Much of the pre-fight hype surrounding Jay Hieron’s clash with Joe Riggs this Saturday at Strikeforce “Miami” in Sunrise, Fla., has been about the fight that got away from him.
Hieron, who signed a multi-fight deal with Strikeforce last July, was to have met Nick Diaz at the San Jose promotion’s Aug. 15 event. Instead, Diaz, who’s publicly proclaimed his use of marijuana for an attention disorder, opted not to take a pre-fight drug test for his re-licensure in California. Hieron went on to earn a unanimous decision against Jesse Taylor that night instead.
“Jay Hieron came here to fight Nick Diaz, so we’ll put that fight together,” Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told Sherdog.com shortly after the event.
However, like almost every well-laid plan in MMA, unforeseen circumstances and the choices that come out of them take promotions and fighters down other paths. When Hieron’s management turned down a fight with Lithuanian newcomer Marius Zaromskis for January, Diaz was given the bout instead. And with Diaz seen as a top 170-pound contender in the promotion, the bout was allotted for the promotion’s first-ever welterweight title.
Hieron will instead face one-time training partner Riggs on Saturday, and because high profile entries Bobby Lashley and Herschel Walker will make their debuts that night as well, the competitive welterweight fight was bumped to the show’s non-televised undercard. The Long Island native has faced a string of setbacks since the International Fight League went under in July 2008. Hieron, the IFL’s welterweight champion, opted to take a contract with clothing purveyors-turned-promoters Affliction Entertainment shortly afterward. Hieron got only one fight in with the fledgling company before they closed their doors as well.
Still, all news hasn’t been grim for Hieron. EASports, which signed both Hieron and Riggs to its “EA Sports MMA” interactive video game due out this September, will stream the bout live on their Web site at 9:05 p.m. EST.
“I get a chance to win some Internet fans over, so that’s great,” said Hieron, who’s shifted much more easily to the challenge of Riggs than the press has.
The silver lining is that Hieron-Riggs will almost certainly have title ramifications, and will give Hieron the opportunity to try out some shored techniques before the winner of his bout gets a run at the champion who emerges later that night.
“I feel like I’m already prepared. I’ve been training for a southpaw for months now,” said Hieron. “The longer I stay in training, the sharper I get, I believe. I thought I was going to be on that CBS card a couple of months back, so I was training for that. I thought this (January) card was going to be earlier, so I’ve been staying in the gym. I feel like I’m getting better everyday.”
Riggs, a former UFC middleweight and noted power puncher on a four-fight win streak, has consumed opponents in the cage with his brutal strikes, but has also found himself on the receiving end of such punishment. Hieron chooses to focus on the earlier model, especially since he got a taste of the former Arizona heavyweight firsthand during a Jeremy Horn training camp a couple of years ago in Utah.
“Riggs is no layover. He’s a well-rounded fighter. I’m not just worrying about his hands. I’m worrying about everything,” said the 33-year-old former college wrestler. “I’m not trying to fight anybody’s fight but mine; I’m trying to show my best ability when I get out there and on fight night I’ll be smart and sharp.”
Though Hieron calls Riggs a friend, he said he’ll be “all business” when he steps into the cage on Saturday. When he leaves, he’d like there to be no doubt as to who can be called the No. 1 welterweight contender. It’s something the Xtreme Couture fighter didn’t quite achieve with his Aug. 15 victory over Taylor, a solid but safe performance by most accounts.
“I did (play it safe). I’m not lying about that,” said Hieron. “I had a different fight, a title fight, in front of me five days before that. Who wouldn’t play it safe when you’re guaranteed a title fight your next fight? Come January 30, that won’t happen again.”