Even if Jay Hieron’s flight to Minneapolis this week included a layover in Siberia and a refueling stop in New Zealand, the path couldn’t have been any more circuitous than his journey back to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The 36-year-old Las Vegan finally makes his return to the organization tonight when he faces welterweight contender Jake Ellenberger at Target Center on the UFC on FX 5 card.
“I think everyone’s career has a different path they take, and mine took me left, right, up, down, but it’s all good because I’m coming back around, and I’m where I want to be,” the welterweight said. “I can’t explain that. I just feel like it’s a journey, not a sprint.”
Hieron has competed for now-defunct organizations such as Affliction and the International Fight League, where he was a champion, as well as Strikeforce and Bellator since he last appeared in the UFC octagon – when he lost to Jonathan Goulet as a result of a cut in 2005. His only other UFC bout was a knockout loss to Georges St. Pierre the previous year.
He has found plenty of success in mixed martial arts during his time away from the UFC. He is 16-3 since he last fought in the organization.
“I can’t say it’s been all down,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to make money as a professional fighter outside of the UFC. A lot of fighters don’t fight in the UFC, so they don’t make money. I can’t say I haven’t made money. I’ve made a living. Eleven years I’ve been pro. I’ve been blessed in that sense.”
Still, the UFC has been the carrot that always has been dangling in front of the New York native.
“It is tough, living in Vegas, living in the UFC’s hometown and seeing all these big cards all the time,” he said. “I had people ask me if I was an amateur fighter because I wasn’t in the UFC. I’ve had great runs, beaten top guys, but it just wasn’t my time. Either I was signed, or I was injured. It just never worked out for me to come back to the UFC, but I never got deterred. I had to take a different route, and now I am here. I appreciate it all so much.
“I feel like my career has taken me that way for a reason and made me mentally stronger to set me up to this point where I’m ready for it. I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t change anything in my life that I went through.”
Even his UFC return took longer than expected. Hieron was signed to fight Ellenberger at UFC 151 last month, the card that was infamously canceled a week out. That pushed the fight against Ellenberger back more than a month, but gave Hieron closer to a full camp when he had been scheduled to fight on short notice.
Hieron has a history with his opponent. He handed Ellenberger the first loss of his career in an IFL bout in 2006. He also cornered two Xtreme Couture teammates, Martin Kampmann and Mike Pyle, in recent fights against Ellenberger.
“I feel I know what Jake brings to the octagon as well as anyone,” Hieron said. “He’s a tough contender, I know. But whenever he thinks of his first loss, he thinks of losing to me, and that will be in his mind. He knows I can beat him because I’ve done it before. I taught him how to lose.”
The four-fight main card, featuring a main event heavyweight bout between Travis Browne and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, airs on FX (Cable 24) tape delayed at 8 p.m. A matchup between John Dodson and Jussier Formiga will determine the first challenger to newly crowned flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
The preliminary card will air live on Fuel TV (Cable 319) at 2 p.m.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509.