In case you missed the previous installations of the Life & Times of Jay Hieron, they can be found here.
After I lost to Goulet because of the cut in my forehead and got dropped from the UFC for a second time, I did a lot of soul searching. I knew that MMA was what I wanted to do and I believed that it was something I was good at and could become very good, and hopefully great at. But there was something missing. My ground was getting pretty good and I was confident with my striking, but I wasn’t able to transition well in fights between my standup and ground. I knew that’s what I had to focus on to become a complete fighter.
I met Mike Pyle when I was training for the Goulet fight, we were both training at John Lewis’ gym J-Sect. Mike had just gotten in town from Denmark. He had been over in Denmark teaching jiu jitsu and was fighting across Europe. I’d heard his name before and knew that he was a real good fighter. He’d fought guys like Rampage, Andrei Semenov and John Fitch. J-Sect was a real good gym that a lot of top guys used when they were in town. Tito was over there training for a fight, so was Ricco Rodriguez and Marvin Eastman. I only got to train there a few times before the Goulet fight, but I realized if I was going to get better, those were the kinds of guys I had to be training with.
I went back to J-Sect and started training with Mike. He introduced me to boxing coach Ron Frazier and I started training with them, Forrest Griffin and Alex Schoenauer. Then Randy came over and started training with us because he was getting ready for the van Ardsdale fight and we all started training together. We trained everything together at J-Sect. Before that I had been going to one gym for grappling and another for striking. With the new setup, I felt like I got better immediately. After a little while we moved our training sessions over to the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter gym. They had turned a warehouse into a super gym which they used for the set of the reality show. It was perfect.
I really loved training with Mike because every day with him is something new. He’s always making me laugh. He’s a classic clown. That helps get you through training everyday. If I come in and I’m sore or tired or having a bad day, he’s got jokes or he’s doing something crazy and it makes me laugh. That helps you get through training. There’s some days I don’t feel like being there. But it’s what I have to do. I have a felony, so to get a job here you have to have a Sheriff’s card. I got denied three times on that. So that would make me a deadbeat if I’m not fighting. They always tell people with felonies, “oh you can still have opportunities and what not”. But once you mark down on that job application that you’ve had a felony you’re done. No job. That’s why I’m in here hitting that bag hard everyday.
At first when we started working out together we were all helping Randy get ready for his fight. It was his camp, but Randy still took time out to explain things to us and teach us. That amazed me, and really defined who Randy was to me. Here’s a guy at the top of the sport, getting ready for a big fight and he’s helping the rest of us young guys out. He’s a class guy. I said, “this is where I need to be”. You’re only as good as your training partners, and my training partners at that time (and still to this day) are the best in the sport. You don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond because you don’t get any better that way.
Phil (Baroni) was training with us too, which I liked since Phil and I have always been tight and he got me into the sport. He was bouncing back and forth between Vegas and the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose for his 8 week camps. But we’d always keep in touch even when he was up there. In this business, you have to do what’s best for you. Phil felt going up there for a couple weeks at a time was best for him, but for me I wanted to stay full time with the guys in Vegas. I also felt I needed to get myself a manager. Phil had gotten Monte Cox’s number and he gave it to me. I called Monte up and he told me that he’d call me back. Like he had to do a background check on me or something. I guess everything checked out OK, because he called me back. Monte said we could work something out. I knew he had a lot of guys and I was thinking about whether or not I should go with him because he had so many guys. I knew I needed a guy who would push me and get me fights. I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. I’d already had a bunch of long layoffs at that point in my career, and I wanted to be fighting every month if I could. He got me a fight in Kansas, and I won it in a minute.
Right around that time the IFL offered Randy a team. Randy couldn’t do it because he was with the UFC. But Bas had a team and was looking for guys, so Randy called Bas and recommended me. Bas offered me and Pyle spots on his team the LA Anacondas. He also put Alex Schoenauer on the team. Pyle and I both fight at 170lbs so we were going to share the spot. He’d fight one show, I’d fight one show. But then Mike decided to move up to 185lbs because he thought it would make the team stronger. He has a bigger frame than me so he figured it would be easier for him to put the weight on and he’d already fought at 185 a couple times in his career. It ended up though that the guys were too big for him. He wasn’t cutting any weight. He’d weigh in at 185 and fight at 185 or maybe 188 or something and the guys he’d be fighting would weigh 200 pounds by fight time. It turned on he couldn’t put on the weight like he thought he could. So Pyle left the IFL and went back to 170 pounds where he is doing real well for himself. Right now he is getting ready to go to Japan to fight for World Victory Road.
We had a lot of good times in the IFL, Pyle and I. At one of the events we were at, the commission guys were watching us wrap our hands and everyone just started farting. Mike has the worst farts ever. Anyone who knows him knows that that is true. He should be in the Guiness Book of World Records for stinkiest farts. I’d bet my next purse that no one has worse farts. Bas had a towel over his face the whole time. It stank in that locker room. It got so bad at one point the commission guys had to leave the room. We were wrapping our hands with nobody watching. We could have put brass knuckles in our gloves. Of course we didn’t, we just wrapped our hands up right and went out and did our business.
I won my first two fights in the IFL. I felt that I had a new home and the guys in management wanted to push me. They told me that they wanted to develop and promote me as a fighter. That’s huge in this business. A lot of times you are just used up and tossed aside like an animal. It felt good having the promoters investing in me. I started to have that in Hawaii before that show went out of business and I’d been looking for it ever since. I’ve been at every level of this game from the guy who couldn’t get a fight, to the guy nobody wanted to fight, hard luck in fights and now finally I had a home. The IFL was guaranteeing 3-4 fights per year. Before, guys who were above me didn’t want to fight me because I was a good fighter and if they lost, it would lower their stock. Guys below me didn’t want to fight me because I was tough; but, in the IFL that was no problem because the league just told everyone who they had to fight. I’ll fight anyone–so I like that.
In the IFL everything was starting to come together for me. Mike and I were going back and forth between Vegas and LA. Bas’ gym is just North of LA in a place called Thousand Oaks. The IFL really wanted to have all the teams working out for at least 5 weeks or so before fights. So Pyle and I would go to our team camps down there. Randy let us stay at his condo in Beverly Hills when we’d train at Bas’. He’s got a sick place out there. The only thing bad about LA was the traffic. We had to be at Bas’ gym at 9am which meant we had to leave Beverly Hills at 7:30am to get there. It would take us an hour to get back. We’d have time to grab a sandwich and rest a few minutes then drive back for the afternoon practice. Bas is a great coach. He taught me to punch real hard. He had me in dog shape. There’s this hill by Bas’ house that he’d have us run up and sprint down then hit mits. It was a great training exercise. I really enjoyed my time training with him.
When we weren’t with Bas we were back in Vegas. Gray Maynard came in around that point. I had first met Gray at Cobra Kai, Marc Laimon’s gym, a while back. When a good grappler or wrestler would come to the gym Marc would clear the mat and put him in there with another guy and let the whole class watch. Gray came in and was talking with Laimon and Marc was like, “clear the mat”. I didn’t know who Gray was and he didn’t know who I was. We were just grinding, going at it hard. We were both going for takedowns but nobody could get one. We were really going at it. I knew right away, “this guy is real good”. It went 15 minutes and nobody got a takedown. Afterwards we shook hands. Gray told me who he was and I told him who I was, and that I was a Junior College National Champion. He was Division I for all four years so he didn’t have any respect for me. He told me that. I told him that he better respect me because most of the good Junior College guys are as good or better than the D-1 guys, but it’s the grades that screwed them up. We traded numbers after that and said we’d stay in touch. Gray was working full time at that point and wasn’t really thinking about being a fighter.
One day I got a call from Gray and he asked if he could come down and train with Randy and I. He said he wanted to do this fighting thing. I said sure, come down. Gray came in the gym weighing 200 pounds of muscle. He was strong as an ox. He was lifting weights but wasn’t really doing his proper cardio. He was a big muslehead. No neck at all. But I knew right from the start that Gray was going to be good because he’s such a competitor. I was right and Gray is an absolute stud today. He’s another guy who never stops learning and is willing to listen to anyone and learn from them. Randy is the same way and so is basically everyone in the gym. It’s one of the best things about this team.
By the point Gray came along we were in the TUF gym mostly. Randy and Forrest both had the key to it, and UFC didn’t really do anything with it when they weren’t filming a show. So we turned it into our gym. It was a great time because we had a beautiful gym and a bunch of active guys. Randy, Forrest, Pyle, Schoenauer, myself and Gray. Around that time Tyson Griffin joined the crew. He came to Vegas with Dave Terrell from the Bay area. Dave and Tyson were both training for fights and Dave was about to fight and lose to Evan Tanner for the UFC Middleweight title. Tyson clicked with everyone right off the bat. He’s a hard worker and a laid back guy and that’s a natural fit. He went home to Cali, got his stuff and came back to Vegas. He’s been with us since. We trained in the TUF gym for about a year then moved over to Xyience when the new season started. The Xyience gym at that time was about 2,000 square feet or so they’re in a bigger spot now, but when we were there it was tiny. Like a shoebox. Especially with all those big dudes. But we got it done. That’s how we started the team that became Xtreme Couture. It didn’t matter where we were training as long as we were all together. Even though MMA is an individual sport when you are in the ring or the cage, we’re a real team. One day Randy announced that he was going to open up his own gym and call it Xtreme Couture. We moved over there and were training on concrete floors inside a warehouse that used to be a battery factory. It was a big open warehouse with nothing in it. No bags, nothing. But we were all looking at the bigger picture. We already had a bond and knew that the gym would be great when it was finished. First thing we got was a cage. Some guys would spar in the cage the other guys would be on the concrete floor wearing their gym shoes. It’s not fun getting kicked in the head by a guy with a pair of Asics Gel Nimbis. That’s what I was wearing when I was kicking guys in the head. Then we got mats, bags, a ring, everything. The Xtreme Couture gym is the best gym in the world now if you ask me. I was there when it was nothing and I’m still there.
I had a couple wins in the IFL and everything is going well. I started to stop stressing everything in my life and forgot about the politics of fighting– all that other stuff in fighting and outside of fighting that I can’t control. I just focused on my performance in the ring which is the one thing in my life that I can control. Especially with the addition of Shawn Tompkins to the camp. He’s a great trainer and a great motivator. He helped with my striking and helped me to believe in my striking. When I first met Shawn he was training Dan Henderson and living in Temecula, California. We were training there and at Bas’ in Hollywood sometimes. I’m a disciplined fighter. I like to get my routine and stick to it. I felt like I had a great team and a great camp in Vegas and didn’t like having to leave. That said, I learned a lot from Bas and Dan. Those guys are both great competitors. Dan is a real tough guy, and one of the hardest hitting guys I ever sparred with. Tompkins was running a great camp in Temecula with Dan. Dan has a real nice gym there and they had a real good regimen of what they were doing. The way Dan trains is similar to the way Randy trains. They do a lot of sparring and Dan taught me a lot of clinch work and takedowns. I look up to Randy, Dan and Matt Lindland and how they came from wrestling and adapted it to MMA and changed MMA. I’m honored that I have been able to train with them and learn from them.
In June of 2007 the IFL was holding a show in Vegas. So, Shawn Tompkins decided instead of doing the camp in Temecula then going to Vegas the week before, to just do the whole camp at Randy’s gym. Just like when Tyson came, Tompkins found that he fit right in and loved the place. So he too decided to stay and took the job as head trainer of the Xtreme Couture team. I feel blessed that he did that. I love training with him. In this game, if you think you know everything, your days are numbered. I’m like a sponge. I’ll try to learn from everyone. These days in MMA, the skill sets are getting so that guys are good at everything and it comes down to who is in the best shape. Since I started working with our Strength and Conditioning coach, Jake Bonacci he has gotten my game to the next level. I don’t worry about my shape anymore going into fights. I know I’m going to be in shape if I can survive Jake’s workouts. And if I can get through his workouts, I’ll get through any fight because they are that hard.
In the next installment, Jay suffers a setback against Brad Blackburn and the buildup to Jay’s title run.