Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Calling Jay Hieron a journeyman mixed martial artist wouldn't be inaccurate. The 34-year-old middleweight has fought in nearly every major and notable regional promotion there is.
But it is sport's unique connotation of "journeyman" that Hieron, a two-time state finalist in wrestling at Freeport High School in the mid-1990s, prefers not be applied here.
"I definitely don't feel I'm a journeyman because I win fights," Hieron said. "When I come, I'm winning fights. It's just certain circumstances . . . I got organizations going bankrupt around me. Half the time it's not my fault."
Yes, Hieron wins fights. Nine straight, in fact. And right now, that streak and that journey leads Hieron to Newkirk, Okla., (population: 3,731) and the Bellator Season 4 welterweight tournament final on May 7. A win over Rick Hawn will guarantee Hieron (21-4) a title shot later this year against Bellator champion Ben Askren.
Titles, there's another thing this journey through 13 promotions in eight years has delivered and taken away from Hieron. He was the IFL champion when the league folded in 2008. He fought nine times in 23 months for the IFL, his longest run in one place.
He fought for Affliction in January 2009. Six months later, it folded. He went to Strikeforce, won two fights and was believed to be next in line for a title shot against Nick Diaz. That never materialized, like so many other things along the way for Hieron, who fought in the UFC twice, WEC, Titan FC and Ring of Combat, to name a few.
"I'm human, and I'm not going to say none of this stuff hasn't affected me, of course it has," said Hieron, a former All-American wrestler at Nassau CC. "But I always manage to find a way to push through. That's the story of my life. I've been through everything that a fighter can go through in his career and I'm still standing strong."
One's journey in life rarely begins at an expected starting point. But it's the origins of James Thomas Hieronymous that explain him. In movies, they call it a prequel. Only in real life, there is no big reveal, no denouement.
Instead, it's right there on his website -- "he tested positive for marijuana" and "he began dealing drugs before being charged with a felony."
In a technological age where incriminating or embarrassing photos hit Twitter and Facebook seemingly before the events they document actually happen, applaud Hieron for his transparency.
"That's the reality, that's how I changed my life," Hieron said. "That's how I got into fighting. If I hide that fact, it's not really who I am. I'm making a living, I'm doing what I love to do. Totally honest and it's great, so why hide it? If I can change some kid's life out there, that's great. I feel fulfillment from that."
Looking to let off some steam after his legal troubles in 2001, he says, Hieron walked into Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. There, he met trainer Keith Trimble.
Trimble didn't know Hieron outside of the positive test for marijuana and his removal from the Hofstra wrestling team. So, he tested the kid.
"I just made all crazy hours to see if he was dedicated and wanted to do what he said he wanted to do," Trimble said.
Hieron never missed a training session, regardless of the hour. In fact, he was always early, and within a month earned Trimble's trust. And it was Trimble in Hieron's corner for every fight until he moved to Las Vegas in 2004. The two still get along, and when Hieron is in New York, you can find him training right back in the place where it all started.
"Now," Trimble said, "we let him come in whenever he wants."