(Just remember, Jay — no matter how many setbacks you suffer in life, there are still people who are much, much worse off than you are.)
By Andreas Hale
Last month, Jay Hieron (23-5 MMA, 0-2 UFC) was days away from making his return to the UFC for the first time in seven years when the proverbial rug was pulled out from under him. The now infamous series of events that resulted in the cancelation of UFC 151 left Heiron and others out in the cold as he was prepared to face Jake Ellenberger in a welterweight showdown that marked his first fight in the Octagon since 2005. But while many of the fighters on the 151 card panicked and wondered when and if they’d get the opportunity to fight again, Hieron took it in stride, patiently waited, and was rescheduled to face Ellenberger at UFC on FX 5: Browne vs. Bigfoot this Friday, October 5.
The Las Vegas-based fighter has been in this situation before. He was supposed to fight on the Affliction: Trilogy card in 2009 that ended up being canned, and a Strikeforce welterweight title shot against Nick Diaz later that year was shuttered after Diaz failed to get licensed by the California State Athletic Commission. It’s like Hieron walked under a ladder and broke a mirror while a black cat crossed his path.
“People were saying that I am cursed,” the Xtreme Couture fighter says with a hearty laugh. “At the end of the day, if there isn’t a twist on it for me then something isn’t right. I’ve learned to embrace all these things that surround the fight game. I’m never surprised.”
So, seriously, what’s a few more weeks when you’ve waited seven long years since your last UFC fight?
“I was ready to go before but the postponement just meant I had more time to prepare,” Hieron says about the extra month he has had to wait before making his return to the Octagon. “I don’t want to say it’s a good thing, but I’ve been through that before. Of course I was a little down because it was here in Vegas, but at the end of the day it’s out of my control.”
Hieron’s last UFC appearance — a TKO-due-to-cut loss to Jonathan Goulet in October 2005 — took place well before the sport boomed into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. Put it like this, the last time Hieron fought in the UFC, Jon Jones was an 18-year-old who had no idea what his future would hold for him, while Anderson Silva was far from the best pound for pound fighter in the world, as he was fresh off of a flying scissor heel hook from Ryo Chonan. Hieron is 37-years old now and promises that he’s a far different fighter than the one who went 0-2 in the UFC a lifetime ago. Despite the long wait, Hieron feels that the timing couldn’t be better.
“My career has taken me in different directions,” he says about his MMA stints in promotions including Bellator, Strikeforce, and the IFL. “A lot of guys aren’t blessed to make money outside of the UFC but I have and I’ve been able to get better. I could have been back for sure but I went for title shots with Diaz and money in other circumstances. Now couldn’t be any better, the timing is perfect.”
Standing across the cage from him will be a familiar face. Back in 2006, Jay Hieron handed Jake Ellenberger his first professional loss. More recently, Hieron cornered Martin Kampmann’s stunning comeback knockout victory over Ellenberger at The Ultimate Fighter finale this past June. “We know each other, it’s no secret,” he says about Ellenberger being his ticket back into the UFC. “But even though I won the last time I know that he’s gotten better. However, I’m a totally different fighter as well.”
In the back of his mind, Jay Hieron knows that this may be his last stand in the UFC. At the age of 37, very few chances are left and he’s looking to make the most out of this opportunity on October 5 because his window is closing rapidly.
“There’s only one Randy Couture, but I’ll fight as long as my body lets me,” Hieron says while noting that he feels better than he ever has. “I do everything to keep my body fresh and I have taken little punishment in my career. There will be a time when I will have to step back because you can’t outrun father time, but right now, I feel awesome. I still feel like I have my best years ahead of me and this is where I want to finish my career.”
All he has to do is take out Ellenberger in Friday’s co-main event in Minneapolis, MN.
“I’m definitely looking for the finish,” Hieron says.”I’m looking for him to make mistakes and I will surely look to capitalize. I’m confident in my skills and my team that we’ll be ready for anything he has to offer.”