By Ben Fowlkes<!-- InstanceEndEditable --> <!-- InstanceBeginEditable name="Professional Fighting News" -->
L.A. Anacondas welterweight Jay Hieron knows exactly what his next opponent – the Seattle Tiger Sharks’ Brad Blackburn – is going through right now. Last month, Blackburn lost a razor-thin decision to the Red Bears’ Mark Miller in a match many thought Blackburn had sewn up.
The look of frustration and shock on his face when the decision was announced, the feeling of anxious expectation at getting back in the ring to prove himself more definitively the next time around – it’s all quite familiar to Hieron. He knows what it’s like because he’s been there.
Last November, Hieron lost the first match of his IFL career in a close three-round bout with Chris Wilson. It was a decision that could have propelled Hieron’s Anacondas past the Wolfpack and into the team finals, had it gone his way. It remains the only blemish of his IFL resume, and it’s one that still stings for him.
“It’s hard. You put so much into this one fight, and then if you lose it weighs heavy on your mind, especially if you feel like you got robbed,” Hieron said, commiserating with his future opponent. “But that’s the fight game. You’ve got to be able to put it behind you or it will eat you up.”
As Hieron knows from experience, that’s exactly what Blackburn will be hoping to do against him when the Anacondas meet the Tiger Sharks in Seattle on June 1st.
The match is crucial for the Tiger Sharks, who must win even to be considered for a playoff spot. The Anacondas may be in the driver’s seat with their 2-0 record, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to take the Seattle squad lightly, and Hieron knows it.
“I’m excited to fight (Blackburn),” said Hieron. “I think he’s one of the top guys, and I always want to fight the top guys.”
Looking at Hieron’s record, you can’t say he isn’t telling the truth when he says he wants to face stiff competition. He’s stepped in against some of the bigger names in the 170-pound division, including former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Hieron had only been a pro fighter for a little less than a year at that point, but it didn’t keep him from accepting a match with a top up-and-comer like St. Pierre.
Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Hieron got his start as a state wrestling champ in high school before moving on to become a junior college champion. He later attended Hofstra University, where he found himself headed for trouble with the law.
It was his pursuit of a pro fighting career that turned things around for Hieron, as he discovered a passion for boxing that he ultimately combined with his wrestling skills as a mixed martial artist.
Now Hieron is married and living in Las Vegas, where he trains with UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture. That is, when he isn’t busy training with the Anacondas.
Though their showdown with Tiger Sharks is still a month away, the Anacondas have already resumed their team training with new coach Shawn Tompkins in Temecula, Calif. Although former Anacondas coach Bas Rutten recently handed Tompkins the reigns, Hieron and other team members insist that the transition has been very smooth.
“The team hasn’t changed at all,” Hieron said. “The training is the same. Everything is the same. (Tompkins) has been training under Bas’ system for almost ten years, so he’s not going to do anything too different from that.”
Hieron added that the team training they are already undergoing for their June 1st match marks the longest period of time the Anacondas have ever been together consistently since the teams’ inception, perhaps a sign of how hungry they are for a title after narrowly missing last year’s IFL championships.
“(Seattle Tiger Sharks coach) Maurice Smith is a tough guy and his guys are going to be ready, but we’re on a different level right now,” Hieron said. “We’re taking it one fight at a time and not looking ahead, but we definitely want to win the whole thing.”
Hieron echoed the sentiments of other team members, as well as Tompkins, in saying team unity has played a significant role in their success.
“It’s like a family. We all have the same goals in mind. When you’re fighting you’re still out there alone, but after you’ve trained together it’s everybody’s blood, sweat, and tears poured into every match.”
For Hieron, the June 1st match is more than simply another team contest. It’s a chance to finish the regular season undefeated in IFL competition – a feat that will guarantee him a spot in the year-end individual Grand Prix, and a chance to win a welterweight title for himself in addition to the team title he’s hoping to reach with his team.
The man standing in his way may be trying to get back on track, but Hieron’s trying to stay firmly rooted to the winning track he’s been on ever since his own decision loss.
But, he added, the team as a whole will be looking to make a statement in their final match of the regular season.
“The Anacondas, we’re electric when we come out.”<!-- InstanceEndEditable -->