This is the first installation in what will be a series of weekly (time permitting) entries on the life of Jay Hieron, as told by Jay. There is likely a lot you don’t know about Jay. For one he was involved in the bloodiest fight in UFC history. A fight UFC has kept the public, outside of the fans in attendance at the Hard Rock to watch UFN 1, from seeing. Jay dominated that fight but lost due to a cut. You also probably don’t know that Jay is one of the most intriguing and cerebral athletes in the fight game today. Check out The Life and Times of Jay Hieron and learn about this incredible young man.
Jay Hieron isn’t his real name, but it is what everyone calls him. If you’re writing him a check make it out to James Hieronymous. Jay changed Hieronymous to Hieron for fighting purposes since he got tired of people mispronouncing his surname as “hairy mouse”. That mistake was made a lot during his High School and college wrestling careers. But ask Jay and he’ll tell you, “I love the name Hieronymous. I’m proud of my last name and my mother. I just don’t want to hear ring announcers saying here comes the hairy mouse.”
Jay’s mother is Theo Hieronymous. She and her then husband John adopted Jay when he was a baby. Jay’s mother was a young woman from Coney Island in Brooklyn. She had some issues and wasn’t ready to raise a child. So Jay became a part of the seven child Hieronymous family, joining an adopted brother and two sisters to go with the three children Theo and John had together.
The Hieronymous’ lived in Freeport a town on Long Island’s South Shore not far from the Queens border. Freeport is what is politely called a town in transition. It has a beautiful harbor area called the Nautical Mile where families sit on piers and enjoy local clams and lobsters in the summer. But Freeport is best known as a rough and tumble town where drugs, crime, shootings and stabbings cause the working class to never get too comfortable. It was in the rough edged Northern part of Freeport that borders on the shady sections of Baldwin and Roosevelt that Jay was raised.
John and Theo Hieronymous divorced when Jay was 10 and he went to live with Theo, his mother, two of his sisters and one of his brothers. Jay was a small kid in bad neighborhood. That made him a target for the larger, ill tempered bullies of which there are plenty in Freeport.
“The neighborhood tough kids used to give me a real hard time,” reminisces Jay, “I didn’t grow up in the best area and I was getting chased home every day. I’d run to the 7-11 and call my sisters who were older to come pick me up. They still make fun of me about that. They’re always teasing me about how I’m a pro fighter and I used to call them everyday to come save my ass. So when I was 13 I started going to the PAL (Police Athletic League) boxing gym in Westbury. I loved boxing. My sister’s boyfriend used to take me up there. But Westbury is about a 25 minute drive from Freeport and I didn’t have a car so it got to be hard getting me up there and I stopped going when nobody could take me. I was scared going into high school because Freeport High School is a real tough place. I decided to go out for the wrestling team to learn how to defend myself.”
That’s how a 91 pound 14-year-old named James Hieronymous got started on the road to becoming one of the top Welterweight fighters in Mixed Martial Arts. He took an instant love to the sport of wrestling and showed that he had a natural ability at it.
“I was good at wrestling right off the bat. I made varsity Freshman year. It felt great to find something I was really good at. I gave everything I had to learning the sport and getting my body in shape. Mid season this new kid named Tom English came out of nowhere and joined the team. The kid mopped me. He put me in a pretzel and stuck me for a pin. He was too strong. He had grown man strength and I was just a kid. Tom English crushed my feelings and took my spot on the team. But they kept me on varsity as an alternate. But losing to Tom just made me more determined to become great at wrestling. I stayed after practice every day to learn moves from my coaches Russ Celland and Terry Haise. It paid off. Sophomore year I was Nassau County champ at 91-lbs and runner up at State. Junior year I moved up to 105-lbs and was Nassau County champ. But I was cutting too much weight and didn’t place in the States.”
That summer Jay got his license and things changed.
“I got a car right before the start of senior year. It was a $200 orange piece of shit. But it was my freedom. I could go wherever and do whatever I wanted now. I quit wrestling. I thought wrestling was gay. I looked ugly in the singlet. I didn’t want any girls coming to check me out when I was wearing it. I looked like a beanpole in that thing, it was embarrassing. Cutting weight was having an effect on me. I didn’t want to cut weight anymore. I don’t think kids in High School should be cutting so much weight, its bad for you. I shot up in height after high school and I think I stunted my growth some from all the weight cutting. I also felt like I had sacrificed three years for wrestling and now I wanted time to myself. After the High School season I did three years of Freestyle season with coach Haise. I was wrestling all year round. Now I had my car and I was hanging out with girls. Coach got mad when I quit. He wouldn’t talk to me. he’s stubborn like I am and was furious that I was giving up so easy.
“I was also hanging out with the guys who weren’t doing so good. I was smoking some weed a little bit and getting in trouble. My coach really didn’t like that. Russ Cellan the assistant coach was always trying to get me back into wrestling practice. He’d hunt me down. I was leaving school five minutes before the bell everyday just to avoid him. But Russ was crafty. Halfway through the season he caught me in the hallway. He said ‘man just come down we just want to talk with you.’ I said, ‘Ok, whatever’. I had it in my mind that there was nothing this guy could say to get me back in. I was riding around in my little orange car having too much fun. But I owed it to him to listen. When I went back to talk with him and coach Haise wrestling practice was in full swing. I had a lot of old feelings come back to me. I could smell the sweat and the intensity in the room. I saw guys I used to beat up on getting shaper. I missed it. I talked with coach Haies and coach Cellan. They told me I was throwing away my senior year and pretty much any shot I had of wrestling in college. At that point I wasn’t even thinking of college. It wasn’t something that I was interested in. They put a lot of things in perspective for me. I figured why not give it a shot. I came back with a fury. I damn near ripped guys’ heads off. Sometimes it takes that for me. To have something taken away to make me realize how much I love it. I loved wrestling. I won County for the third straight year, this time at 126-lbs. Something that is very hard to do in Nassau County because there are a lot of great wrestlers there. I finished as runner up in States losing to Terry Showalter in double overtime. Terry went on to be an All American D-1 wrestler.
“My coaches then focused on how to get me into college. Terry Haise knew I was getting into trouble with the crew I ran with. He told me the best thing to do was to go away to school and put those bad influences behind me. We all sat down to figure out how to do that. Back then Iowa was the best wrestling school in the country. But I didn’t have good grades. The plan was for me to go to junior college in Iowa then transfer to Iowa State.
“I was an 18-year-old on the bus for 15 hours going to Iowa. I had never lived out of New York or been anywhere for longer than 3 days. The only times I ever went away was to go to wrestling tournaments. I got to Iowa and was homesick from day one. It wasn’t me down there at all. I ended up just passing the days training. I wasn’t into it at all. I didn’t even have the drive to really wrestle. When the semester ended I decided that I had it and went home. Coach Haise didn’t agree. But I switched to Nassau Community College.”
To be continued. Our next installment will take a look a Jay’s college wrestling career where he teamed up with Phil Baroni and Jason Townsend.