Jay Hieron carved out a pretty nice professional fighting career, competing in 30 bouts across all the notable MMA promotions, winning 23 of them and earning a world title along the way.
As a professional movie and television fighter, he hasn’t fared quite as well.
“I win some,” the Freeport-raised Hieron told Newsday. “It’s like 80/20. Eighty percent I lose, 20 percent I win.”
But even those losses work as wins for Hieron as he makes his way through Hollywood as a stuntman and actor. They are paychecks and resume builders, more than 120 credits to his name so far.
His latest L came two Saturdays ago when he fought Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal. This one was different, though. This one merged his past life with his current one. Gyllenhaal plays an MMA fighter in the remake of “Road House,” a 1989 movie about a bouncer played by Patrick Swayze who is hired to fix a rowdy bar.
“If I can't play a damn UFC fighter, I'm in the wrong business,” said Hieron, who fought four times in the octagon, including against Georges St-Pierre early in their careers.
So there Hieron was, inside the octagon during a break in between real fights for UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. A familiar setting for the fighter-turned-actor, and a moment the 46-year-old did not let go by unappreciated.
“This one was special to me,” Hieron said. “I fought a lot of A-list actors. And this one is just different because it's so close to home. It's like full circle.”
They only had a few minutes and one opportunity to capture much of what they needed since it was shot in the middle of a live event, with 19,000 thousand or so fans in attendance for the return of Jon Jones, the women’s flyweight title fight and a dozen other actual UFC bouts. For those fights, punches and kicks are supposed to land.
For Hieron vs. Gyllenhaal, or perhaps more appropriately, UFC middleweight champion Jax “Jetway” Harris vs. Elwood Dalton at UFC 222, those punches and flying knees are not actually supposed to land. They just have to look like they landed when it comes to the final edit.
It’s a unique dichotomy in such a setting, a live UFC event where a real crowd of ticket-buying people are there in large part to witness the real physicality of mixed martial arts.
"At a live event like that, we have zero control of fans, of cameras, of pictures, of time, so it makes everything more special,” Hieron said. “Shout out to Jake, he was on point. We pretty much had I think, six to eight minutes in the cage, if that. Everything had to go right.”
That includes the crowd’s reaction.
“We got a lot of love from the fans, which you know, you never know what you’ll get from UFC fans, because they want action and they'll boo a real blood-and-guts fight,” said Hieron. “So it was incredible just to get the reaction from them too.”
They filmed other fight scenes at the UFC Apex the day before, along with a weigh-in scene after the conclusion of the real UFC 285 weigh-ins. And yes, Gyllenhaal connected with Hieron with that slap during their staredown.
“That’s about as much acting as I want to do, ever,” UFC president Dana White said about his scene at the weigh-ins at his UFC 286 post-fight news conference. “It all went pretty smooth considering I don’t really like doing stuff like that.”
Hieron said he wore one of his old mouth guards for the fight sequence. He also credited Gyllenhaal’s performance in the scene, essentially a one-shot deal to capture the live environment to enhance the movie-watching experience. (No official release date has been set yet, just “2023.”)
For Hieron, it was just another A-list actor getting one over on him.
“Denzel, Jake, Chris Pratt, Vince Vaughn, I mean, bro, the list goes on,” Hieron said laughingly. “And Mexican actor and star Omar Chaparro, I did a boxing movie with him. . . . It’s all good, bro. I make that stuff look good. I do win some. But I lose a lot more.”
Add Randy Couture, a former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, to Hieron’s TV loss column. Hieron said the two worked together on the “NCIS: Los Angeles” series finale just before he shot the “Road House” scenes.
“I booked it and then they’re like, ‘Hey, do you know Randy Couture?’ And I'm like, really?” said Hieron, who trained at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas for years after moving from Long Island (where he trained at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy under Keith Trimble). “That's my big bro. They’re ‘like, ‘Well, you play opposite him.’”
The two-part series finale airs on May 14 and May 21.
“Me and Randy on that last episode, it was great,” Hieron said. “Another full circle. He got me into business back in the day.”