No matter how much you may want to argue in the opposite direction, there are some things you can’t deny. One of them is Jay Hieron’s New York accent.
“It’s in the blood,” laughs the Freeport, Long Island native, who is usually more associated with his home for the last eight years, Las Vegas, these days. “I love New York. But Vegas grew on me. It’s home now.”
Another undeniable fact is that despite Hieron returning to the UFC for the first time since 2005 this Friday against Jake Ellenberger in the UFC on FX co-main event in Minnesota, he’s been a top-flight welterweight in those ensuing seven years. It’s just that he wasn’t fighting in the Octagon. Frustrating? Yes. But that didn’t stop him.
“I didn’t really focus on that,” said Hieron. “I just kept moving forward with my career. I knew it would happen sometime, I just didn’t know when.”
So as he watched the welterweight world turn over the years, a stretch that included his first UFC opponent, Georges St-Pierre, winning the 170-pound title twice, and Ellenberger – a man he defeated in 2006 – becoming a top contender, Hieron fought, and fought, and fought some more. He won an IFL championship and a Bellator tournament, and earned 16 wins against just three losses.
That’s proving yourself. But Hieron’s ticket back to the UFC wasn’t stamped yet. It took an injury to Ellenberger’s original opponent, Josh Koscheck, for Hieron to get the call, but “The Thoroughbred” wasn’t worried about aesthetics. He got what he wanted, and he was going to take it any way he could.
“I really do believe that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I guess patience is a virtue. (Laughs) I waited, it didn’t happen right away, but I came back and I’m coming back with a bang. This is where I wanted to be for a while now. The UFC is the top of the top, they have the best fighters, and I feel like I can compete with anybody, and that’s what I want to do – I want to fight the best guys.”
Winner of bouts over the likes of Joe Riggs, Jesse Taylor, Jason High, Mark Miller, Delson Heleno, Pat Healy, and Ronald Jhun over the course of his nine-plus year career, Hieron has not shied away from top-shelf opposition. Case in point is the June 2006 bout with Ellenberger, who was then 12-0 and a top prospect. Hieron, just two fights removed from his last UFC bout, a loss via cuts to Jonathan Goulet in one of the bloodiest fights ever, decisioned the Nebraska native, handing him his first pro defeat.
“I remember him being really tough,” said Hieron. “He was an undefeated guy at the time and undefeated guys are always hard to fight because they don’t know how to lose. But he was a strong guy then and he’s a strong competitor now. He’s more well-rounded now, he’s a different fighter, but so am I. I’m a totally different fighter, I’m way more well-rounded. Again, this is great opportunity, it’s a great fight, yeah, we have history, and it’s gonna be a great night.”
It’s a night Hieron has waited seven years for, so when the original bout between the two was moved from the scrapped UFC 151 card in September to this Friday’s card in Minnesota, it was just another month for the 36-year-old, who not only learned that patience is a virtue, but that in the fight game, nothing’s set until the door closes and the bell rings.
“I was talking to somebody and they said one of the best things you can have but you can’t buy or can’t have given to you is experience, and I got a lot of experience, so that’s great,” said Hieron, who has supplemented his fight and life experiences with world-class training at the Xtreme Couture gym in Vegas. Add it all together, and despite being in his mid-30s, Hieron is coming back to the UFC as fresh and hungry as ever.
“I’ve been a professional 11 years,” he said. “I’ve been in the game and I feel blessed to still be at the level I’m at and still competing against the competition I’m competing against because a lot of guys don’t last more than five years in this game. So I take pride that I’m still here and still in a hundred percent shape and still got that fire burning in me to do what I love to do, and that’s compete.”
On Friday night, the long wait is finally over.
“I’m a guy that goes on my gut with things and I try to let things fall into place, even though sometimes they take longer than I expect, but that’s how I’ve always been,” said Hieron. “I really feel like it’s a great time for me, I’m physically and mentally in a great place and I’m excited. And when I’m excited, I fight great.”
Seven Years Later, the Second Coming of Jay Hieron
"The UFC is the top of the top, they have the best fighters, and I feel like I can compete with anybody, and that’s what I want to do – I want to fight the best guys." - Jay Hieron