Jay Hieron knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
Throughout a 10-year, 30-fight MMA career, Hieron avoided any major injuries, and though he suffered four knockouts, he never dealt with any long-term effects when it came to brain damage or impaired cognitive function. For the past decade since retiring from MMA, Hieron has been busier than ever working as an actor and stuntman, which has earned him over 100 acting credits on his résumé.
While finding success in the film and television industry was the biggest part of his decision to leave fighting behind, the now 46-year-old former UFC fighter admits that his health definitely played a role in getting out when he did.
“I took some damage, I had some eye surgeries and of course broken hands, but nothing major, thank God,” Hieron said on The MMA Hour. “I’ve got 30 fights and I’m healthy. My mind is pretty good. I can remember lines. That was on my mind at the time I was making the decision, for sure. It’s a rough business. I think every time you go in there, you leave a little piece of yourself if it’s a dog fight in there. That’s the price we pay. But we all sign up for that.
“All my injuries, I’m cool with, but it’s a small window. You’ve got to know. I didn’t want fighting to retire me. I wanted to retire from fighting. I didn’t want to be holding on just for a paycheck and be that old dude fighting and washed up. I’ve got other, bigger passions.”
According to Hieron, it was UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture who first introduced him into doing acting and stunt work on major productions, and he actually started taking those jobs for fun while he was still active in his fight career.
As time passed, Hieron started fielding more and more offers to continue doing work on various films and television shows. While he was still holding out hope that he might return to fighting, he eventually saw the writing on the wall that it was time to move on.
“At that point, I was already fighting 11 years or so, and I made some decent money a couple years before that,” Hieron explained. “My last deal wasn’t the best and I kind of was like, I never wanted to have fighting retire me. I wanted to retire from it. I didn’t think [to retire] right then and there.
“I kind of sat back a little bit and just keeping the door open, see if any offer comes that sparks me up, gets me going, gets that fire burning again, and I started taking more jobs.”
After filming a role on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Hieron started to wonder if perhaps he had already found his future in front of the camera.
That made it that much easier to call it a career where fighting was concerned.
“I was just working and working and working, and I was like maybe I could make a living at this,” Hieron said. “The wheels started turning. I was already in the film business already a couple of years. I had worked but I was part-time. So I had to really get out there and network and let everybody know I’m full-time.
“But I was waiting to see if something would come up. PFL, those big tournaments, weren’t around then. I already fought every promotion, Bellator, UFC, Affliction, IFL. So I was just kind of taking a break and I didn’t announce it for a year. As time went on, I started getting more and more busy and I just felt my passion changing towards the film industry.”
These days, Hieron is still a fixture at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas whenever he’s in town and not traveling around the world for various film and TV productions.
Just recently, Hieron got the chance to return to his old stomping grounds at the UFC for a couple of scenes he shot opposite Jake Gyllenhaal for the upcoming Road House remake that also stars Conor McGregor.
Hieron couldn’t be any happier with the way his career turned out because he found so much success after he hung up his gloves for the final time. He understands it’s not so easy for other fighters, which is why so many continue competing when it might actually be a detriment to their long-term health.
Unfortunately, Hieron says it’s tough for any combat sports athlete competing at the highest level to seek out another career, especially when fighting is all they’ve ever known.
“It’s hard to tell somebody, ‘Have a backup plan,’” Hieron said. “For me, again, I wouldn’t say luck, but a little bit. But I took the opportunity and I ran with it, for sure, and I did the work.
“You have to stay ready for opportunities, but you should have something else going on if you can. But then again, you’re telling a guy that’s going in there to fight for his damn life, for his livelihood, to put food on his table, take care of his kids, to have something else going on. It’s hard. These guys are going to war.”