Andre Galvao vs Luke Stewart
(Galvao and Stewart square off. Photo by Esther Lin, courtesy of Strikeforce.)

The starving artist is a cliché in San Francisco, Calif., but that’s exactly what Strikeforce welterweight Luke Stewart is. The difference between Stewart and countless others though—he’s hungry for a fight.

He expects that hunger to be satisfied when he returns to action after a 14-month layoff against World Jiu-Jitsu Champion Andre Galvao Friday night at Strikeforce Challengers VII from the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif.

“I had a year to refresh and be excited about fighting again,” said Stewart. “I was kind of waiting for that hungry feeling.”

The Ralph Gracie black belt was defeated by Joe Riggs in his most recent outing, a Nov. 2008 bout at “Destruction,” the event that closed the regional era of Strikeforce in favor of national exposure on Showtime. Purchasing EliteXC’s fighter contracts flooded the market so finding a fight was difficult. Initially eager, he welcomed the break to focus on his wrestling and stand-up game. When the time came, he called his manager to find him a fight.

“Strikeforce gave me four or five names. Four guys I never heard of, then one guy was really tough. I’ve always been the kind of guy that says give me the tough dude,” said the heavily tattooed San Franciscan. “I didn’t get into his sport to fight nobodies that I can beat on. I want a challenge. That’s what gets me into the gym everyday.”

And it’s easy to get to training because his business, Seventh Son Tattoo, is two blocks away from the gym. Stewart discovered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and tattooing the same year in 1999 after moving to San Francisco from neighboring Marin County in his late teens. The grappling community introduced him to tattoo artist. He hasn’t stopped inking people since. Even on fight week. His shop serves as a resting spot in between two-a-day training sessions.

“There’s only so much training you can do in a day. I feel like I have plenty of time to devote to other things,” said the 29-year-old. “I don’t want to be a totally one dimensional person. Tattooing and art are real important to me also, so I always want to be there.”

Stewart asserts a desire to fight is the only way to succeed in mixed martial arts. Trying to perform in the cage like he does in the gym, Stewart is confident in his newfound style as an aggressive top fighter unwilling to play a patient guard game will pay off.

It’s something he learned from the loss to Riggs, where his nose was broken in the second round. An illegal elbow on the ground prompted Stewart to look for the ref to intervene to no avail.

“I think I learned it’s a fight. It’s nothing else. It’s nothing less than a fight. It’s not a sport,” said Stewart, noting he’s armed with a finisher’s mentality. “I think I used to look at it too much like a sport. Coming from jiu-jitsu, you’re aware of the refs and the rules and all that.”

Stewart was one of the San Jose-based promotion’s most touted prospects prior to their expansion. He felt he didn’t deserve it at the time. That it was premature. But standing across from opposition like Galvao, someone he considers an honor to fight, he’s willing to fight on any stage as long as he expresses himself as a mixed martial artist.

“I’m really not doing this to be like famous or be, you know, the next freakin’ GSP or whatever. I enjoy the sport,” said Stewart. “I’m lovin’ it, loving training, loving fighting. I love pushing myself and challenges. I’m just taking it as it comes.”

Spoken like a true artist.


Once regarded as the weak link in the promotion’s chain, the Ultimate Fighting Championship now has four legitimate contenders for Brock Lesnar’s title in Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Minotauro Nogueira, future challengers Junior dos Santos and Roy Nelson, and a slew of young talent thanks to TUF Season 10.

But rival promotion Strikeforce’s prestige class is in a predicament. There’s champion Alistair Overeem who hasn’t fought in America since he won the title in Nov. 2007. Then there’s Fedor Emelianenko, the consensus #1 heavyweight in the world. Brett Rogers tested Fedor before suffering a second-round TKO, and Fabricio Werdum called ‘next’ for Fedor after topping Antonio Silva on the same card.

Then there’s Bobby Lashley, Mike Kyle, Daniel Cormier and Herschel Walker, who are all too green to present credible match ups with the best in the division. In between exists a talent gap, and with plenty of good fighters competing on the independent circuit, Strikeforce needs to reach out and build a bridge with a recipe of young lions and veterans with something left for add to its roster:

Wes Sims

(Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Sims is back in the spotlight, even if it’s just for one night and he’s expected to be chicken feed for Bobby Lashley. The three-time UFC veteran was formally, and finally, named Lashley’s opponent for Saturday night in Sunrise after two others fell through.
After Lashley, Sims will face former UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at the end of March. Few, if anybody, is giving Sims a chance, especially after his unremarkable run on “The Ultimate Fighter 10” when he was choked unconscious in the first round by Justin Wren. But Sims is only 30 and his class clown routine on the show kept his face on screen. He’s also riding a three-fight winning streak and is a veteran of two UFC battles with Frank Mir. If he at least survives against Lashley, Strikeforce may want to consider negotiating with him to at the very least add a recognizable name to its heavyweight camp.

Demico Rogers

(Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Rogers lost to Brendan Schaub during TUF 10 but shows enough potential that Rogers revealed on his Facebook page that Dana White left the door open to him once he gains more experience. Dream or Strikeforce could have served as a stepping stone but the Team Rampage member was encouraged to refine his game and accept up to six fights over the next year after joining Trevor Whitman’s Grudge Training Camp to train with rival coach Rashad Evans. Rogers returns to the cage Feb. 13 to fight Team Quest’s Dan Stewart (4-1) at the Snoqualmie Casino in suburban Seattle. “We are trying to get me as much experience as we can this year then we will see where I’m at,” Rogers said. “Hopefully the UFC and Strikeforce will want me!”

Jeff Monson


At age 39 Monson is a tough, blue-collar veteran who poses a challenge to anyone. The “Snowman” parlayed 14 straight victories into a second UFC stint that included wins over Branden Lee, Marcio Cruz and Anthony Perosh before dropping a five-round unanimous decision to champion Tim Sylvia. Subsequently, negotiations to fight then-PRIDE heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko fell through.
Monson has won eight of his last nine fights, most notably a controversial decision over Roy Nelson on Roy Jones Jr.’s hybrid boxing/MMA card “March Badness.” His failure to avenge a 2007 loss to Pedro Rizzo was his only defeat in ’09. Monson is the type of crafty and courageous warhorse who can put a scare into the Bobby Lashleys of the world.

Dave “Pee Wee” Herman

(Herman kicks Kerry Schall. Props to Esther Lin.)

Herman has traveled the world to compile a 16-1 record, including a 12-0 run to begin his career. reported last December that Herman may headline a Gameness Fighting Championship (GFC) card in Nashville on Feb. 20. His first-round knockout of Jim York at Sengoku 11 became a Knockout of the Year nominee on Inside MMA’s 2009 Bazzie Awards. A fledging organization needs hungry young talent eager to make their mark. Herman is a fighter that if successful Strikeforce can market around for a long time.

Justin Wren

(Justin Wren throws on Jon Madsen at the TUF 10 Finale.)

Another young lion who was dropped by the UFC after his split decision loss to Jon Madsen at the TUF 10 Finale despite his impressive TUF 10 win over Wes Sims and a controversial two round majority decision loss to Roy Nelson in the quarterfinals. Wren, now a member of the Greg Jackson’s Denver contingent, could make the UFC regret its decision if Strikeforce comes calling.

Honorable Mentions

Josh Barnett

(Props to Esther Lin.)

The biggest name and most accomplished fighter on the market is dogged by the positive drug test that doomed his title bout against Fedor and effectively shuttered Affliction. He’s scheduled to appear before the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), an appointment already postponed twice, on Feb. 22 to reapply for his license. Strikeforce would love him, but there’s no telling if he’ll fight again in the U.S.

Aleksander Emelianenko

(Props to Tracy Lee.)

Fedor’s little brother is a legit heavyweight in his own right, has a large and loyal fan base of his own, and boasts a fan-friendly style. The only problem is that he’s unable to get sanctioned by the CSAC over undisclosed problems with his blood tests leading up to his Affliction bout with Paul Buentello. The younger Emelianenko, who boasts an impressive canvas of Russian mob tattoos, is rumored to carry Hepatitis B, which would end his career in the U.S. Even if that turns out to not be the case it may be impossible for Strikeforce to sign Aleksander because he is persona non grata to the company’s promotional partner, M-1 Global – Aleks left Fedor’s camp and M-1 officials refuse to discuss him on the record or off.


(Do you wanna be a f***in’ global magnate?)

Dana White dropped a bomb on the mixed martial arts industry and community Sunday when he announced that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce. The UFC President been critical of the promotion before (see: Strikefarce) and reversed course quickly before as well (see: Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture). But while those close to the company were talking openly about the purchase for weeks, White & Co. managed to keep a lid on the deal until today and his announcement left MMA fans and pundits momentarily speechless. That moment was fleeting as people started weighing in on issues ranging from whether or not there would be UFC vs. Strikeforce superfights and if the companies would exchange fighter contracts. While these are valid questions, the conversation is focusing too much on immediate implications while ignoring the underlying causes for and far-reaching consequences of the purchase. So I humbly offer my analysis of why this deal went down and what it means for the fight game.

White mentioned several times in the 20-plus minute long interview that if UFC is to seriously pursue it’s plan for global expansion it needs more fighters, more staff, etc. On it’s face, the deal seems to offer Zuffa little in this regard; Strikeforce has never promoted a show outside of America and while it does have a number of noteworthy fighters under contract, its roster is quite limited compared to that of UFC. What Strikeforce can offer is access to Japanese fighters and close ties to influential figures in the flagging Japanese MMA industry. It’s no coincidence that as Japanese MMA is crumbling – DREAM have yet to announce a show and World Victory Road all but announced the end of its Sengoku series – Zuffa acquires an American MMA promotion that has close ties to K-1 and DREAM promoter Fighting and Entertainment Group. White’s blunt, macho approach plays well in the Middle East and the America’s, but he acknowledges that working in Japan has been problematic. In Coker, Zuffa now has a representative who can smooth ruffled feathers in the Land of the Rising Sun, and it can use Strikeforce as a neutral advance party to establish a foothold for live events in Japan. Add in the fact that Strikeforce can bring marketable Japanese stars like Satoshi Ishii (#21 Heavyweight), Shinya Aoki (#4 Lightweight), Tatsuya Kawajiri (#10 Lightweight) to the table and Zuffa will be able to make a much softer landing in Nippon.

Another point that White stressed during the interview was that the UFC and Strikeforce would continue to operate separately, even negotiating against each other for the same fighters. While this may be true for the term of Strikeforce’s current broadcast agreement with Showtime, White will not hesitate to pull the trigger on any decision that serves UFC’s short, medium, or long-term goals. If we learned anything from Zuffa’s ownership of WEC, it’s that the company will tolerate brand confusion among consumers as long as it serves a purpose. To test the market for sub-155# weight classes, for example, or produce shows in tertiary markets that can’t support UFC shows, or tie up air time on cable channels that are interested in broadcasting MMA. But at the end of the day, UFC is such a dominant brand that a majority of fans never really knew what WEC was, just as many fans of “UFC fighting” don’t know what a Strikeforce is or what it does. It’s naive to think that we’re more than a few years away from eulogizing Strikeforce as Zuffa transfers the fighters and staff it wants to UFC and retires the brand to the realm of nostalgic t-shirts.

The greatest long-term consequence of the dealt may be the disappearance of the MMA middle class, so to speak. There will be countless local shows, an amalgam of regional promotions airing on HDNet Fights, Bellator, and UFC, exponentially larger than any of its competitors, if you can really call them that. Fans are already speculating about the future of marquee fighters like Nick Diaz (#6 Welterweight), Paul Daley (#10 Welterweight), and Josh Barnett (#6 Heavyweight), and Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson (#2 Light Heavyweight), each of whom ran afoul of the UFC while under its employ. But no amount of personal animosity will prevent White & Co. from making a deal if the money makes sense, and frankly, everyone has a price. When the UFC is the only big show in town, a lot of fences will be mended. Either that or there will be a lot of people left out in the cold.

The purchase should also eventually allow Strikeforce’s world class talent to compete under the UFC umbrella. Dream matchups for Gilbert Melendez (#3 Lightweight), Ronaldo Souza (#3 Middleweight), Gegard Mousasi (#8 Light Heavyweight), Mo Lawal (#11 Light Heavyweight) as well as Fabricio Werdum, Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, DREAM Heavyweight Champion, and K-1 Grand Prix Champion Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, and Fedor Emelianenko – #2, #3, #4, and #9 respectively in FIGHT!’s Heavyweight Rankings – can be made on UFC cards and seen by millions world wide. Soon enough, there won’t be discussions about whether or not Melendez or Overeem can hang in the Octagon, because the proof will be in the pudding.

Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce probably left a number of fighters, managers, and fight promoters with a queasy feeling. MMA’s monolithic entity just got bigger by subtraction, removing it’s largest competitor from the field for the second time in the last five years. But if White’s statements about how his personal problems with M-1 Global and Showtime won’t prevent Zuffa from having healthy relationships with them is any indication, we might be witnessing the start of an era in which the UFC President picks his public battles more judiciously. With guys like Lorenzo Fertitta, former WEC exec Reed Harris and Strikeforce honcho Scott Coker playing diplomat to White’s gunslinger, the Baldfather will be free to act as the charismatic, fan-friendly face of the organization and Zuffa will be able to make deals with anyone, regardless of prior history or personal animosity. Agents, managers, and fighters will lose a lot of leverage when negotiating deals, but fans are always of two minds about fighter pay; every fan wants a fighter get his or her due, but only a small number of us get behind fighters when their contract disputes keep us from getting the fights we want to see.

Of course this is all speculation and only time will tell how the deal will shake out and what effect it will have on the sport. But based on the UFC’s recent history and current trajectory, it’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing more fights in more places (both geographically and in terms of video delivery). We may see a further homogenization of the sport but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Excepting Major League Baseball’s outfield walls and the trapezoidal international basketball lane, all of the major sports are played in spaces with identical dimensions. Consistent rules, venues and branding are essential for the sport’s continued rapid growth and the continued disintegration of Japanese MMA and Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce set the stage for that.


(Jay Hieron swings on Jesse Taylor in his Strikeforce debut.)

Michael Huang’s profile of Jay Hieron first appeared in the Aug. 2009 issue of FIGHT! Magazine. Hieron will fight Joe Riggs on Jan. 30 at Strikeforce: Miami.

When the walls that surround you are covered in shit, that might be a sign you’ve hit rock bottom. For Jay Hieron, his entire world had atrophied to a tiny cinderblock jail cell. The sink was more like a urinal, and there was no mattress on his bed, just coils of rusty bed springs spiraling up like thorns.

And the stench! Someone had smeared shit all over the walls. The floor was probably venomous. On those rusty coils, he curled up into a ball in his orange jumpsuit and tried to sleep. The springs creaked and lurched underneath him. He could see his own breath. Thanksgiving had just passed. He pictured being back at his mom’s house, maybe having some pasta and her homemade Italian sauce he loved so much.

The thing about jail was it gave a man time to think. And there was plenty going through Hieron’s mind: the decisions he had made, the things he had done. The drugs he had used, the drugs he had sold. And while all the trappings of fast money—cars, booze, women, parties— made him think he was living life, in fact the real Jay Hieron had already died.

Gone was the skinny kid who sat with his wrestling coaches for hours after practice and during his lunch period at school watching wrestling videos. The gutsy kid who learned how to fight because neighborhood bullies beat him up now got into fights on Pearsall Avenue just for the hell of it. Though he had not yet fallen asleep, Jay Hieron had his wakeup call. Indeed, the real Jay Hieron was about to be resurrected.


Brazilian Delson Heleno had to be carried out of the ring on the shoulders of his trainer. The International Fight League had done away with its team format and thrown its belts up for grabs amid the four best fighters in each weight class in a Grand Prix tournament. After dismantling Donnie Liles one month earlier, Hieron punished Heleno on December 29, 2007, to capture the IFL Welterweight belt.

Heleno’s leg injury looked like the product of Hieron’s repeated outside and inside kicks. When Heleno crumpled, he tried to pull Hieron into a full guard. No chance—not with an injured left leg. Hieron rained down punches until the referee stopped the fight and pulled him off. He then climbed over the ring corner and raised his arm in victory.

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” Hieron said. “It was like all the sacrifices I had made were all worth it. I dedicated that fight to my father, John, who had passed away. He was sick leading up to the fight.” The victory served as the early pinnacle of Hieron’s metamorphosis from scared little kid to dominant high school and college wrestler, then to drug dealing street thug, and finally to IFL world champion. It was an arduous journey, but one that Hieron said needed to happen.

“When I got into wrestling, it gave me focus and something to pour all of my anger and energy into. It saved my life,” he said. “When I got into mixed martial arts, fighting and combat saved my life again.” However, after Hieron defeated Mark Miller by TKO in New Jersey, four months after winning his championship, the IFL went out of business, and Hieron was out one title belt.


The home of Theo and John Hieronymous had plenty of extra love. Adoption was nothing new to them, having already taken in a little girl. They befriended a young Coney Island woman who was having trouble caring for her new baby. Theo and John, meet baby James. “Jay was eight weeks old when we got him,” Theo said. “His mother really wanted to take care of him but was so set in her abusive lifestyle, she couldn’t change. We eventually went to court after eight years and they terminated her rights. We could officially adopt him. It was the happiest day of my life.

The family lived in Freeport, a town on Long Island’s southern shore. Theo worked as a nurse on the graveyard shift, while John owned a fender and body shop in nearby Oceanside. When Hieron was ten, Theo and John divorced, forcing Theo to move to a rental property the family owned and lease out their primary residence. Freeport had its relatively affluent parts, but it also had its thorny parts, such as its northern edge, where Theo had moved with her kids. There, one either learned how to fight or learned how to run.

An 85-pound James Hieronymous learned the latter. His anger and frustration welled up inside, locked in by his fear. “I was mad at myself, really,” Hieron said. “There always was a bunch of kids picking on me; it was never just one guy. Before you knew it, it was fi ve on one.”

Even more humiliating was standing at the local 7-11 waiting for his older sisters to come walk him home. From his sisters Barbara, Cindy, and Suzie, there was no tough love, just love. They didn’t leave him out there to fend for himself, but he never escaped without a little bit of teasing. As Hieron was a naturally hyperactive youngster, his anger fueled his engine. And that kinetic energy needed to get out. Sliding down all of the banisters in his house just wasn’t cutting it.

While he remembered his father being a huge boxing fan, it was the martial arts that first intrigued him. “My dad loved Sugar Ray Leonard,” Hieron said. “But I always loved Bruce Lee. I’d sit in my room and beat up on my pillows, doing kicks and karate chops.”

At thirteen, he began experimenting with boxing at the Police Athletic League. The first taste electrified him. However, the gym was nearly a half an hour away. Getting there became just too difficult. But that electricity stayed with him. So a year later, when he entered high school, Hieron decided to join the wrestling team. “[The high school] was a tough place,” he said. “It was learn to defend myself or keep getting beat up.”


“He was in my gym class as a ninth grader,” said Freeport High School head wrestling coach Russ Cellan. “His name was so long, I couldn’t pronounce it. Then he came out for the wrestling team.” Cellan was amazed at Hieron’s physique. There was nothing—nothing but a thirst for knowledge.

“He was just a little guy, like ninety pounds. There was not an ounce of fat or muscle. But he’d say ‘Coach, show me moves.’ Anything. You’d see that in his wrestling style—always aggressive. He’d give up points, but he’d get them back.” Hieron took to wrestling like a thirsty man gulping down a glass of ice water. An eventual high school state championship gave way to a national junior college championship at Nassau (NY) Community College. In between, Hieron had a brief stint at an Iowa junior college, with hopes of transferring to the University of Iowa, but he returned home after one semester.

Hieron later found his way to nearby Hofstra University and ascended to be the third-ranked wrestler in the country at 158 pounds. What happened next set off a chain reaction of decisions that derailed his life. “I got busted for smoking weed, and Hofstra had a new rule that if you got tested positive, you were out for the season,” Hieron said. “I was a knucklehead, and the funny thing was it was nobody’s fault except mine, but I was mad at wrestling. Mad at the school. Mad at everything.”

That anger manifested itself in late-night brawls on Pearsall Avenue. Combat continued to be his outlet, marijuana and cocaine his pacifier and a source of income. The James Hieronymous who had won championships on the mat forsook it all—throwing his trophies, medals, and plaques all in the garbage. At one point, good friend and wrestling teammate Phil Baroni tried to interest Hieron in mixed martial arts. Baroni was fighting in Toughman competitions and in some amateur boxing matches. He brought Hieron to Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. Baroni asked owner/trainer Keith Trimble if Hieron could spar with someone.

“Phil, your friend hasn’t done any training,” Trimble said. “Jay’s a tough guy, a great wrestler. He can handle it,” Baroni said. “I wouldn’t let Jay spar unless I taught him a couple of things first,” Trimble said. “So I taught him some jabs, then I let him get in there. Basically, he sparred with my guy for about eleven minutes, and my guy bloodied up Jay pretty good. After that, Jay disappeared. I didn’t see him for two years.”


Unlike players in other sports, like baseball, football, and basketball, wrestlers had no “real” professional options until the rise of MMA. In other words, there was no money in wrestling. “I had all my friends from high school chasing their dreams—Morlon Greenwood (NFL linebacker) and Speedy Claxton (NBA guard). And what did I get out of wrestling? I got thrown off the team. So I said I was going to go and make some money.”

And make money he did, amassing a fleet of cars, motorcycles, jet skis, and four-wheelers. The focus and energy that Hieron had put into wrestling he applied with the same zeal to dealing drugs. And he succeeded by being smart. He kept a store of cash in case of an emergency. “Drug dealers don’t usually think that way,” he said.

After two years of dealing drugs, an internal clock in his head said that his luck was running out. Dealers and customers he knew had gotten pinched. He was looking for a way out, but the realization had come too late. It was just after Thanksgiving. Local authorities had already come by Theo’s house once looking for Jay. Hieron’s lawyer—funded by his store of cash—laid out the situation: A-2 felony, mandatory three years to life. He turned himself in, donned his orange jumpsuit and, for a month and a half, found himself in a world of shit.

“I took a look in the mirror before I turned myself in,” Hieron said. “I didn’t like what I saw. And, honestly, the whole time I was dealing drugs, I never liked the fact I was doing it. But I liked the money. It [getting arrested] was one of the best things that could have happened to me.” His mother put up her house to bail him out. “I gave them the deed to my house,” Theo said. “Basically, if he took off, I would lose the house. But I knew that Jay would never do that to me.”


Though he was out of jail, Hieron found himself still shackled by indecision. Where he was terrorized by bullies as a child, he now found idle hands to be his worst enemy. The anger had returned, and the only release he knew was working out. He found himself back at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.

“Jay came back and asked if he could just come and work out, use the weights,” Trimble said. “After about a week, he came up to me and said ‘I want to fight. Can you teach me how to fight?’” Trimble was familiar with Hieron’s background as an accomplished wrestler. He was also familiar with Hieron’s checkered past. “I was thinking at fi rst this kid’s full of shit. He’s not going to show up, he’s a troublemaker,” Trimble said. “So I would give him weird times to be at the gym, but he was always there every day, ready to train.”

Hieron first learned how to strike and punch, competing in several Muay Thai and kickboxing competitions before even venturing into MMA. “Jay basically lived at the gym,” Trimble said, echoing Cellan. “He lived to learn, always asking questions. His work ethic is unbelievable. There would be times where I would lock up his stuff and tell him to take a couple days off. So what did he do? He’d go in the back room and watch tapes.”

“Those old films just got the competitive juices flowing again,” Hieron said. “It got those hairs standing up again.” Hieron’s striking skills improved and sharpened. Trimble then taught him how to avoid submission holds before teaching him how to apply them. Quickly, Hieron knew both.

Meanwhile, Hieron’s court proceedings resumed. He pleaded guilty, so the charge was reduced to a “B” felony, meaning a possible maximum mandatory six-month jail sentence.

Hieron collected several character testaments from Cellan and other wrestling coaches who confirmed that he was a decent kid who had just made some bad decisions. The judge came back with the verdict: Five years of probation and no jail time. By July 19, 2003, Hieron had his first MMA fight.

In a high school gym in Bayonne, New Jersey, Hieron, with Baroni and Trimble in his corner, ground-and-pounded Keith Plate. By 1:23 in the first round, the referee called a stop to the fi ght by way of TKO. “I fought on emotions, basically,” Hieron said. “It was a blur, but it felt good. The sport was my life now.”


If Iowa didn’t appeal to Hieron, perhaps he just hadn’t gone far enough west. At one point, Baroni had a fight in Las Vegas and asked Hieron to accompany him. For Hieron, watching the fights in Vegas was an epiphany.

“I came to Vegas, and that really opened my eyes,” Hieron said. “I saw guys like Tito Ortiz training, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ This is what I want to do.” Hieron came to the conclusion that Las Vegas was where he needed to chase his MMA dreams. Only one problem: his probation officer.

After having requested twice that his probation be transferred to Las Vegas, Hieron took a leap of faith, and he and girlfriend, Maira, moved out west. After three months, Hieron returned to find his probation officer sympathetic to his plight and confi dent in his turnaround. He only asked Hieron for a monthly report from Las Vegas on his progress.

Today, Jay Hieron is 17-4, riding a six-fight winning streak, most recently pounding Jason High in late January. He married Maira. He changed his ring name from Hieronymous to Hieron because he’s too proud of it to have it butchered by ring announcers. He works and trains for Xtreme Couture and is signed with Affliction, awaiting that next fight card. Resurrection complete.

“There was a time in my life when I fell down,” Hieron said. “Now I don’t take my life for granted. I lived two separate lives—one as a bad guy/drug dealer and the other as a fighter. I’ve got a second chance. I won’t waste it.”


(Hendo celebrates. Photo by Esther Lin for

At FIGHT! Magazine, we believe there is a need for a completely objective and unbiased ranking system for fighters to replace the myriad subjective rankings that have become skewed, in many instances, by fighter popularity. In an effort to address this issue FIGHT! Magazine brings you its computerized rankings system which takes into account a fighters strength of opponent, strength of performance, and frequency of activity. Go here for a detailed explanation of how FIGHT!’s rankings work.

Multiple belts were up for grabs in Columbus, Ohio and Moscow on Saturday and eight welterweights started their pursuit of another in Lemoore, Calif. There was a lot of movement in our rankings so lets get to it.

The biggest card of the weekend was Strikeforce: Feijao vs. Hendo. The card, which featured a championship fight at Light Heavyweight as well as a Women’s 135-pound title tilt, was held in conjunction with the annual Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. In the main event, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante defended his title against PRIDE great and UFC veteran Dan Henderson. The challenger came in as a favorite and took the belt by TKO, creeps up from #3 to #2 in the Light Heavyweight Rankings while “Feijao” slips from #12 to #14. Strikeforce now has a popular, recognizable American champ at #205, setting up possible challenges from former champs Gegard Mousasi (#8) and former Henderson training partner Mo Lawal (#11).

Strikeforce Women’s 135-Pound Champion Marloes Coenen defended her title with a fourth round submission victory over Liz Carmouche. Carmouche had the fight won on the scorecards before getting finished and will likely place well when FIGHT! publishes its women’s rankings later this year.

Adrift in the division and having increasing difficulty finding opponents, Tim Kennedy moved from #28 to #25 in the Middleweight Rankings after submitting KO artist Melvin Manhoef, who fell from #73 to #78. If Kennedy isn’t going to get a rematch with Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Ronaldo Souza (#3) anytime soon then Strikeforce needs to give him a quality opponent and fast. The promotion has depth at 185 with “Mayhem” Miller (#18), Siyar Bahadurzada (#21) – if they can ever get his visa issues sorted out – Robbie Lawler (#24), and Luke Rockhold (#32). If they have to reach outside of the organization, Paulo Filho (#16), Denis Kang (#17), Tom Watson (#31), and Matt Horwich (#38) are out there. Bottom line, keep your guys busy, Strikeforce.

The other noteworth match ups on the card took place at lightweight, where perennial “Challenger” Billy Evangelista took on new Strikeforce signee Jorge Masvidal. “Gamebred” outlasted Evangelista, jumping from #65 to #42 in the Lightweight Rankings, while Evangelista fell from #70 to #100. On the undercard, UFC vet Jorge Gurgel vaulted from #162 to #76 with a quick submission win over unranked Billy Vaughn.


Across the country in Lemoore, Calif., Bellator 35 kicked off the promotion’s fourth season with four welterweight tournament qualifier match ups and a 125-pound, non-title super fight between Bellator Women’s 115-Pound Champion Zoila Frausto and Karina Hallinan. Again, when FIGHT! publishes our women’s rankings later this year, Frausto will likely be at or near the top of the heap at 115 pounds.

Jay Hieron was and is the highest-ranked fighter participating in the tourney, but he actually slipped a spot in the Welterweight Rankings, from #18 to #19, after taking a controversial submission victory over Anthony Lapsley. This is due to guys leapfrogging him in the top 20. His value remains unchanged, but he’ll need strong performances against highly-ranked fighters to gain ground. Lapsley actually moved up one spot, from #71 to #70, again because of the movement occurring around him.

Inaugural Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman Good held on to his #40 ranking following a decision win over former unranked Chris Lozano. Lozano entered the rankings at #92 after the fight.

Former Bellator tournament finalist Dan Hornbuckle lost an unpopular decision to Brent Weedman, falling from #60 to #105, while Weedman climbed from #92 to #47 with the win. In the final quarterfinal bout, judoka’s Rick Hawn and Jim Wallhead kickboxed to a decision with Hawn entering the rankings at #76 following his win.

(Gugenishvili defeats Grishin. Photo courtesy of M-1 Global.)

Two belts were on the line in Moscow at M-1 Challenge XXIII. M-1 Global Welterweight Champion Shamil Zavurov dispatched challenger Tom Gallicchio early, moving from #34 to #23 in the Welterweight Rankings with the win, while Gallicchio falls from #57 to #73. In the other title tilt, M-1 Heavyweight Champion Guram Gugenishvilli took out Maxim Grishin and jumped from #36 to #22 in the Heavyweight Rankings. Grishin slid from #41 to #58.

Several other noteworthy fighters, including two UFC vets, competed on smaller stages this weekend. Jens Pulver headlined Chicago Cagefighting Championship and took a split decision from unranked Wade Choate and continued to slide in the Featherweight Rankings, falling from #74 to #81. At Bantamweight, Chase Beebe moved from #63 to #55 with a win over unranked Steve Kinnisen. Felice Herrig also picked up a win on the card and will likely place well when we publish women’s rankings later this year.

In Liverpool, England, OMMAC 9: Enemies was headlined by Zelg Galesic, who moved from #67 to #41 in the Middleweight Rankings with a win over previously unranked Lee Chadwick. Chadwick entered the rankings at #140 following the loss.

At the Route 66 Casino in Albuquerque, Keith Jardine put away Aron Lofton, moving up to #54 in the Light Heavyweight Rankings with his win over Aron Lofton – Lofton slipped to #110. Former boxing champ Holly Holm made a successful pro MMA debut on the card as well.


(Overeem drops UFC vet Todd Duffee with a short left to take the DREAM Heavyweight Championship on New Year’s Eve. Check out the full gallery here.)

While injuries, unexplained layoffs, and legal problems have put most of the UFC’s meaningful heavyweight fights in limbo for the time being, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is making hay while the sun shines. Yesterday, Strikeforce, M-1 Global, and Showtime Networks officially announced the quarterfinal match-ups of the much-rumored Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. The tournament, which will take place over several events throughout the year, features five fighters in the top 10 of FIGHT!’s Heavyweight Rankings, and seven in the top 25.

The first event will air live on Showtime from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Feb. 12, 2011, and will feature former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko (#2 Heavyweight) vs. Antonio Silva (#10) and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski (#27) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (#16). No other fights from the card have been rumored or announced at this time.

The other two quarterfinal bouts, which will take place at a yet-to-be-determined event this spring, will feature Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1 Grand Prix Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem (#4) vs. Fabricio Werdum (#3) and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett (#6) vs. (Brett Rogers (#14).

“Strikeforce is home to the best heavyweight division in the world,” Scott Coker is quoted as saying in the press release. “The athlete who runs the gauntlet in a tournament such as this would have to be considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world.”

It is unclear at this time whether Overeem’


There was a time, before the Heavyweight division was chock full of muscle bound monsters, that a Belarusian fighter by the name of Andrei Arlovski was the talk of the town. “The Pitbull” dominated the Heavyweight division from 2002 – 2005 and excited fans with his brutal finishes. But since the UFC (and MMA in general) began to make a move into the mainstream, Arlovski has had a rough fall from grace. It’s unfortunate that many were not able to see Arlovski in his prime but perhaps the boxing tactician from Minsk will redeem himself at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery against Antonio Silva on May 15. Until then, let’s take a look at some of Arlovski’s most memorable and not so memorable moments during his extensive MMA career.


UFC 51: 2/5/05
Win Vs Tim Sylvia: Submission (Heel Hook) – 0:47 Rd 1

After a 2004 motorcycle accident sidelined Heavyweight champion Frank Mir and led to the creation of the interim title, it was decided that Andrei Arlovski and former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia would battle at UFC 51 to determine the holder of the belt.

The 6’8” “Maine-iac” looked to be a huge mountain for Arlovski to climb, but the sambo master was more than up to the task. Even though he was outweighed by 25 pounds, Arlovski took the fight right to Mount Sylvia. With Mir, Goldie and Rogan discussing the difficulties with Sylvia’s size, Arlovski found the answer in his mighty right hand. As Sylvia waded in, Arlovski tossed a left hand and followed with a crushing right hand that chopped Sylvia down. Rather than attempt to pummel the big man, Arlovski scrambled for Sylvia’s right leg and locked in a tight heel hook that gave the former champ no choice but to tap out.

UFC 55: 10/7/05
Win Vs Paul Buentello: KO (Punch) – 0:15 Rd 1

If you blinked you missed it. The commentary team of Joe Rogan and Eddie Bravo certainly did.

Paul Buentello had become a walking wrecking ball as he approached his fight with Arlovski for the Heavyweight title. He had finished off his past six opponents – five in the first round – and looked nearly unstoppable heading into the sure –to-be stand up brawl with Arlovski.

As Buentello rushed in at the opening bell, the champion shellacked him with a straight right hand that put “The Headhunter” to bed instantly. Buentello fell forward, only being held up by Arlovski’s back – which he was momentarily using as a futon to catch some much needed Z’s – before finally falling to the ground at the :15 mark of the first round. It happened so fast that the whole arena fell silent as Rogan asked “What happened?” before Arlovski jubilantly screamed in victory. The crowd booed lustfully at what transpired, perhaps thinking Buentello took a dive, until they saw the replay.

“People are yelling bullsh*t, but there’s no bullsh*t in that right hand,” Rogan said.


EliteXC: Heat: 10/4/08
Win Vs Roy Nelson: KO (Punch) 1:46 Rd 2

In Arlovski’s debut in the now defunct EliteXC, he was paired up with former IFL Heavyweight champion Roy Nelson after the Affiliction event pitting him against Josh Barnett was rescheduled. Nelson was on a five fight winning streak after losing to Ben Rothwell a year prior. Arlovski was fresh off of a third round KO of Rothwell and was in the midst of a four fight winning streak entering the cage.

Arlovski found himself in a bit of trouble early on as a failed takedown attempt left the big bellied fighter from Las Vegas on top of “The Pitbull.” The jiujitsu brown belt kept Arlovski fighting off one arm lock after another before referee Jorge Ortiz stood them back up. As the two exchanged strikes toward the end of the first, “Big Country” seemed to be tiring rather quickly.

A minute into the second, the Belarusian landed a straight right hand and a left head kick that rocked Nelson. Arlovski would then go to work as he followed an inside leg kick with a nasty uppercut and a straight right hand that sent Nelson crashing to the mat. It would be the first and only time that Nelson has been knocked out.


UFC 59: 4/15/06
Loss Vs Tim Sylvia: TKO (Strikes) 2:43 Rd 1

When Sylvia and Arlovski met for a second time at UFC 59 in Anaheim, Ca, it didn’t appear that too much had changed since their first meeting 14 months previous. Arlovski had wiped out both Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello with first round KOs while Sylvia had bounced back from his loss with three consecutive wins. Sylvia, however, seemed to be more focused than their first meeting. He was in great shape and wanted to prove that “The Pitbull” wasn’t the indestructible fighter that he appeared to be.

Many figured that in order for Sylvia to have a chance against Arlovski, he would have to drag the fight to the ground where the Belarusian spent very little time during his UFC tenure. A clean shaven Arlovski entered the cage, and perhaps he needed his beard to protect his glass jaw on this night.
Arlovski started off showcasing his impressive boxing skills as he plucked away at “The Maine-iac” with jabs and hooks to the head and body. It looked like we were about to have an instant replay of the first meeting when a two punch combination – nearly a carbon copy of their first meeting –sent Sylvia crumbling to the canvas. But this time, Sylvia wouldn’t allow Arlovski to lock in a heel hook as he scrambled back to his feet immediately. Still shaking off the cobwebs, Sylvia would catch the reckless Belerusian coming in with a short right hand and sent him face first to the mat. Sylvia wasted no time pouncing on his fallen prey and pounding him with right hands until Herb Dean came to the rescue.

Affliction: Day Of Reckoning: 1/24/09
Loss Vs Fedor Emelianenko: KO (Punch) – 3:14 Rd 1

When Andre Arlovski jumped up in the air, it was Saturday and he was probably thinking about how well his performance had been to that point against Fedor Emelianenko. When he crash landed, it was Monday and the arena was empty.

The two finally met in January of 2009 – after their original October date was rescheduled – and many thought “The Pitbull” had a great chance at usurping “The Last Emperor” at Affliction’s much anticipated pay per view. The highly regarded standup of Arlovski appeared to be the perfect antidote for the WAMMA heavyweight champion’s sick ground game. Manny Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach also helped him get ready for one of the biggest fights of his life. Arlovski also had a height and weight advantage heading into the fight. But there’s a reason Fedor is regarded as the best heavyweight ever in MMA.

Arlovski had been pitching a beauty of a game for the first three minutes of the fight. He kept Emelianenko off balance with his blend of leg kicks and punches. A two punch combination seemed to rattle Fedor and a front kick by Arlovski sent the Affliction champ into the corner. But just like the Sylvia fight, Arlovski made the mistake of rushing in and paid for it dearly. “The Pitbull” was looking to close the show and went for a flying knee. Fedor saw it coming and uncorked a short right hook that separated Arlovski’s soul from his body as his carcass fell from the sky like the Hindenburg.
Arlovski is still trying to figure out what happened on that fateful January evening.

Strikeforce: Lawler Vs Shields: 6/6/09
Loss Vs Brett Rogers: TKO (Punch) – :22 Rd 1

For all of the swift thrashings that Arlovski has handed out over the years, he was certainly due for one when he stepped into the cage against the then-unbeaten Brett Rogers. It was Rogers’ most difficult test to date, but apparently that only incensed the Team Bison fighter to tear apart “The Pitbull” in only a matter of seconds.

With Arlovski busy feeling Rogers out, he lazily shot a left inside leg kick in the direction of “The Grim.” Before Arlovski could figure out what happened, Rogers mugged him with a flurry of strikes filled with bad intentions. A menacing left hook, followed by an equally brutally right hook turned off the lights for Arlovski in only a matter of seconds.


Last December, Gilbert Melendez regained the Strikeforce lightweight belt and avenged one of two losses on his record when he beat Josh “The Punk” Thomson in a lopsided decision win.

Four months later, Gilbert and his girlfriend, Kari-Ann, discovered they were about to have a baby girl. FIGHT! was there document Melendez’s reaction to that day’s news in part 1 of this FIGHT! Life series.

Produced and directed by Matthew Ross. Camera: Marc Rizzo and Randy Ward. Edited by Ryan Jackson-Healy and Ashley Cahill. Music by Jacques Brautbar.

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