm right there, it's just...I haven't...it's not my time yet, and my time will come. I don't have any control over that.
I know I do my job every time I go out and fight; I do my thing, I've been consistent and it's just one of those things where I just gotta wait my time.
Patience is a virtue, so I'm just doing the hard work, keep waking up every day and going to the gym, and everything falls into place when you work hard.
ESK: The interesting thing to me is that next weekend you're matched up a guy (Joe Riggs ) who, in my estimation, is better known than maybe he should be. No disrespect to your boy Baroni, but Riggs's last "good win" was 2006 over Nick Diaz . Is that a marketing thing, a personality thing, or just a case of, as you said, he's had his time?
Hieron: I think Riggs is a tough guy. He's fought for a title with the UFC and...at the end of the day, man, this is what I want: I want to fight guys with names and he has a name, so I welcome the challenge. Like I said, my time hasn't come yet.
Yeah I been in the game for a minute, I've done some good things, still people are always asking me, "Are you still fighting?" and I'm like, "Yeah, I'm still fighting."
It's more than just doing it for that; I do it for myself and I want to please the fans and show everybody my skills, but I try not to get caught up in [who gets coverage and who doesn't] and I try to just keep moving forward.
Again, I really believe the harder you work, the more hours you put in in the gym, the blood sweat and tears, your time will come. Everybody has their time different, so I'm still moving forward.
Hieron: Yeah. The reason why I went with Strikeforce is because I had the title shot off the bat. I had a deal on the table with UFC, and Strikeforce came with a better deal which was the title shot and Nick Diaz .
At this point in my career, it only makes sense to fight guys with names, where there is something for me to gain in the end by beating them.
I've worked just as hard as anybody in this sport, if not harder, so these are the guys I wanna fight. I wanna fight the guys with names on the TV show and have something to gain after the fight.
The situation right there was we were trying to get the Diaz fight, and unfortunately that didn't happen and...
ESK: Yet here you are preparing for your second fight with the company and still no title shot, and again you could be relegated to the preliminary card. Any regrets or frustrations, or is it just, "Get through Joe Riggs and my time will come?"
Hieron: Yeah, I try to definitely try to put the positive spin on it. Of course, I'm human (when situations happen to anybody, they affect them), but again, I try to look at the most positive ways of the situation and that's "this is the card I'm dealt, do what I do best, get out there and do my thing, and my time will come."
All this stuff (no Diaz, no title shot) I have no control over; it's a situation where one guy doesn't want to fight another guy, and I still go back in my head, "Did I make the right decision?" and yes, I did.
I was coming in for a title shot and that is something you can't turn down. If I went in the other direction, that's something I'd always have on my head. How many times do you get a title shot in your career?
ESK: Not that many.
Hieron: Yeah, so again, man, it's all good. I'm ready to go. At the end of the day, I'm still on the card, I'm still fighting and I'm blessed in that sense. I'm doing what I love to do. I wake up every day and I still feel good. I love to do what I'm doing and I'm getting paid for it.
All this other stuff like my fight on TV and my opponent and this and that, I can't really control this stuff, so why am I going to waste energy thinking about it and worrying about it and doing all this?
That's an easy way to forget about who I'm fighting on the 30th, Joe Riggs, and start worrying about why I'm not fighting for the title.
I'm gonna go handle my business on the 30th and then after that, I'll sit down with Strikeforce and see what's going on with the next step. But I've got a great fight in front of me and I'm excited for that.
There are some out there (myself being one of them) as a guy who is a huge fan of the sport, it's frustrating to me to see Bobby Lashley or Herschel Walker on the main card ahead of someone like you who has put in the time and the struggle, so I can only imagine how hard it is for you. But the spin of not letting it take the focus away from Joe Riggs is the part to take away from this, right?
Hieron: Correct, man. Fighting is definitely a mental sport. When you get into that fight, it's probably 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, as opposed to when you're training and it's 10 percent mental and 90 percent physical.
This is definitely something that can get you if you let it, but it's not that big a deal when you look at it. I mean, that's the big question everybody's asking, "Why are you on the prelims?" this and that... (laughs) I have no idea. I can't control it. You know?
ESK: You're not the matchmaker. You're the fighter.
Hieron: I'm ready to go. I'm excited to fight. I've got a good name in front of me, and realistically, that's what I want and everything else will fall into place.
ESK: It's funny to me, you hear guys like Brock Larson when he got cut from the UFC saying how it was hard for him to get excited to fight on the preliminary card and that he should be on the main card, but really, the truth is if you take care of your business, the main cards will come.
Hieron: Yep, exactly.
ESK: Speaking of New York, it looks like things are starting to turn in the favor of getting the sport sanctioned in your home state. How excited would you be to be able to compete in MSG and in front of your hometown crowd?
Hieron: Definitely one of my dreams; before my career is up I wanna fight at Madison Square Garden. That's just another thing I want to accomplish.
I've been watching from basketball to the circus to concerts to everything at The Garden and that's definitely one of the things that New York is known for and it would be a great honor to fight there.
ESK: Another thing I discovered in preparation for this interview is that you're not actually Jay Hieron . Your name is officially James Hieronymous.
Hieron: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, my real name is James Hieronymous. I was wrestling, coming up through high school wrestling...I love my name, and people ask me all the time why I changed it.
I just shortened it because I had a lot of times when people would mess my name up, I'd be walking to the wrestling mat and they'd be (turns on announcer voice) "...and James Hairymouse" or "James Hippopotamus."
It's just one of those things where I shortened it, made it short and sweet and to the point, and that's that.
ESK: I understand 100 percent. My byline says E. Spencer Kyte because I've always gone by Spencer but I want to give recognition to my grandfather, the man I'm named after with the "e" there.
ESK: We talked earlier about how you're the "unknown" guy, and I mean this with the utmost respect: they make movies of the same type of story you've lived all the time. Have you ever thought of sharing it with people more, speaking to kids, letting me put together the screenplay?
To me, it's a story that needs to get out there more: making in through a tough neighborhood, getting caught up, busted and finding a better path. It's an inspiring story.
Hieron: At first I was embarrassed; I didn't want nobody to know. I was going to be cast on the first UFC show, and it was a week out and they came to me and said, "You can't be on the show because you have a felony."
That was one strike that I was like, "I'm not telling anybody that" because look at the opportunities I lose out on.
When I got with IFL, they were just like, "It's all good. You don't have to hide your situation." I'm a pretty honest guy, so I just started telling my story, and when I seen how fans and people got inspired, that was making me feel good.
If my story touches somebody and makes them change their life, and do something positive, that's a great thing.
ESK: To me and in today's day and age where so many of the stories we hear are negative and are about people falling from grace and scandals, to have any kind of story that can show the other side of things and get inspired by is meaningful.
I thank you, I applaud you, and I commend you for getting your story out there to help people by sharing your difficult story. I appreciate it.
Hieron: Ah, no problem.
ESK: We'll get away from the investigative journalism, hard-hitting questions and into some quick response stuff I like to call The ESK Interview Questionnaire.
All-time Favourite fighter?
Hieron: Probably Sugar Ray Leonard, man. I grew up watching him and that was probably one of the first guys I was intrigued with from a one-on-one combat sport.
ESK: Best fight you've ever seen: live or otherwise?
Hieron: Wow. A few?
Sugar Ray vs. Marvin Hagler, 1988.
ESK: Most Underrated Fighter?
Hieron: There is definitely me on that list. I'm on that list.
Hieron: Yeah, he's good. Mike Pyle , even though he's coming off a loss. He's underrated. He's really, really, really good; he just hasn't gotten a chance to show off his skills.
ESK: Most Overrated?
Hieron: Wow. I'll say a guy like Brock Lesnar . Yeah he's big and strong, but he's only got a handful of fights. Yeah, he's beaten great guys, but I just think he definitely needs to get more experience.
ESK: Best Pound-for-Pound?
Hieron: Probably Anderson (Silva), just because he goes to 205 and '85 and he's incredible. Definitely Anderson; he flips between weights and he's phenomenal.
ESK: Best Prospect?
Hieron: That kid Jose Aldo really impresses me. He looks really, really good. I'm excited to see him fight again.
ESK: The notion of teammates fighting is something that always comes up, and you train with a bunch of guys who have always said that is the time came and a belt was on the line, you'd hook'em up and head for dinner later.
On the flipside of that, guys like the AKA welterweight trio of Fitch, Swick, and Koscheck have always been vehement in their unwillingness to fight each other. Is it just a matter of opinion to you, or do you look at it strictly from a business standpoint?
Hieron: That's a sticky situation, and we've had something like that at the gym on a few occasions...guys who are fighting each other training at the gym at the same time (ex: Stephan Bonnar vs. Mark Coleman , UFC 100 ).
It's a weird situation, but again, it's a sport, it's a business, if it's right? How many times can you turn down a title shot? If you two guys are the last two guys standing? Go out, have fun, it might be that much more of a fun fight, and you know, go out for dinner after and whatever.
ESK: Winner buys dinner.
Hieron: Winner buys dinner. But again, if you're going to do that, you gotta take it as a fight. If that might come between your friendship, maybe then you take a step back and decide we're not going to do this, because some guys have to fight on their emotions.
It all depends on the person. If you take it as a sport, deciding let's go out and have fun, best man wins, winner's buying dinner, get it done.
But if it's going to affect your friendship and you're always going to have a problem with this person if you win or lose, then, you know, you gotta weigh your options? What's more important to you?
ESK: That's honestly the best breakdown I've heard of the situation. Most guys just pick their side and stick to it, either hell no or hell yeah, but you're covering both sides.
We talked briefly about you doing some corner work. I work for an MMA promotion here in British Columbia, Armageddon Fighting Championships, and we've got Phil Friedman fighting at our next event. Any chance of "The Thoroughbred" coming to work his corner?
Hieron: Not sure yet. Whenever I have my fight and I'm closer to it, everything else becomes second because I gotta get out there and do my thing and be focused. After my fight, I'll sit down and see whoever needs me, what's going on.
I corner a bunch of the guys, and it's an honor for me that they believe in me when I get out there, and believe in what I'm telling them to do. It's cool. I like being involved.
I just think its more and more experience for me as a fighter. It helps me with my fighting, knowing what the guys are going through when they're fighting and I can add to my situation in those circumstances. It's an incredible thing.
ESK: Is that the next stage of life, once the fighting career is done, coaching and helping younger fighters?
Hieron: I live a day at a time, man. I'm really not to set on what's going to happen a few years from now. I feel young, my body feels great, my mind feels great and I love what I'm doing, so I don't even put a time limit on when I'm gonna stop. I just go with the flow and that's just another avenue I can go down if case may be.
It's pretty cool. I like doin' it. Not only do the fighters get something out of it, but I get something out of it from them. I think it's all experience. Me being around it, breathing it, smelling it, and being in situations like that it helps me for when I get out there and fight, I believe.
It's always a learning process, and I'm like a sponge.
ESK: Speaking of guys who still enjoy getting up, you've been at Xtreme Couture since 2004. In that time, Randy has retired and come back to the Octagon twice. How much of a hard time has everyone given him about retiring and unretiring?
Hieron: We always mess with him about being the old man and this and that, but at the end of the day, the old man works just as hard as anybody in there and I've got total confidence in that guy whenever he fights.
The guy is an inspiration to do what he's doing at his age. He's incredible. His work ethic is incredible.
That's one of the reasons I said the fight with Tim Sylvia , because I was there to see it, coming back from retirement from 205, he's older and going back up to heavyweight to take on the champ. The guy outweighs him. He's so much more bigger, so much more length...I was nervous going in there for him.
I'm always a little nervous when guys fight, but that fight, I just didn't want him to get hurt that fight, but for him to turn the whole thing around...(stops talking because, well, words don't do it justice...)
It was amazing. That's what fighting is about right there. It's about an underdog coming up and showing off his skills like that. It was incredible. The hairs were standing up on my arms.
ESK: Alright, last two...
If you could fight anyone (past or present) who would it be and why?
Hieron: I would like to fight all my losses again: Georges St-Pierre, Jonathan Goulet , Brad Blackburn, and Chris Wilson . I want to wipe my slate clean. I'm that much of a competitor, and definitely the most importantly is Georges St-Pierre because he's one of the best pound-for-pound in the world and that's what it's all about at the end of the day.
I want to be the best I can be, I want to be on the biggest stage I can be on with the best guy, with the most reward at the end of the fight. That's where my head's at with that situation.
ESK: Maybe playing into that a little then, if you could play matchmaker for one day, regardless of organizational ties or anything like that, what three fights would you make and why?
Hieron: Fedor and Brock: that'd be pretty cool. Let's see. Anderson and Machida: I know they train together, but that would be pretty cool. (Long pause) Hieron-Diaz.
ESK: Okay, time to plug the sponsors.
Hieron: Definitely Xtreme Couture (my gym, my home base) that's my camp. My sponsors - Affliction clothing, Everlast clothing, they both take care of me.
Check out my MySpace, my Facebook, I got my new website coming out real soon (jayhieron.com) and my Twitter (@jayhieron). I just got up on Twitter.
ESK: Very cool. Thanks for doing this. Good luck against Riggs.
Hieron: Thanks brother, I appreciate it.
This has been a FiveKnuckles.com / Bleacher Report Production