In the last installment of The Life & Times of Jay Hieron we learned how Jay got started in wrestling and left off when he went to school in Iowa with the plan of doing a year at Junior College then transferring to Iowa University. Volume 2 picks up at that point. Though it is a redemptive story, please be advised this edition contains mature subject matter, including drug use and distribution.
Iowa wasn’t for me. It was just cornfields. That’s a big change coming from New York. It was a real culture shock. I left Iowa after my first semester and enrolled at Nassau Community College. I felt Nassau was good for me because I was back home. Back to where I know.
I had some great wrestling coaches at Nassau, Coach Henkie and Paul Schmidt. They had wanted me to go there coming out of High School and were glad to have me.
During the season I was working hard and doing well for myself. I was keeping my grades up so I could stay on the team. My first year I finished 3rd in the country at 150-lbs for Junior College. Not bad, but I felt I could do better.
Even though wrestling was going well for me, I was getting into problems in the off season. I was getting into shit whenever wrestling didn’t occupy my time. I was hanging out in the streets all night on Pearsall Avenue back in Freeport. Getting into fights, smoking weed, just basically up to no good. I was driving back and forth to Brooklyn, 3, 4 times a day buying weed. I would buy it, sell most of it and smoke the rest.
After Freshman year at Nassau I felt that I should have won JuCo at 150-lbs. I told myself I’m winning it this year. I was going to practice more often and taking it more serious. I was working like a man possessed. Sophomore year (1997) I won JuCo at 158lbs. I graduated from Nassau which is a 2-year school.
Hofstra University was right up the block. They had a new wrestling coach Tom Ryan. I wanted to stay local because I had had the bad experience of going away. Hofstra offered me a sponsorship. Done deal. I did well for myself going there. Junior year of college, which was my first year at Hofstra, I went to Nationals and lost to the guy who won it by a couple points.
Senior year I was ranked #3 in the country at 158lbs going into the season. I knew this was my season. I was going to go out and win the NCAA D-I championship. I could feel it. My workouts were incredible. My determination was incredible. There would be no stopping me.
Hofstra started a new rule my senior year. The school said if you failed any drug tests you’re out for the season. I ended up failing a drug test for smoking weed a couple weeks before the start of the season. It blew my mind. This was my last year or wrestling. I was trying to do everything I could to see if I could get back on the team and get my suspension cut to a half season. Hofstra wasn’t having any of it.
I was bitter even though it was my fault for smoking the weed. I felt the coaching staff and Athletic Director could have gone to bat for me. There were football players who got popped for smoking weed and doing steroids and they were all back before the end of their seasons. I felt like I didn’t get support from the AD because I was a wrestler. I really resented them and the school, even though like I said I knew it was my fault for doing drugs.
I was having mixed emotions. I thought this was supposed to be my year. I was focused on winning the D-I Nationals. Every time in my life I had put all the BS aside and focused on Wrestling I had won. Now because of my suspension I wasn’t going to have that chance. I started to feel like I had spent half my life wrestling and had nothing to show for it. And I starting thinking why did I even bother to get started with wrestling in the first place. It can only take you so far. I should have gotten into Football or another sport.
Coach Ryan told me that even though I couldn’t wrestle, I could keep going to school on my scholarship. I only had a 15 credits needed to graduate, but I wasn’t really interested in that. I was really depressed. I suppressed all of my competitive drive. I took all of my wrestling gear and threw it out. I decided it was time to start making money.
I was done making sacrifices for wrestling and all I could think about was making money. That’s when I really started selling drugs. I had been messing around picking up some weed from Brooklyn but now I was serious. I put all my attention and effort into selling drugs. I was moving weed and coke from Brooklyn around Freeport and the surrounding towns. I made a lot of money. Fast. I had a Mercedes Benz, a BMW, a quad 4-wheeler, a jetski and two motorcycles a Honda CVR 900 and a Yamaha R-1. I used to tear it up on those bikes. I was riding with the Exit 21 Fubu riders. I got one going 180mph on straightaway by Jones Beach.
I was running two lives at that point. I had an apartment in Baldwin, the town next to Freeport, where I’d spend a lot of my time and that I used for business. I kept my cars and bikes there. I was also living with my family. I kept a room at my mom’s house. I had a little crap beater car I’d drive when I was going to my mother’s house. I told them that I was selling cars. And I was. I wasn’t stupid, I knew I always had to keep a legit job so that my family wouldn’t worry about me and I’d have some income to show the government. I’d buy old cars at auction or out of the newspaper, fix them up and resell them. I’d put the cars by the train station with a sign on them or at the gas station. I was making some money off that too. Sometimes I’d make double on the cars. I was putting money in mutual funds and saving a good portion of what I earned. A couple of people smartened me up to the game when I first got started. They told me that I had to set money aside in case I ever needed it. Luckily I listened to them. I’d like to thank those guys but I can’t say who they are.
When I wasn’t at my mother’s house I was driving the Benz or the beamer. The Benz had a hollowed out area where the airbag was supposed to be that I used as a stash box when I’d pick up in Brooklyn. A friend of mine made it for me. Cost me $2,500. Those rides from Brooklyn back to Long Island were terrifying. Butterflies in my stomach the whole way. It was scarier than getting ready for a fight. A lot scarier. I knew that if I got pulled over or in an accident, that was it. Jail time.
Even though I was making money selling drugs, and I liked the money, I didn’t like what I was doing. I never felt good about it. I had fake feelings. I liked the money but I didn’t like myself at that point.
By 2000 I had dealt for a couple years and started to think that I needed to do something else. I was looking to get out of the business. I was thinking about going in half on a body shop with a friend or maybe opening up a car lot. My plan was to make as much as I could off selling drugs then legitimize my money by opening up a legal business. But the trick is, once you start making fast money its hard to leave. I was partying, spending money, buying bottles in the clubs and having a good time. It’s hard just stop that.
Right around that time a couple guys I knew got arrested. Then this one kid who was a customer got arrested. I thought he was setting me up because he was calling me all the time after he got arrested. I told him to leave me alone. But it was too late. He’d already set me up. He was just trying to set me up some more.
One day the cops stopped by my mom’s house when I wasn’t home. My brother called me up and told me, the cops are here, they have something on you and that I had to call them or turn myself in. I was driving in my car at the time and got a crazy feeling. I was in shock. I pulled over to think. I saw my whole life flashing before my eyes. When I came back to my senses I called my lawyer. I had a good lawyer who had represented me after I got in a couple of street fights in high school. He told me to relax, that he’d call the cops and find out what’s going on. He called me back and said they had me on an A-2 felony. I said what’s that? He told me the worst is an A-1 felony. I had an A-2 which carried 3-years to life. Mandatory 3 years with life parole. It was around the holidays when all this was going down. I didn’t want to turn myself in right there. I told him I wasn’t turning myself in before Thanksgiving.
It turns out that saving money to start a legal business was the smartest thing I ever did. Because of that I was able to afford a lawyer. A lot of guys in the business don’t save any money and they can’t afford good lawyers when they get in trouble. I ended up having to pay my guy up front and it just about wiped me out financially.
After Thanksgiving I turned myself in. The police wanted me to talk but I couldn’t do that. Because where I’m from they don’t do that. Actually I can’t say that because a lot of guys do talk. But I didn’t. I kept saying talk to my lawyer. That obviously didn’t get us anywhere and I was sent to Nassau County jail. They’re supposed to give you an orange jumpsuit and a mattress when you show up. All I got was the jumpsuit my first night. I ended up sleeping on a metal bed with no mattress. It was freezing. It was grimey. There was literally shit on the wall. Some guy had taken a dump and wiped it on the wall with his hand. I was like, “this isn’t for me”.
I was in there a month and a half before my mother bailed me out. She put up her house. Thank God for mom. I came home and my court proceeding started. I was out of jail but I was broke. I was trying to sell everything I had because I knew I was done in the business. A lot of people get popped and they keep going. But once was enough for me. I had wanted out anyway. Now I’m stressing because I know I might be doing some hard time. It was the lowest point of my life.
About a year or so before that all started I had helped my buddy Phil Baroni train for an MMA fight. Phil and I went way back to when we were kids. He grew up in Massapequa, which is a couple towns further out from Freeport on Long Island. We were both on the All County team in high school and went to a lot of the same tournaments in the off-season. Then we went to Nassau and Hofstra together. Phil was hilarious and we were always getting into trouble with each other over the years. He was a real good friend. After college he was doing Toughman and amateur boxing competitions. He was always trying to get me into them but they weren’t really for me, but I’d help him get ready.
While I was out of jail I went to the gym that Phil trained at. It’s called Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. I went in there because I wanted to sweat and train and take my frustration out on a bag or something. I had so much frustration and anger built up that I wanted to release. I joined the gym and started doing my own thing. I was getting ready for prison at this point. I didn’t know what was going to happen. The best way I knew to get rid of stress was to work on the bags. Get that release. Everyday I was going in there, sweating and hitting the bag even though I didn’t know what I was doing technique-wise, it was working. It made me feel better. One day I asked the guy there, Keith Trimble, if he could train me. I didn’t have any money. He remembered me from coming in with Baroni. He said yeah. I was coming in and training in Boxing and Kickboxing. It was addictive. I would go in and hit mitts and hit the bag. Every day I was feeling better and better. Phil was training for his fights there too.
Next I started getting into watching MMA. I was watching a lot of UFC and PRIDE. Phil had a box of tapes he left in the gym of all types of fights, Shooto, Pancrase, old boxing fights, Muay Thai you name it. They had a room there with a couch, a TV and VCR. The guys at Bellmore still laugh about it. They said all I would do all day is watch tapes and then try out combinations on the bag. It was addictive, I fell in love with the sport. I fell in love with the competition. I also started feeling a little bit better about myself.
Now during this whole time at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy, I was going through my court proceedings. At that point I’d been training with Keith for over a year while my lawyer was working on my case and everything. Phil asked me to go out to Vegas with him for one of his fights and I saw all of the big name guys in the sport training. When I went back home I said, this is what I want to do. Before that I was using the sport to relieve stress and I liked it but I fell in love on that trip and decided that MMA is what I wanted to do with my life. I woke up at 6am every day and did my road work. I did 3-6 miles. I’d do pads with Keith after my run. I found a jiu jitsu gym in Lynbrook a couple towns away. It was Rodrigo Gracie’s school. I enrolled there and started working on my ground game.
The court case was coming up and my lawyer was telling me it could go either way. Because it was my first case I could get up to 5 years of probation and avoid prison. My charge was automatically going to get knocked down to a B felony because I pleaded guilty. We were trying to get it knocked down to a C, which doesn’t have a mandatory jail sentence. A “B” comes with a mandatory 6 months sentence. It was up to the judge. On the last day of court I was prepared to go to prison. I had on 2 pairs of drawers and 2 pairs of socks. I had gotten a bunch of letters from my wrestling coaches, judging my character saying I could change. Basically the letters all said that I was a good guy and not a hardened criminal. My lawyer turned in the letters. I waited for the verdict. My future was up to the judge and God blessed me that day. The judge ended up giving me 5 years of probation and no time behind bars.
That day I started training harder because I realized I had things to lose in life. I did a nosedive into the game after that. It became my life. I instantly tried to get a fight. After a couple months of training I did get a fight. It was in a high school gym in Bayonne, New Jersey for Reality Fighting. July 19, 2003 against a guy named Keith Plate. Phil Baroni and Keith Trimble cornered me. Phil told me, “chin down, hands up and let ‘em fly.” That’s our advice. He always says that to me and I always say that to him, to this day. I came out and threw a combo. He grabbed me. I took him down and ground and pounded him. It was a blur for me because it was my first fight. I fought that fight strictly on emotions.
That first fight was on a Saturday. Monday I was back in the gym. I felt like I had a second chance at doing something with myself and making something with my life. I felt like I’m not going to waste this chance I got. I still feel that way.
I had suppressed the feelings of competition and wrestling after my drug test at Hofstra. But all those feelings and the competitor in me came out again when I got into MMA. I was hungry for competition. I knew there was a little bit of money in the sport. But I wasn’t even really thinking about that. I knew I could be good at it. And I wanted to be good at it.
I was trying to get fights after the first one. But things kept happening. I had guys pulling out on right and me left. Three times I had fights and the guy dropped out the day before. You deal with that in the small shows. I just kept training. First and foremost I love to train. It made me feel good about myself. I knew that if I kept focused and kept training the fights would come. And they did.
Stay tuned for Volume 3…