Guys were pulling out left and right after my first fight. A couple of times I had guys pull out on me the week of the fight. That’s real frustrating, but I just kept on training and training. I’d take fights whenever and wherever I got them. I fought on back-to-back weekends one time. I was coming out to Vegas to help Phil train each time he did a training camp. When I was helping him train for the second Evan Tanner fight Mayhem Miller got injured and had to pull out of his fight with George St-Pierre. Dana had seen me train with Phil at the UFC gym. Dana told Phil, “That kid’s good, we’d like to have him on the show.”
I’m a fighter. Any real fighter would jump at the chance to get in the UFC when the chance comes up. I didn’t care who it was, UFC was calling and I said let’s go for it. They signed me to a three fight contract. I wish I had a manager back then to tell me this isn’t a good career move. But I was well prepared physically for the fight and wanted it. The only problem was I didn’t have the experience for a fight like that. St-Pierre beat me and UFC sent me a letter saying my contract was terminated. They can end those deals whenever they want.
I went back home after the fight. Even though I lost to St-Pierrre I knew I was still good at MMA and had the chance to make it in the sport. I just had to get my skills up. After your first loss you see what kind of man you are. Are you man enough to come back form a loss? Those are the guys I look up to, the ones who come back from adversity in their lives, guys that come back from downfalls. I see myself as one of those guys and that’s why I look up to other people with a story like that. Randy Couture coming back after two losses to Chuck and he goes up to Heavyweight and puts Tim Sylvia down. Classic David vs Goliath. I had the best seats in the house for that one. I was in the corner. Vinny Pazienza is another one. He comes back from a broken neck after doctors told him he’d never fight again. He’s training weights with the halo on his neck, comes back and becomes a World Champion again.
I was at the point where I said OK what am I going to do now? Stay in New York? I had good trainers there but my training partners couldn’t push me. In Vegas there were great fighters to train with. So I had to make a decision. To be great at something in your life you have to sacrifice. I had to sacrifice moving across country away from all my family and friends. I had a bad experience when I went away to college for a few months. I didn’t really want to leave New York. But I knew I had to, to be successful in my career. I knew I could do well at this I just had to surround myself with great fighters. Las Vegas is the fight capital of the world. Boxing and MMA. At the time when I moved to Vegas (2004) it was the only place that had a bunch of MMA gyms. Now there are gyms back home but back then it was still under the radar.
Moving to Vegas wasn’t going to be easy since I was on probation. I told my Probation Officer about my plan. He knew I was doing well fighting and was proud of me. He had seen my fight on Pay Per View with St-Pierre. I told him moving to Vegas was how I was going to elevate my game. He told me it would be hard and probably impossible to do. See when you’re on probation and you want to move to another State you have to switch your probation to that State. Nevada is one of the toughest States to switch your probation to. I got my lawyer on it. He called Nevada and was told if I didn’t have family out here there is no way I could move to Vegas. I put the paperwork in anyway and did what I always do; I rolled the dice. I figured things would work out one way or the other if I stayed positive.
I packed all my stuff up in a couple suitcases and sent my cars (my wife’s car and my car) on a delivery truck and we flew. My wife didn’t want to go. I was telling her this is all I got. This is the only thing good I can look forward to and that competing in MMA makes me feel good about myself. I haven’t mentioned my wife yet, but I should. I met her in 1998 right after college. She stood by my side when I was going through everything with jail and my trial. And even though she didn’t want to leave her family and friends in New York she knew that I needed to leave to be successful at MMA and she supported me again. When we moved here we were broke. I sold some cars and just about everything I owned in New York before leaving so we’d have some money. I had enough to get us out to Vegas and enough to put down a few months rent on an apartment. But other than that we were broke. We didn’t even have a bedroom set at first. We were sleeping on a comforter.
My wife got a job bartending and was holding it down, paying our bills allowing me to get ready for my next fight. I was training every day. I’d go to Cobra Kai to do jiu jitsu with Mark Laimon then drive an hour to the other side of town to study striking with One Kick Nick.
For the first couple months I had to fly back home once a month to see my PO, because he didn’t know I moved. I’d walk in and act like I still lived there. That got old quick though, because the flights were getting expensive and my money was short. One day one of the Parole Officers from here (Las Vegas) came to my house and told me basically there was no way my request would go through. He was real honest with me. I never even thought about moving back to New York or giving up my training. I figured I’d just make sure to stay out of trouble and stay below the radar out here and keep flying back home once a month. My PO told me if I got into any trouble out of State that I’d definitely go to jail. I was on my best behavior.
It got too expensive to fly home every month so I stopped going home to see my PO. Instead I’d call him. But that got nerve-wracking so I stopped calling him. Which was backwards. I do stuff like that sometimes. I don’t know why. It didn’t make sense not to call him. He’d been helpful to me all along. 3 or 4 months went by without me calling. I finally went home to go see him and he was like, “where have you been?” I kept it real with him. I told him everything I was doing. He was real cool with it. He knew what I was trying to do and I’d been on probation for 2 years already and I hadn’t gotten into any trouble. He let me switch my probation to where I just had to turn in a sheet every month. I did that and was let off probation after 3 years.
At that point I’m training everyday and things are looking good in Vegas. I was waiting for fights. I still didn’t have a manager and was just fighting any fight I could get. If I could go back I’d had had a manager that knew the game. That’s how these guys build records like 10-0. They have good managers that look out for them and push them along at a good pace. I didn’t have a manager until after I fought Goulet.
I got offered a fight with Ron Jhun for Lockdown in Paradise a promotion in Hawaii. It was for their title. I went down there and beat Ron Jhun in the first round. I cut him with an elbow. I was thinking I got a good thing here with this show, they flew me down to Hawaii and I’m the champ. I don’t know exactly what happened but the promoters had a falling out and the show went away. No more title, no more flights to Hawaii. So I’m back to waiting for fights again.
WEC called up and offered a fight against Adam Lynn in California. First round, I’m doing well, I’m beating him up. I drop him. I’m in control of the fight. Towards the end of the round he hits me with a hook. The bell goes off and I go back to my corner. I can’t see anything out of my right eye. I thought there was some Vaseline on my eye. I told Mark Laimon to wipe my eyeball. That’s all I could think about. I kept telling him wipe my eyeball and get the Vaseline off it while he was trying to give me advice. Mark said to me, “can you see out of your left eye” I said yeah he said “ use that one”. It was the best advice he could give me. My equilibrium was off and I had trouble seeing, but I managed to pull out the decision.
(Jay going to work on Adam Lynn, courtesy of Sherdog.com)
The next day my eye was a mess. I still couldn’t see. I went back to Vegas and saw my eye doctor. He told me that I tore my eyeball and that I might never fight again. He said my eye was paralyzed. What happened was my iris got scratched and was stuck open. I went to get a second opinion from Dr. Tsui. He does eye exams for most UFC guys. He said he’d seen this happen before and that I would be OK. The eye is an organ and he said we’d just have to let it heal on its own. I was so relieved. It took a couple of months but my eye went back to normal.
My stomach dropped after the first doctor told me I might not be able to fight again. Your career can end at any moment in this sport. I don’t take anything for granted. That’s why I’m in the gym everyday. You never know when it could be all over. You also have to have fun with it.
While the eye was healing I was still in the gym training everyday. I just wasn’t sparring so I wouldn’t get hit in the eye. Once my eye healed.
My first fight back was against Pat Healey. I ended up beating Pat Healey by decision. But I felt like my game wasn’t flowing because I was training separately with different coaches that don’t know the other one was teaching me. The trainers were great. But I was training the two key aspects of the game separately and I felt like there wasn’t a connection between my grappling and striking. I didn’t know what to do about that. But I knew that it was a problem going forward.
Back in those days I was making small money. A couple grand here and there. For the Lynn fight I got $500 to fight and $500 for the win. If Lynn had beat me I’d have gone home with $500 and a torn eye. As it was I almost had my career finished for a grand. Back then you were doing it because you loved it, more than to make money. Back then there was no money. Even UFC was barely paying its top guys. And the small shows where I was fighting, you got nothing. For Jhun I made $1,500 + $1,500 and for Healey $1,000 + $1,000.
Luckily, my wife had a good job bartending. Most jobs in Vegas get good money off tips. She was paying the rent and got us some furniture. I was using my fight money for gas to drive back and forth to the gym. I just believed if you put in enough hard work it would pay off one day. I didn’t know when or how but I just believed if I kept doing my best things would turn out OK. I tried not to think about the negative stuff and just move forward. It’s a dirty business. We get treated like cocks. You get used up until you’re done then you get thrown away. You win a couple fights and you’re on top. You lose once and everyone writes you off. You have to be mentally strong and not pay attention to all the people with shit to say. I read the press a little bit but not the underground where jokers have their say.
The UFC asked me if I wanted another fight. It was on the first Ultimate Fight Night special on Spike TV. I jumped on the opportunity. That’s what I’d been working my way through the small shows for, to get another crack at the big time. The fight was against Jonathan Goulet. I thought to myself that realistically I’m more skilled than him and I will win this fight. I was taking him down at will. Beating him every round. He caught me with a knee in my forehead and cut the vein that runs down the middle of it. I was squirting blood. Literally it was shooting out of my forehead. I was covered in blood. He was covered in blood. It looked like a horror movie. All I could see was red. My mentality changed, I was trying to get the fight over as soon as possible so I can win before the doctor stops it. I’m going for all types of submissions but I’m slipping off of him because of all the blood. I didn’t want to be on my feet because I couldn’t see. So I kept using my wrestling to get the fight to the ground. The doctor ended up stopping it in the third round and calling it for Goulet.
It was the bloodiest fight in UFC history and still is. Dana said it was a great fight but too bad it would never make TV because it was so bloody. This was when UFC was new to TV. It was right after the first season of The Ultimate Fighter and was the first Fight Night live on Spike. They were trying to make it look like a sport, not a barbaric event. So they didn’t want to let a blood and guts fight get on the air.
After the fight Joe Silva told me to win some fights and they’d bring me back. I said, “OK”. At that point either I was talking for myself or Phil Baroni was. We’re fighters, we shouldn’t be dealing directly with promoters. I should have had a manager talking for me. If I had a manager at the time I probably would have been brought right back. Instead, I was back to the drawing board.
In the next installment Jay gets a manager, finds a way to fix the problems of not having a flow to his game and enters the IFL. Stay tuned.