Bellator middleweight Jared Hess is about as tough as they come.
How many other people could go four rounds with Hector Lombard and then actually sign on the dotted line to have to go through three separate fights just to earn another shot at that beast of a man?
The talented Oklahoma wrestler seemed well on his way to doing just that in the season two middleweight tournament before a freak knee injury against Alexander Shlemenko not only cost him the fight but took a year away from his MMA career.
Hess returned to the cage this past April, choking out the significantly heavier Chris Bell in less than two minutes to punch a ticket to his third Bellator tournament. He'll be matched up against season two runner-up Bryan "The Beast" Baker in the quarterfinals this Saturday night (September 17, 2011) at Bellator 50 and the winner will likely be a favorite to win the whole tournament.
Hess spoke with MMAmania.com in part one of this five part Bellator middleweight tournament series about recovering from that brutal knee injury, his regrets and his expectations for the upcoming tournament.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I guess first thing's first, I want to talk about recovering from that knee injury. You hurt it really bad against Alexander Shlemenko. Can you talk about that recovery process and then coming back and fight against Chris Bell in your last Bellator fight?
Jared Hess: I have to thank my lucky stars for being able to even walk. The severity after talking to the orthopedic surgeon, the worst thing is I could have severed my artery there and lost my leg and it amputated. I could have also had nerve damage and had foot drop for the rest of my life. I was real fortunate that I didn't do more damage than what I did.
What actually happened is I completely tore my LCL and had a partial PCL tear. They took a cadaver ligament and replaced a new ligament and the recovery was tough. I had six months where I was pretty much doing rehab. I had three months of intense rehab and then I was able to wear a knee brace and could start moving around a bit more, stuff like that. When I ended up coming back and fighting Chris Bell, it was almost a year to the day. It was a struggle and I do think I'm a better person for it just to know that I went through that experience and I can come back from it. I'm excited to have a chance to get back in the tournament.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Were you ever worried that you could potentially never fight again?
Jared Hess: Oh yeah. At first, I just knew it was bad but I didn't know how severe it was. I've had LCL tears before but I didn't know it was completely torn. After talking to my orthopedic surgeon and actually having the surgery, it finally set in that this is gonna be a long process. This isn't gonna be a couple weeks. I was real worried. I always have a positive outlook on things and that is, "If I can do it, I will do it." I never really thought that I would never fight again but it was definitely something that was in the back of the mind. It toyed with me sometimes.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've talked to some people and they almost get "shell-shocked" or something when they have an injury like that. How long did it take you before you were comfortable planting on the knee and rotating on it, using it just as well as your other knee?
Jared Hess: I started wrestling on it and grappling and wrestling are my base so usually you tweak your knees sparring every day. I had a few instances where it tweaked again but there were no instances where I was really scared to do anything about it. What I was happy for in my last fight with Chris Bell was that I finished the fight with a triangle and that had to use my knee to the best of its ability to finish the choke. It's 100 percent.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One last thing about that. When you originally hurt it, you showed tremendous heart. It may not have been the smartest thing but even though you'd destroyed your knee, you actually got back to your feet and wanted to continue fighting. Was that just an adrenaline thing or was it your will to win?
Jared Hess: It was both, definitely both. A lot of people don't know but my knee actually popped and partially tore in the first round. I went back to my corner and told them that my knee popped and initially I thought it was my outside ligament and I didn't think it was completely torn. My manager asked me if I was ok and it wasn't a thing like excruciating pain or anything. I fought all the first round and all the second round and in the third round that was when he caught me with the knee to the face and my knee completely buckled and I went down. I knew then that it was bad but it was already torn so much that it didn't really hurt. I had this boost of adrenaline and I knew that I only had a couple minutes left and I felt that I was going to win the fight if we went to a decision. I knew I wouldn't have been able to continue to the finals but that extra $15,000 is pretty enticing. I wanted to get that and I didn't want to have a loss on my record. I thought maybe I could outlast him for a couple minutes and he wouldn't finish me so that's the reason why. I still felt that I could fight.
Now that I look back on it, if something like that ever happens again, I'll probably call the match. If I would have stopped fighting in the first round, it would have been just a pretty severe LCL tear and those usually heal on their own and I would have been out three months instead of a year. Just knowing my body and stuff like that, if something like that ever does occur again, I'm getting older and wiser and there's no doubt that I'd stop. In the long run, it probably wasn't worth it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're going into this tournament, the third Bellator middleweight tournament and you've fought in all three. Does that play into it at all?
Jared Hess: Oh yeah. I feel like I'm the veteran of Bellator. I've been there, done it and I'm excited. Hands down, I do believe that whoever wins this fight is going to be the winner of this tournament. On paper, I feel that me and Baker are two of the best fighter in this tournament. I feel good about the match-up and I'm just really excited to get started again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Perfect segway for me to ask about Bryan Baker. This is basically the runner-up of the first tournament facing the runner-up of the last tournament in the first round. That's almost unfair.
Jared Hess: Hands down, like you said, I think a lot of it is the match-up. We've both got the storylines of overcoming adversity with my knee injury and him fighting the chronic leukemia. They wanted to definitely make that big fight and I think other than Hector Lombard, this is probably my toughest fight I've ever had. I'm excited for the challenge and I can't wait to get in there and showcase what we can do.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What can you tell me about Bryan Baker? He's a pretty heavy-handed guy with a solid arsenal of submissions. What are you most concerned about going into the fight with him?
Jared Hess: Obviously his stand-up is pretty good but I can't really tell you what the guy was going through. He fought through that last tournament with cancer and beat the first two guys he fought in the first round. I thought he would get through Shlemenko too but obviously he did not. The only other loss he's ever had was to a really good wrestler in Chael Sonnen. I've inquired about that and watched the tape of that fight a bit. His hands can cause quite a bit of damage. I watched his last fights with Jeremy Horn and Joe Riggs and I think it's a great match-up. It's definitely his stand-up that I'm most worried about.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were an All-American wrestler in college and since you made the switch to MMA, you've just had this crazy finishing mentality. You are gonna either knock your opponent out or you're going to submit them. In fact, you've never won a fight by decision. What do you think makes it different about you than the typical wrestler that isn't as well rounded and may not be able to finish a fight.
Jared Hess: You know, my philosophy is, "The longer you stay in the cage with the 4 ounce gloves on, the more likely you'll get caught or get beat or submitted." I've heard people who want to get in there and get practice but that's BS. In MMA, anybody has a puncher's chance. The longer you stay in there, the better chance you have of getting tired and getting caught with a punch or a submission.
I train for three full rounds but I'm looking to get in there and get out. I'm not in there to mess around. My philosophy is to get in there, finish as quick as possible and move on. Especially with the tournament format, the longer you stay in there the more you'll likely get banged up. The faster you can get in there and get it done, the less time you'll have to spend recovering during your three week turnaround.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): A lot of fighters break down a fight in their heads thousands of times before it takes place. How do you see yourself winning this fight?
Jared Hess: It's funny. I'm more worried about his hands than anything but I've been really working on my hands. I've always dreamed of a knockout standing. I want to stay in his face, get after it and then get a takedown into a submission or score a ground and pound TKO. I just want to go in there and react and see where the fight takes me.
Jared would like to thank Lovato jiu-jitsu, Crossfit Native and his sponsors Lexani, Nearfall Clothing, and No Wimps for their support.
So what do you think Maniacs? Will Hess make an impact in this tournament and help erase that gruesome image of his last tournament fight out of your mind? Or will Bryan Baker be too tough of a task for his first round fight?
Be sure to check out these other interviews from our Bellator middleweight introductory series:
More info on Jared Hess: