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Mixed martial artist turns to sport to escape trouble

MMA punching

Heather Cory

Mixed martial artist Jay Hieron works out at the punching bags at X-Treme Couture Gym on Oct. 3. Hieron is training for an upcoming fight, Night of Combat 2, at the Thomas and Mack Center.

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Training for an upcoming fight, mixed martial artist Jay Hieron jumps into a kick at X-Treme Couture Gym on Oct. 3. Hieron will be competing in Night of Combat 2 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Click to enlarge photo

Jay Hieron, a mixed martial artist, stretches out before beginning his training at X-Treme Couture Gym on Oct. 3. Hieron is getting ready for Night of Combat 2, a fight card at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Click to enlarge photo

Training for an upcoming fight, mixed martial artist Jay Hieron practices at the punching bags at X-Treme Couture Gym on Oct. 3. Hieron will be competing in Night of Combat 2 at the Thomas and Mack Center.

In 2003, Jay Hieron was at a crossroads in life.

After years of dealing drugs in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hieron had been arrested and was facing jail time. To escape the stress of a lengthy court process and the looming threat of a prison sentence, the former high school and junior college wrestling champion turned to mixed martial arts.

When the judge opted to give Hieron five years probation, Hieron felt like he had a new lease on life and decided to dedicate that life to the sport that had helped him through the rough times.

Today, Hieron, 32, a Summerlin resident, is the International Fight League welterweight champion and preparing for his next fight at Night of Combat II at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday.

"(Mixed martial arts) changed my life," Hieron said. "It was an outlet for me. It relieved my stress and let me get my mind focused on something. Before that, I was just looking for fast money and — coming from a not-so-good neighborhood — that was what I thought I wanted."

As a small but scrappy eighth-grader in Freeport, N.Y., Hieron got involved in boxing and moved to wrestling as a freshman in high school. He won the Nassau County Championship three straight years and won the Junior College National Championships as a sophomore at Nassau Community College.

After transferring to Hofstra and taking runner-up at NCAA Nationals as a junior, a positive drug test ended his collegiate career and Hieron said that sent him down the path that mixed martial arts would pull him back out of.

"MMA got that competitive drive going in me again," he said. "It took boxing and wrestling and working out — a lot of the stuff I loved — and put it all together for me. It was like it was made for me. I've been blessed to have great trainers who have helped me come a long way."

Since moving to Summerlin four years ago, Hieron has been training at X-Treme Couture on Sunset Road and Valley View Boulevard under trainer Shawn Tompkins.

"Because of his elite wrestling background and toughness, he started from a good spot," Tompkins said."

Tompkins said Hieron has proven himself to be a gym rat and said that dedication has helped him excel.

"He trains constantly," Tompkins said. "Most guys, after a fight, they take time off and eat wrong and lounge around. Most of the time I have to force Jay to take four or five days off. That's why he's always improving. I see him breaking into the elite level within the next year or so."

Night of Combat promoter Skip Kelp said Hieron is one of the top 10 welterweights in the world.

"It's awesome to have a guy like Jay on our card," Kelp said. "He's a phenomenal fighter and one of the most athletic guys in the game right now. "

For now, Hieron (15-4) has his sights set on Bryson Kamaka, his opponent at Night of Combat. Hieron, who has not fought since April 4, said he's ready for action.

"I don't take any opponent lightly but I know I'm ready to go," Hieron said. "I've been on the sidelines too long."

Jared Harmon can be reached at 990-8922 or [email protected].

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