Jay Hieron knows he's got a tough challenge ahead of him in Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.
The Bellator season four welterweight tournament winner didn't have an easy road to this title shot. He had to fight tooth and nail especially in his last two bouts, both razor thin decisions against the likes of Brent Weedman and Rick Hawn that caused heated debate between fans and media alike.
"The Thoroughbred" is a veteran of UFC, Strikeforce and was the IFL welterweight champion before the promotion shut its doors. He's got the experience to hang with and perhaps defeat the "Funky" undefeated Askren this Saturday night (October 29, 2011) in the main event of Bellator 56.
After over five hard months of preparation and allowing some nagging injuries to heal, Heiron tells MMAmania.com that he's finally back to 100 percent in this exclusive interview. He also explains Ben Askren's unique style of wrestling, tricks of the trade he's gleaned from Randy Couture and tells us how he expects the title fight to finish on Saturday night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your last two fights in the Bellator season four welterweight tournament, you were banged up pretty bad. How good does it feel to entering this title fight with Askren fully healthy?
Jay Hieron: It feels amazing. It's exactly what I wanted. It's how I prepared, twenty five minutes of grind. I had some tendinitis in my right arm and a slight concussion that I had to deal with in my last two fights. You can't really get healthy during the tournament when you're banged up because you're fighting so close and have another fight in a month. I was pretty rough but I'm good now. I'm 100 percent healthy. I'm ready to go and it's just a countdown now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you tell me about the benefits of training alongside someone who also won a tournament and is fighting for a title, Michael Chandler, he's doing the same thing with you at Xtreme Couture.
Jay Hieron: Yeah, it's great. He's definitely one of the realest, great up-and-coming fighters and he's got big things in his future and it's good to have him a part of the team.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I remember you had a quote where you said you learned from the example of Randy Couture about staying healthy. Can you mention anything specific that you've taken from him with keeping healthy as you get older?
Jay Hieron: Yeah, I mean, you've got to treat your body right. My body stays in shape when I'm not fighting because I stay in the gym, I stretch out right, I do the cold baths because once you beat your body up you've got to repair it too so I definitely learned from him to allow myself time to repair it as well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've never had a fight go past the third round before, with the way that Ben Askren fights and tends to draw these matches out, did you have to do anything special to work on your cardio for this upcoming fight?
Jay Hieron: Well, I fought in five round fights before when I won and defended the IFL title, I just didn't even let those fights go past the first round. I just prepared to be 100 percent and I feel like we peaked at the right time and everything went good in training. It's not about training harder, it's about training smarter so as I get older and I get more experience, I learn and I feel great. I can't wait until fight night.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I had an interview with Ben Askren and he was saying that the difference between a junior college wrestling champion and Division I national champion like himself was he could pin a junior college wrestling champion in 30 seconds. Do you think he's exaggerating the difference in skill level between the two?
Jay Hieron: Yeah. Well, first and foremost, this is not a wrestling match. I'm gonna be out there trying to punch him in his face so if he thinks this is a wrestling match then this is sadly mistaken and junior college wrestlers are just as good as Division I wrestlers, they just didn't have the grades in my case. I had a bunch of offers on the table for Division I, I just didn't have the grades.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You guys actually met each other at Bellator 40 when you fought on the same night. Did you guys rub each other the wrong way or is that just his perspective on the matter?
Jay Hieron: He's just a dick. That's it. That's the bottom line.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's short and sweet. Can you tell me the benefits of training alongside so many terrific wrestlers at Xtreme Couture? You've got guys like Gray Maynard and then the grappling coaches Neil Melanson and even BJJ guys like Vinny Magalhaes.
Jay Hieron: It's great for me. We've got great wrestlers, great fighters and I'm honored to be a part of it. I've been here since day one when they opened and I'm still there. I'm happy to be a part of the team and the team keeps getting better.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're a very patient fighter and I know that's something you pride yourself in. Do you think you might to push the pace more in this fight with Askren because in your last two you got forced to go backwards a bit?
Jay Hieron: I'm gonna fight my fight. That's what I'm gonna do. I'm focused on fighting. I'm an intelligent fighter. I'm a thinking fighter so I'm well-rounded and I'm confident going in.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've probably had plenty of time to observe Askren's wrestling style and I know people talk about how unique it is. What do you think makes it so "funky?" Is there anything really different about his wrestling style?
Jay Hieron: Yeah, you just hit the nail on the head. He's funky. That's what he brings to the table. A lot of guys have never seen a lot of his funky stuff before and they play into it so my job on fight night is to fight his funky style of fighting.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you elaborate how people play into his funky style? Do they just make footwork mistakes and allow him to get an advantage?
Jay Hieron: Yeah, they get a little overzealous, footwork stuff. In certain positions they try to scramble with him and he always ends up on top.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know your mother is your biggest supporter. Did she give you any special advice for this fight?
Jay Hieron: Yeah, she's always confident in me. She told me to go in there and do what I do. She's always got my back and it's great to have the support of your own mother like that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Last question I've got for you Jay is, how would you ideally like this fight to end on Saturday night?
Jay Hieron: Knockout, knockout. That's it. I'm coming with a vengeance.
Jay would like to thank the whole team at Xtreme Couture, all his sponsors and he asks all his fans to check him out on Saturday night. You can also follow Jay on twitter @JayHieron.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Hieron be able to make this more than a wrestling match against Ben Askren on Saturday night? Will his experience be the deciding factor or will he end up as just another of Askren's victims?