Veteran mixed martial arts welterweight Jay Hieron was climbing into bed after a gruelling day’s training when his cell phone started blowing up. It was his manager with the news Hieron had been waiting for since 2005 -the Ultimate Fighting Championship had offered him another chance.
The opportunity was short notice - for the UFC 151 card taking place on September 1, four weeks ahead of the call - but it was for a rematch against a man Hieron had already beaten, Jake Ellenberger.
“It was about a month ago and I was actually in Boston training with Mark DellaGrotte. I was just about to go to bed, it was like midnight, and I got the call from my manager. I knew something was up because he was calling so late. He said: “You ready for this?” and I said ‘I’m born ready.’ But I wasn’t ready for him to say I got a fight as the co-main event on the same UFC show headlined by Jon Jones vs Dan Henderson,” recounts Hieron.
“I got the call at midnight, I packed, I didn’t sleep at all, and at 6am I was getting on a plane back home to Vegas. That was on a Wednesday and I was sitting down doing stuff for the UFC Countdown show by Thursday morning. Just like that, seven years later, I’m back in the big time.
“I’ve never had anything handed to me, and I’m glad it went this way. It’s been a long time coming but, okay, this is the way it happened. I’m mentally tougher than I would be if I was in the UFC all along. I’ve dealt with things a lot of fighters have never had to deal with. I always believed I belonged in the UFC, that was I as good as the guys in the UFC.
“It is tough, living in Vegas, living in the UFC’s home town, and seeing all these big cards all the time. I have cornered on big UFC shows and wondered when I would be back. 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. I had to take a different route and, now I am here, I appreciate it all so much.
“I feel haven’t achieved what I was supposed to achieve yet. Now I can. Now I am in the UFC, in a huge fight, I am so mentally strong. Some guys get everything quick and maybe they don’t appreciate what they had. But I will appreciate this. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Aside from his 2004-5 venture into the UFC, which saw him lose to Georges St. Pierre and Jonathan Goulet, Hieron has fought for the WEC, IFL, Strikeforce and Bellator. Its a wealth of experience which he thinks now makes him ready for the UFC at last - and he couldn’t be happier with the matchmaking.
“I couldn’t ask for a better comeback fight. 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,” he says.
“I beat him in our fight and then I cornered Mike Pyle and Martin Kampmann against him. Jake’s last loss was to Martin and we spent a lot of time breaking down Jake’s style so Martin could take advantage of his weaknesses. I feel I know what Jake brings to the Octagon as well as anyone. I’ve fought him and I’ve cornered against him twice.
“Now, he’s a tough contender, I know. But whenever he thinks of his first loss, he thinks of losing to me and that will be in his mind. He knows I can beat him because I’ve done it before. I taught him how to lose.”
These days the UFC is the only real ‘big show’ in MMA and its the place to be if you want recognition and good money. Hieron admits being frustrated at living in Las Vegas but not being in the UFC and now he has the opportunity of a lifetime. Is there a risk nerves will overwhelm him on the night and he will go under to the dreaded ‘adrenaline dump’?
“I heard all about it but it won’t dump on me. I’ve had big fights, I’ve beaten this guy before. I’ve been in Randy Couture’s corner for his biggest fights. I know how the arena looks when it is packed. I get it. I will be focused and ready,” he says.
“All the pressure is on him. I beat him and he’s the veteran UFC fighter trying to prove he’s still a top contender after my teammate beat him.”