MMA: Mike Pyle

Brown: Underdog status makes no sense

May, 6, 2014
May 6
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Matt BrownJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMatt Brown, left, is still coming to terms with why he was pegged to fight Erik Silva.
Matt Brown has no idea why he’s fighting Erick Silva in Cincinnati on Saturday.

He accepted the UFC welterweight fight without hesitation and he’s excited for it because he loves to compete -- but how he went from fighting a highly ranked Carlos Condit to an opponent ranked outside the top 10 does baffle him a bit.

“I don’t really know how this s--- works,” Brown told “I don’t know how they decide one person gets this and another gets that. I don’t know.

“I accepted (Silva) right away but bottom line, I was like, ‘Hey, what’s going on here? Do I get to fight a top-10 guy? What do I have to do?’”

I accepted (Erik Silva) right away but bottom line, I was like, 'Hey, what's going on here? Do I get to fight a top-10 guy? What do I have to do?


-- Welterweight contender Matt Brown, on fighting Erik Silva at UFC Fight Night 40

Brown (18-11), who fights out of Columbus, is set to headline the UFC Fight Night event at U.S. Bank Arena on Saturday. It’s his first appearance since he was forced to pull out of a big fight against Condit in December due to two herniated discs.

His opponent, the 29-year-old Silva (16-4), comes into the fight with a lot of hype behind him, but is only ranked No. 14 in the promotion’s rankings. Mike Pyle, who Brown knocked out in 29 seconds in his last fight, is ranked No. 12.

Even Silva sees something askew in the scenario.

“I understand the position Matt is in,” Silva said. “He expected a better ranked guy and I understand if he feels a little frustrated. I’m happy he accepted the fight.”

If that weren’t enough, Brown is actually a 2-to-1 betting underdog on Saturday -- in his home state. Most professional fighters, whether they’re being truthful or not, will tell you the betting line on a fight is the furthest thing from their minds.

But in this case, Brown admits it has added a little motivation ahead of the fight.

“Some of my coaches told me, ‘Dude, I should put money on you,’” Brown said.

“It does not make any sense to me at all. I looked at his record and his fights and he’s never beat anybody really good. I don’t know how good he really is. That’s what I’m going to find out. He hasn’t proven to be as good as me at all, so I have no idea where they came up with these odds.”

Not that Brown is losing sleep over it. That’s just not his personality. He’s stated in the past he understands the benefits of talking trash and stirring up headlines -- and that his refusal to do so is probably a major reason he’s overlooked.

That’s not about to change, says Brown, as he intends to ignore what he calls the “white noise” aspect of professional fighting.

One thing that’s been impossible for Brown to ignore, however, is what happened with Condit after he was forced to pull out of that fight. Condit went on to face Tyron Woodley at UFC 171 in March and lost when he suffered a torn ACL.

Woodley (13-2) has since agreed to fight Rory MacDonald in June, in a fight that will likely produce the next No. 1 welterweight contender.

Of course, that feels like a lost opportunity for Brown, who says he probably could have hid his injury well enough to still fight Condit in December. Ultimately though, it’s all white noise. Brown is confident his day will come.

“The way Woodley beat him, he didn’t even have to fight him,” Brown said. “I can’t let things like that factor into how I live my life. It’s essentially irrelevant.

“I honestly don’t understand it and I don’t try to understand it. I leave the politics to other people. As for me, I’m content to keep fighting. That’s all I even want to focus on.”

Montreal camp has Story's confidence high

November, 15, 2013
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Rick Story, Johny HendricksJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRick Story's experience having defeated Johny Hendricks drew the attention of Georges St-Pierre.
UFC welterweight Rick Story has spent the past eight weeks of his life living out of a suitcase in a hotel located in the west end of Montreal.

If that sounds unpleasant, it's probably because it most likely is. The best thing Story could think of when it comes to staying in a hotel for that long?

"It's kind of nice," he mumbled unconvincingly. "All the accommodations are here as far as toilet paper and shampoo -- and stuff."

Got it. And at the top of the many general reasons one might want to avoid this situation, Story doesn't speak French. Meaning, a large fraction of the French Canadian television channels available in his room are completely worthless to him.

"I've been killing time watching Netflix," Story said. "I've been watching a lot of Netflix."

Pause. "A lot of Netflix."

In addition to streaming online movies, Story spent his time in Montreal developing his craft at Tristar Gym alongside UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. It's the first time Story (15-7), who meets Brian Ebersole at UFC 167 on Saturday in Las Vegas, has held a fight camp outside his home state of Washington.

The idea of Story temporarily joining the Tristar team was first broached in March, in a locker room the two fighters shared at UFC 158 at Bell Centre.

St-Pierre was headlining the card in a welterweight title fight against Nick Diaz. In the co-main event, Johny Hendricks was set to take on Carlos Condit. Everyone in the building knew if St-Pierre and Hendricks won, they'd fight each other next.

And as fate would have it, there was Story -- the only man with a win over Hendricks -- scheduled to fight Quinn Mulhern on the preliminary card, sharing a locker room with the Canadian champ.

"[Tristar coach] Firas Zahabi was very persistent in getting us to come," Story said. "Pat White is my coach and he and Pat talked that night in Montreal.

"Originally, we thought it would be better if Johny beat Georges, because I'm the only one to ever beat him so it would make it easier to get a title shot sooner. Firas was so persistent, though. He kept emailing Pat, calling Pat, calling the gym."

Eventually, the deal Tristar offered was too good to pass up. In addition to the benefit of high-level sparring partners including St-Pierre, Zahabi worked a deal that covered the cost of Story's entire eight-week stay.

"I don't know exactly how the deal was worked out, but we had our hotel paid," Story said. "Pat and I have separate rooms, he's been here with me the whole time. Our food is paid for. It was like, a great deal."

As much as St-Pierre obviously wanted Story in his camp, the timing of this experience probably couldn't be better for Story as well.

That signature win over Hendricks in December 2010 is a fairly distant memory. A six-fight winning streak had him cracking top-10 lists in early 2011, but Story has endured a 2-4 skid in his past six fights. He suffered a split-decision loss to Mike Pyle in his previous performance at UFC 160 in May.

Physically, Story says, he has been fine during this stretch. It's been a mental issue. Every fighter handles a loss differently. In Story's case, for whatever reason, it was difficult to get going again once the winning streak was broken.

"I don't want this to sound the wrong way, but you walk the walk for a long time, you get knocked off course and then it's kind of hard to get back on the horse," Story said.

"I lost to [Charlie] Brenneman and then there were some fights that I wasn't completely focused on. I wasn't doing the things I needed to be doing to go into the fight with confidence. It was really cool being able to come here and do that for this training camp, with no distractions. My confidence is through the roof right now."

Confidence, a few new techniques, and all of the free travel-size shampoo bottles he can handle -- maybe Montreal wasn't so bad to Story after all.

UFC in Boston primer: Rua's last stand?

August, 14, 2013
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
UFC Fight Night 26 suffers from the same ailment nearly every UFC card will suffer from the rest of the year: It's not UFC 168 … or 167 … or 166.

Chris Weidman versus Anderson Silva is a fighting fan's Christmas. Georges St-Pierre versus Johny Hendricks is Thanksgiving. And Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos III will feel like a second birthday to us all this year.

Chael Sonnen versus Mauricio Rua this weekend at TD Garden in Boston sort of feels like Flag Day in comparison.

But that said, there's a lot to like about Flag Day. Top to bottom, this is one of the stronger UFC cards fans will witness this year. Some events are structured around one fight and one fight only. Boston, on the other hand, features plenty to watch for.


The legend of Conor McGregor

We are all getting way too carried away about McGregor -- but it's impossible not to. Simplest way to put it: When McGregor fights, you want to watch, and when he talks, you want to listen. It's not just that he's entertaining; he has this contagious passion about what he does. During a recent visit to Las Vegas, McGregor said he was so excited he stayed up shadowboxing in his hotel room until 5 a.m. He's in a hurry to be at the top, and Max Holloway wants to slow him down.

The curious case of Uriah Hall

You hear all the time how important the mental aspect is in martial arts. Hall has shown he has the physical tools, and on the surface, nothing seems out of sorts for him mentally. But that loss to Kelvin Gastelum in The Ultimate Fighter Finale was awkward. His team said he liked Gastelum too much to hurt him. Many of those watching called it cockiness. Neither is really an acceptable excuse for a fighter as talented as Hall. Expectations are high for him against John Howard.

The resurgence of Mike Brown

Brown hasn't really been under the spotlight for years, but for longtime martial arts observers he'll always be a name that jumps off the page. Two wins over Urijah Faber in the WEC put him on the map, but truth is Brown was just one of those guys who was always fun to watch. Something went wrong along the way, and the now 37-year-old endured a 2-4 stretch amid rumors of distractions in his personal life. He's back on a two-fight win streak coming into this fight against Steve Siler.

[+] EnlargeUrijah Faber
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comAny loss at this point for MMA veteran Urijah Faber would be considered a major setback.
The quiet contenders

Since 2011, Matt Brown and Mike Pyle are a combined 11-2 in the Octagon, yet you won't find them on any top 10 welterweight rankings. Neither is willing to make a big point of that publicly, but there's no question both are getting a little anxious. After his last win, Brown said, "Just because a bunch of media people don't believe I'm good enough for a title shot doesn't mean it's true." Pyle, winner of four in a row, is itching to sign a fight against a top-10 opponent.

That Faber guy is back again

You can almost see the bile form in Faber's throat when forced to answer the same questions over and over leading up to these nontitle fights. "How much you got left in the tank, champ?" "Getting close to another title shot, Urijah, what's that feel like?" "Is the belt still the goal, buddy?" We should all come to this understanding that Faber feels great, he's excited to fight, and he wants a title shot, but the UFC won't give him one yet so he needs to keep winning. This fight against Yuri Alcantara might not feel big, but it's big for Faber. Any loss is a major setback.


What does Alistair Overeem look like?

He was Superman against Brock Lesnar and Clark Kent against Antonio Silva. No stranger to performance-enhancing drug accusations, Overeem is in a critical spot. He didn't look the same in February, his first appearance since producing a high testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio in Nevada last year. He told he would never apply for testosterone-replacement therapy, despite tests that showed low levels after his last fight. There are a lot of variables floating around. Can Overeem be Superman again in the midst of them?

[+] EnlargeTravis Browne
Al Powers for ESPNIf Travis Browne can pass a difficult test against Alistair Overeem, he could be the biggest winner of the night.
Is Travis Browne for real?

Browne passes the eye test. He moves. He has heavyweight knockout power. His grappling is underrated. He seems like he's in shape, and his only loss came after his hamstring busted in the opening minute of a fight. Overeem -- whether he's at his best or not -- is going to test him, though. If Browne is spectacular, he could be the biggest winner of the entire night.

Is 'Shogun' still elite?

Rua is slowing down. It never really felt as though he was going to lose to Brandon Vera last August, but we were sort of expecting a windmill dunk and got a weak layup instead. Then in December, it seemed like he was operating on fumes against a physical Alexander Gustafsson. Three of the last five men Shogun has defeated are now retired. How worried should we be about this?

Is the self-proclaimed 'Gangster' going to lose three in a row?

Whether you like Sonnen or not, this is a man who does not avoid tough fights. He has gone from Silva to Jon Jones to a light heavyweight contest against a former champion in Rua. Sonnen is undersized for this division -- a fact made obvious by his decision to return to middleweight regardless of what happens in Boston. Sonnen can survive a loss if it comes to it, but a proposed fight against Vitor Belfort can't.

Is Michael McDonald the third-best bantamweight in the world?

Both and UFC rankings still have McDonald trailing Faber. Both fight on this Boston card. No doubt, a certain contingent of MMA fans would rank McDonald ahead of Faber heading into this weekend, but it's close. If the 22-year-old runs through Brad Pickett, it will be difficult not to bump him up.


Michael Johnson

[+] EnlargeManny Gamburyan
Dave Mandel of Sherdog.comManny Gamburyan is in need of a victory just as bad as Saturday's opponent and former TUF teammate Cole Miller.
The once promising career of a TUF runner-up has hit a major crossroads. Johnson looked like a tough matchup after disposing of Shane Roller and Tony Ferguson, but he was nearly knocked out by Danny Castillo before suffering back-to-back losses. He's still not out of his league against Joe Lauzon -- at least we think.

Manny Gamburyan

Seems like a lifetime ago that Gamburyan fought his way to a WEC title shot against Jose Aldo. Fighting Gamburyan is like fighting an angry fire hydrant; he's compact and seemingly made of metal. He also has a long history with the UFC, although a 1-3 record in his last four fights is tough to look past.

Cole Miller

Might as well discuss Gamburyan's opponent as well. These two know each other well from their days on the TUF 5 reality set on Team Jens Pulver. Now, Miller needs a win just as badly as his former teammate, having gone 1-2 since his drop to featherweight last year.


Because there's still more to 2013 than a middleweight rematch, even though it doesn't feel like it sometimes … because over the course of his career, Shogun is 6-for-6 when it comes to knocking out opponents following a loss … because two of the most explosive heavyweights are incredibly hungry going into the same fight … because Brown and Pyle are fighting each other with the exact same chip on their respective shoulders … because McGregor might be the most fun athlete the UFC has on its roster.

Postmortem: Grant rises, Silva slides, more

May, 28, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall

The thing about Mike Tyson was that everybody saw him coming. From the opening bell it felt as if his opponents were fighting from check, trying to avoid the savage exchange that would end, inevitably, in a violent checkmate. He was cageside for UFC 160, and to this day his celebrity transcends the fight game. When the MGM Grand flashed him on the screen, the place filled with that same old familiar apprehension and awe.

The thing about TJ Grant is, nobody saw him coming, apart from a few Nova Scotia residents and prelim connoisseurs. Grant came into his fight with Gray Maynard as a slight underdog. He had won four fights in a row at his new weight of 155 pounds, but in a standing-room only division of elites, he was a sort of fringe. When he crashed Matt Wiman’s momentum in January, the UFC saddled him with Gray Maynard, who had to drop out of a more profiled fight with Jim Miller because of a knee injury. In the interstices, things changed. Anthony Pettis volunteered for a fight with Jose Aldo at 145 pounds, Gilbert Melendez lost to Benson Henderson and Miller fought (and lost to) Pat Healy.

Somehow, Grant’s fight with Maynard became a conditional sort of No. 1 contender bout.

And did he ever make the most of it. Grant stood toe-to-toe with the hard-hitting Maynard, and ate a heater that made his ears ring. But then he got his in. He rocked Maynard with a shot that sent him reeling. As he reeled on the fence, Grant smelled blood on the water and slammed a knee into Maynard’s head. He then pursued him with a flurry of big shots that dropped Maynard for good. The win was emphatic enough for Dana White -- on the fence about whether Grant should get the shot or not, given his perpetual prelim residence of yore -- to put Grant’s odds of fighting for the lightweight belt next at “100 percent.”

You know who else liked it? Mike Tyson. There was something in Grant’s kill-switch that rang home for him. Though Junior dos Santos’ late spinning wheel-kick knockout of Mark Hunt went in for frills, Grant’s KO of Maynard was a blood-dimmed tide. So, when White got ready to award dos Santos with a bonus check for knockout of the night, Tyson inserted that it should go to Grant. And so it did.

And so the next title shot does.

Can things be different for Bigfoot this time?
Of course! He lasted a full 17 seconds longer with Velasquez the second time through, but once again the referee was prying Velasquez off of him while screaming “that’s enough already!” Silva didn’t agree with the stoppage, but at that point in the fight his resistances were down to nothing.

Can Hunt KO dos Santos?
He came awfully close to proving that he could, but could never square the follow-up shot to dos Santos’ chin. To his credit, he ate a couple of harrowing shots himself, and still managed to last into the final minute of a three-round fight with a crusher like “Cigano.”

Is there still wonder to Wonderboy?
Let’s put it this way, what Stephen Thompson did to Nah-Shon Burrell was passable, but it wasn’t spectacular. Yes, he whizzed a couple of kicks by Burrell’s head (and landed a couple, too), but it was more of a grind than anything. In our basic Wikipedia sense, though, a win’s a win.

Is Cain Velasquez the greatest heavyweight champ ever?
This question was posed before the fights somewhat purposefully prematurely. Though it can be asked with a little more timeliness now, the win over Silva realistically only proves that he can guard against complacency. If he works JdS over again, like he did last time? Gentleman, start you coronations!

Does KJ Noons belong in a fight with Donald Cerrone?
That was a licking that Noons took at the hands of Cerrone, yet he hung around long enough to hear the judge’s scorecards tell him what we already knew -- no, he didn’t belong in that fight with “Cowboy.”


Ready for the big trilogy?
Junior dos Santos took Cain Velasquez’s belt back in 2011 with such an effective, tree-felling punch that it was almost unspectacular. Velasquez responded with a five-round battery to reclaim that belt. Now, with a couple of obstacles out of their way, it’s time for dos Santos/Velasquez III. Can you dig it?

Where does Hunt go from here?
There’s no shame in the way Mark Hunt lost. There was a moment in that first round where he had dos Santos staggered and was very close to cueing the knell with a couple of bombs that just missed. What now? Could roll out Hunt versus Josh Barnett or Hunt versus Antonio Silva or, eventually, Hunt versus Roy Nelson, and there’d be no complaints.

Teixeira as contender?
With his submission of James Te Huna, Glover Teixeira is now 4-0 in the UFC, and 19-0 going back to 2005. If that doesn’t scream “Geronimo!” in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, nothing will. But with the logjam right now, Teixeira -- no fool -- requested a fight with the winner of Rashad Evans/Dan Henderson next. Sounds good to us.

Can you see the Forrest, through the trees?
In the aftermath of UFC 160, Forrest Griffin announced his retirement, and Dana White announced that he and Stephan Bonnar -- the seminal figures who socked each other into our collective consciousness back in 2005 at the original TUF finale -- would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. (Slow clap).

Is Nurmagomedov the next big thing?
The idea of Khabib Nurmagomedov missing weight might have had Dana White hissing like Nosferatu in a beam of sunlight, but what a nihilistic thing he did to Abel Trujillo. Twenty-one takedowns is a company record. By this time next year, we might be talking about Nurmy as a threat to whoever’s holding that lightweight belt (hopefully challenging him at something other than a catchweight).

Cain Velasquez and Antonio SilvaAl Powers for ESPNAntonio Silva's stance as a top-tier heavyweight is under fire following a one-sided loss to Cain Velasquez.
TJ Grant -- He may have looked like a woodwork contender before Maynard, but afterward he looks like a viable challenge to Benson Henderson. Nova Scotia did not shrink from the spotlight.

Donald Cerrone -- You know how you make people forget the time you got your liver kicked up through your diaphragm? By doing what Cerrone did to KJ Noons. Looks like Cowboy has another run in him.

Mike Pyle -- Before we start talking about 37-year-old Mike Pyle ossifying before our eyes, we might want to wait for the judge’s decision. Was it a generous scorecard in his split decision victory over Rick Story? Definitely. But that’s four in a row since losing to Rory MacDonald at UFC 133.

George Roop -- Got to hand it to Roop. He took his lumps early against Brian Bowles, but he’s resilient -- all 6-foot-1, buck-thirty-five of him is resilient.

Antonio Silva -- When a loss is this one-sided (again), you begin to question the sincerity of the wins to get there. For instance, what happens if Travis Browne hadn’t been hurt, or if Alistair Overeem hadn’t been cocky?

Gray Maynard -- What a tough stretch for the “Bully.” He was 11-0-1 heading into 2011, but has since gone 1-2-1. The lone victory in that was the bizarre game of pursuit he played with Guida. For now, Maynard’s title aspirations took a bigger hit than anything specific Grant hit him with.

Brian Bowles -- It had been 18 months since we last saw Bowles, and the WEC champion looked good for that first round. Then the hatch opened up, and Roop was dropping wiry dispatches on him from Tucson.


For Silva -- A battle with Mark Hunt, or a cruel encounter with Josh Barnett.

For Teixeira -- Truthfully, if Dan Henderson gets by Rashad Evans at UFC 161, a Teixeira/Hendo fight might require fire marshals and riot units.

For Velasquez -- That third and most coveted bout with Junior dos Santos, and a chance to become the UFC’s greatest heavy.

For Donald Cerrone -- How fun would a scrap be between Cowboy and Gilbert Melendez?

For Khabib Nurmagomedov -- Think he could do what he did to Abel Trujillo against Gray Maynard? Only one way to find out.

Nelson set to face Pyle at UFC 160

March, 1, 2013
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Gunnar NelsonMartin McNeil for ESPNBetween his karate background and efficient ground game, Gunnar Nelson could be a stud in 2014.
After proving to be worthy of the high expectations he's received recently, welterweight Gunnar Nelson will make his third appearance in the Octagon on May 25 against Mike Pyle at UFC 160, promotion officials confirmed Thursday night.

The fight was first reported earlier Thursday by

Nelson (11-0-1) defeated Jorge Santiago by unanimous decision on Feb. 16 in London. He entered the fight to much media attention, but was unfazed by the spotlight.

Throughout the bout Nelson demonstrated solid grappling, takedown and striking skills. Most important was his poise. At no point in the fight did Nelson appear rattled.

But Pyle is likely to represent Nelson's toughest test in the cage. The veteran has a pro record of 24-8-1, and has won three fights in a row.

Heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez defends his title against Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva in the UFC 160 main event, which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

The bout marks a rematch of their May 26, 2012, showdown that Velasquez won by first-round technical knockout.

Veteran Pyle hoping to shake up title picture

October, 28, 2012
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Mike PyleJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAfter switching coaches, Mike Pyle, right, is confident he can knock out anyone at 170 pounds.
LAS VEGAS -- At the age of 37, Mike Pyle seems to have adapted a mentality that is typically observed more in fighters in their early 20s -- fight as often as possible, rack up wins and build a name.

Pyle (23-8-1) has won five of his past six fights in the UFC, including three finishes, but his name remains absent from welterweight title talk and top-10 rankings.

He plans on changing that soon, but in the old-fashioned way. He accepted a fight against the lesser-known James Head on Dec. 15 rather than wait for a bigger name.

As a veteran of the sport, he understands the perks that sometimes come with talking outside the cage -- but he's confident that because he's got the finishing ability now, he won't need to talk.

"People are going to start taking me serious," Pyle said. "I'm 37. I don't have time to screw around. I've made some serious changes and I'm going to be a serious threat in the welterweight division.

"Within 12 months, yes [I'll earn a title shot]. If I keep putting wins together and finishing people, there will be no denying me. I'm not going to beg for something I don't deserve. Right now, I don't deserve a title shot. I'll earn it."

Pyle's greatest opportunity to date at shaking up the UFC title picture came in August 2011, when he fought rising Canadian star Rory MacDonald in Philadelphia.

The result was a first-round TKO victory for MacDonald, but those who saw the fight know it's not as if Pyle was dominated bell-to-bell. He took the athletic MacDonald down and nearly took his back in the opening minutes.

Still, Pyle's voice turns to one of disgust when he talks about the loss. Immediately after, he left his longtime camp at Xtreme Couture and went the solo route, hiring a new team that would work almost exclusively with him.

"That fight shouldn't have went that way, but it did," Pyle said. "It opened my eyes. I need one-on-one coaching, and it's helped. My fights since speak for itself."

Pyle rebounded with back-to-back, first-round knockouts over Ricardo Funch and Josh Neer in 2012. He says under new coaches, he's developing his power. Already a proven submission specialist, Pyle is now confident he can knock out anyone at 170 pounds as well.

He was hopeful two early finishes would lead to a big-name opponent and admits a different matchup was potentially in the works before the cancellation of a UFC 151 event in September shook up the schedule. But he's fine taking the Head fight.

Wins and finishes. Pyle believes he's at a point in his career where he can accumulate both against anyone the UFC puts in front of him. Eventually, that anyone has to have a belt around his waist.

"Joe [Silva] was trying to get me matched up and said, 'We have James Head right now,'" Pyle said. "Let's do it. What else am I going to do, stay on the shelf? I'm not 20 years old. I've got to stay busy. I want to stay relevant and keep trying to perform."

Almeida ready for UFC debut -- as a judge

April, 30, 2012
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Ringside MonitorEd Mulholland/ESPN.comMonitoring the action: Ricardo Almeida's first real test as an MMA judge comes Saturday.

As soon as the judges’ scorecards were read, Ricardo Almeida knew it was time to end his fighting career.

Almeida still believed he could compete against UFC’s top welterweights. What he could no longer do was defeat some of the sport’s questionable judging.

Fighting in his home state of New Jersey on March 19, 2011, at UFC 128, Almeida came out on the short end of a unanimous decision to Mike Pyle.

“As a fighter, I’ve been on the wrong end of a couple of bad decisions, fights I thought I’d won but lost,” Almeida, who spent most of his mixed martial arts career at middleweight, told “The one closest to my heart is the last fight in Jersey.

“It was close, but I thought I won that fight.”

Rather than be victimized by another "bad" decision, Almeida decided to take off his gloves for good. He might have lost to Pyle, but he wasn’t done fighting. Almeida was just getting started.

You know the saying, "if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em"? Well, Almeida took that saying to heart and, shortly after his loss to Pyle, became an MMA judge with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board.

The experience has been satisfying and eye-opening for Almeida, who has a newfound appreciation for some of the obstacles judges must overcome while scoring fights.

“Personally, it’s just giving back to a sport that has given a lot to my life,” Almeida said. “[NJSACB attorney] Nick Lembo invited me and I’ve had a great relationship with the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and I accepted right away.

“What people don’t understand is that the view a judge has watching the fight isn’t the same view fans have watching on TV. It’s hard; it’s a different perspective.”

A judge’s vision can sometimes be obstructed by poles, referees and poor seating angles, which strengthens Almeida’s belief that former fighters are best equipped to score today’s action.
[+] EnlargeRicardo Almeida
Noah K. Murray/US PresswireRicardo Almeida has seen his fair share of success -- and bad decisions.

“There is always going to be controversy, but the more we can get guys who understand what’s going on inside the Octagon, the results are going to be a little more consistent,” Almeida said. “Another side of it is that the sport is evolving so quickly that a lot of fans don’t even understand the sport now.”

For a little more than a year, Almeida has been fine-tuning his skills as a professional MMA judge. On Saturday night he gets to show off what he’s learned on the sport’s grandest stage --UFC on Fox at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.

Almeida will score several bouts on that card, including the co-main event which pits welterweight Johny Hendricks against Josh Koscheck.

His presence as a judge has already garnered support from the fighters.

“He’s going to know a little bit more about the sport,” Hendricks said during a recent conference call. “He’ll know what position really means, and he’ll know when a strike actually lands.”

Koscheck added: “It’s good for the sport. It gets the perspective of a fighter, someone who’s been in the Octagon and knows jiu-jitsu and knows wrestling and understands the sport.

“As this sport grows we’re going to see more ex-UFC fighters become judges. It’s a good start.”

This will be the biggest night of Almeida’s young career as a judge. While he is judging the fighters’ performances, others are sure to judge his.
[+] EnlargeAlmeida/Edgar
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comRicardo Almeida has spent time with training with Frankie Edgar -- so don't expect to see him judging a fight involving Edgar.

But with several events under his belt -- among them, Cage Fury Fighting Championships, Ring of Combat and Bellator Fighting Championships -- Judge Almeida is fully prepared for his UFC debut.

“It will be pretty intense, but I will be on my toes with this UFC event, because I know all eyes are going to be on me,” Almeida said.

“Yeah, I’m going to be nervous. It’ll be like I’m walking into a fight myself. But the spotlight only makes me want to be sharper and do a better job.”

In addition to his knowledge of MMA, Almeida also brings his high level of integrity. Some might question if having Almeida judge fights is a conflict of interest. He still runs his gym in Hamilton, N.J., where several high-profile fighters train, including former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

No worries; Almeida will never be assigned to judge a bout that has a direct impact on one of his fighters.

“Obviously that is not going to happen,” Lembo told “There are disclosure forms and conflict of interest forms that every official has to fill out. If anything, Ricardo has voluntarily disclosed some things that I didn’t even think, as the commission attorney, disqualified him.

“That’s one of the reasons why he’s not on that [Nate Diaz-Jim Miller] fight. Diaz has a [Cesar] Gracie connection and Miller’s side [American Martial Arts] also has a connection to Renzo Gracie.”

Miller and Diaz are competing in a lightweight bout that could land the winner a shot at the title. Champion Benson Henderson is tentatively slated to face Edgar in a rematch on Aug. 11 at UFC 150. Almeida and Edgar are closely affiliated with Renzo Gracie.

“I don’t want to be part of a fight where there is any conflict of interest of any kind,” Almeida said. “I’ve trained with Jim Miller and we’re very close with Nate Diaz.”

Knowledge, enthusiasm and integrity: Almeida will bring it all with him as a judge Saturday. Besides, he’s developed into a solid judge, according to his superiors.

“He’s been very good or we wouldn’t use him,” Lembo said. “We’re not using him because he’s Ricardo Almeida; that doesn’t do use any good.

“We’re not in the business of selling tickets or getting media attention; we’re in the business of trying to assure the health and safety of the fighters, and provide the best officiating that we can.”

Fitch-MacDonald not a bad last resort

August, 18, 2011
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Jon FitchDave Mandel/Sherdog.comKicking and screaming: Jon Fitch went from selective to desperate in a matter of months.
Jon Fitch is where prospects go to get cut down to size. Rory MacDonald is a surprisingly lively welterweight prospect. In a game that has become increasingly nuanced from the skinny jiu-jitsu player versus biker Hun days, this is good enough for a story line.

As of a month ago, Fitch had a to-do list with two names circled on it -- Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn. He was 0-1-1 against those fighters in the past, which plays stubbornly over his sleep at night. Against everyone else he is 21-0 since 2003. This is why he shrugged off Rick Story’s request for a fight after Story dismantled Thiago Alves, and how come he gave Jake Shields the “isn’t that cute” treatment when his name was brought up. Fitch’s problem has become an existential one -- to what purpose do these fights serve to a guy who is already there? And where, exactly, is there?

Yet all of that was before. The new dilemma is that just about every top-tier welterweight has a fight coming up, and now Fitch, who is fully recovered from his shoulder injury, finds himself in limbo. He told NBC Sports’ Ariel Helwani that “everyone I really want to fight is busy, so I’ll fight whoever they tell me right now. I just don’t want to wait to fight.”

The fights that would make sense based on availability boils down to two -- American Kickboxing Academy teammate Josh Koscheck (who has stated he wants to cameo at 185 pounds next), and Rory MacDonald.

You know where Fitch’s druthers tend.
[+] EnlargeRory MacDonald
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesRory MacDonald just might have punched his way into the back of Jon Fitch's mind.

After beating Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle, the 22-year-old MacDonald is being talked about (somewhat incautiously) as the next GSP. Fitch bats guys like that down on the sheer audacity of the claim. In essence, until he gets that title shot again, Fitch is the most disgruntled gatekeeper going. He is tired of being the perennial No. 2, just as he’s tired of not finishing people and tired of people converting his grinding style into verb form. Getting “Fitched” is synonymous with two things. Losing soundly, and losing boringly.

It’s early, but MacDonald seems incapable of a boring fight and fully capable of coaxing Fitch into something more ... entertaining. Besides, if Fitch can’t get to GSP right away, he can take the Canadian understudy and -- yet again -- make a claim for a rematch with the original.

As far as limited options go, this isn’t a bad one.

But there is one more little concession. Fitch has made it known that he would like nothing better than to fight in his hometown of San Jose at UFC 139 on Nov. 19. That would be unlikely if he faces MacDonald, whom the UFC might want to slot in the UFC 140 card in Toronto on Dec. 10, where he is a burgeoning star. Even there, Fitch could treat this as incentive. Beat MacDonald in his native Canada, and the feeling would be to sic Canada’s biggest name on you -- that of GSP.

It’s a very indirect route to get there, but that’s exactly what Fitch wants.
Rory MacDonald made a huge statement at UFC 133, stopping the wily Mike Pyle inside the first round to give momentum to the debate: Is Canada about to produce yet another UFC welterweight champion? More

MacDonald experienced in his own right

August, 5, 2011
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Mike Pyle has said over and over again experience will be a factor when he meets 22-year-old Rory MacDonald this weekend at UFC 133.

Maybe. But MacDonald’s got experience, too. Living independently from the age of 16 tends to make you grow up pretty quick.

In 2005, the same year MacDonald started fighting professionally, his father decided to move out of Kelowna, the small town in British Columbia they had lived in for five years.

That was fine for MacDonald, as long as his father knew he wasn’t going with him. He had found a home in the local Toshido Fighting Arts Academy -- one he wasn’t ready to leave.

“My dad had to move away and I stayed to train and live on my own,” MacDonald told “It wasn’t a hard decision. To me, it was common sense. I was going to stay and train and my dad understood that.

“I knew it would be a lot with finishing high school, trying to train as much as I could and taking care of myself, but that’s what you got to do. It was definitely tough, but I did it.”

For those unfamiliar with the Canadian prospect, MacDonald (11-1) is considered a “new breed” of martial artist. That is, he began training all disciplines at the same time. He’s not a wrestler or a boxer. He’s an MMA fighter.

The development he’s shown this early is remarkable, and it’s only been accelerated by his move to train under Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal last year.

When Pyle was 22, he was, admittedly, training out of a shed in his parents’ backyard, mimicking moves he watched on the screen of his 14’’ television. No shame in that, but it’s far from the looks MacDonald is getting.

“Georges [St. Pierre] and I train everyday. We’re main sparring partners,” MacDonald said. “We’re elite welterweights. What more could you ask for? We’re great partners for each other. I help him the way he helps me.”

Fact remains, Pyle (21-7-1) will walk into the cage Saturday with more than twice as many professional rounds under his belt than MacDonald.

But MacDonald’s not broke on mental advantages in this fight. He’ll carry with him the confidence that everything in his life thus far has led him to believe he was born to do this -- and he’s made all the necessary sacrifices to pursue it.

He’s also spent the last six years beating up older men with more fights.

“Of course, experience is key in fighting. But it isn’t everything,” MacDonald said. “I have youth. I have athleticism. I have technique. It’s about who comes out that night and fights the best. I believe I’m the better fighter.

“I’ve just known from the beginning I had a gift for this.”

Who's on the hot seat at UFC 133?

August, 4, 2011
Dundas By Chad Dundas
On paper and aside from an admittedly compelling main event, UFC 133 doesn’t figure to be one of the fight promotion’s more stacked efforts of 2011. When the UFC treks to Philadelphia on Saturday, it will be with a lineup beset by numerous injuries and more recognizable names on the shelf than on the finalized card.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot on the line, however. In fact, there is so much at stake for some of this weekend’s competitors that it was difficult just to narrow the lists of who has the “most to gain” and “most to lose” down to a trio of fighters each. Apologies to guys like Vitor Belfort, Jorge Rivera, Matt Hamill and Nam Phan, all of whom are facing considerable risk/reward situations at this show, but who didn’t make the cut.

Who did? Whose seat is the hottest this weekend at UFC 133? Who stands to improve his standing in the company the most with a win? And who might be looking for work come Monday if he doesn’t? Here’s a look …

Most to gain:

1. Tito Ortiz: On the brink of the glue factory just a couple of months back, Ortiz has a chance to become No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title and author one of the most surprising career turnarounds in UFC history if he can defeat Rashad Evans. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. In terms of slightly more tangible gains, after saying the $450k he officially earned to fight Ryan Bader in July constituted a “big pay-cut” for him, how much do you think Ortiz is making to step in on short notice for the injured Phil Davis here? Dude, way more.

2. Tie: Dennis Hallman and Mike Pyle: Both guys have been fighting since the '90s, both turn 36 later this year and both are probably more respected by other fighters than by the average fan. For whatever reason, neither has ever been able to put together a sustained run in the UFC welterweight division until now and it’s pretty much last-chance-at-greatness time for both. Pyle goes in search of his fourth straight win in the Octagon when he takes on Rory MacDonald on Saturday and Hallman is looking for his third consecutive UFC victory against Brian Ebersole. It's doubtful either will ever be the champ, but one more W and people might actually take notice of what they're are up to at 170 pounds.

3. Alexander Gustafsson: The 6-foot-5, 24-year-old Swede has all the physical tools to go a long way in the 205-pound division. Already 4-1 in the Octagon, he just needs a signature win to get him on his way. Meanwhile, Hamill’s star may have faded some since his ugly loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 130, but a win over him would be a good way for Gustafsson to jump-start his own march to contender status.

Most to lose:

1. Rashad Evans: Evans desperately needs something to show for his trouble after sitting out a year waiting for a title shot that didn’t happen and then losing his home gym when he fell out with Jon Jones and Greg Jackson. Just a month and a half before he turns 32, he’s no spring chicken anymore and anything other than a dominating win over heavy underdog Ortiz could be seen as a sign his career is moving in the wrong direction.

2. Chad Mendes: Officially the featherweight division’s “No. 1” contender, Mendes opted to risk that status by taking a fight against Rani Yahya at UFC 133 upon learning champ Jose Aldo was out with a bum neck. Now, it turns out Aldo will be good to go against Kenny Florian at UFC 136 in October. So, yeah, kind of a raw deal for the Team Alpha Male fighter. It’ll get even more raw if he slips up against Yahya, who is just 1-2 since 2009.

3. Mike Brown: After beginning his career 22-4, the former featherweight champion has lost four of his past six. Oddly enough, so has Phan, who will be Brown’s last-chance opponent at UFC 133. More accurately, Phan is just 4-6 in his past 10 fights and losing to him would not only end Brown’s tenure in Zuffa, but would further dig him into a hole that would be mighty hard to pull out of with the limited time he has left.

Honorable mention: Yoshihiro Akiyama. The sexy one would be a shoo-in for this list if there weren’t so many other guys on the card with so much to lose. Since coming to the UFC in 2009, he’s slumped to a 1-2 career mark in the Octagon and some might even argue his lone win -- a unanimous decision over Alan Belcher at UFC 100 -- was a bit of a gift. If he loses to Vitor Belfort this weekend and hangs onto his job, it’ll only be because the UFC has designs on a show in Japan come February.
In his final blog before his fight with Rory MacDonald Saturday, welterweight Mike Pyle discusses taking the long road to get where he is today, and how it's helped prepare him for Saturday.

As Saturday's fight with Rory MacDonald at UFC 133 (Pay-per-view, 9 p.m. ET) fast approaches, I find myself thinking what I was up to at 22 years of age and how the path I have travelled along has molded the man writing this blog today.

If you didn't know by now, my next opponent is 22 and is regarded as one of the best up-and-comers in the entire sport. I am aware of MacDonald's talent and his potential, but I am also aware of the importance of experience.

I can assure you I have plenty of that.

At 22, I was working for a company business and training for “no-holds barred” competition. I guess you could call it mixed martial arts, but it was a completely different sport to what it is now. That shows my age right there.

I was in the backyard of my parents’ house training in a shed and watching fights on a little 14-inch screen television and trying out moves I read about in magazines. I am a completely self-taught fighter and have learned everything I know from the ground up. I didn't have nobody to teach me or show me the way back then.

I had no hype or expectancy. I did it all for myself.

I have worked my way up the hard way and have never looked for a handout. If it wasn't for my own self-belief and determination, this dream would have been crushed many years ago. I didn't have many people looking to hand me a leg-up, that's for sure.

With all that in mind, it's an honor to still be able to fight in the UFC at 35, having been on the journey I've been on, and it is also great to see fighters like MacDonald just breaking through.

Seeing the emergence of guys like Rory tells me this sport is in good place right now. It's healthy, it's growing and it is attracting a lot of the young kids that could go and pursue other big-money sports. This sport will soon be going mainstream and that makes an old guy like me very happy.

I sometimes feel like mixed martial arts world is one big family, but we punch each other in the face now and again. I am the elder statesman and we have young kids like Rory running around. These kids need to be disciplined from time to time, and that's what I plan on doing on Aug. 6.

As much as I respect the kid's talent, nobody is going to tell me that MacDonald will out-tough me this weekend. I have been doing this fighting thing since Rory was in high school and have never taken a step back from anybody. He is a talented young fighter with big dreams and ambitions, but none of that will be enough on Saturday.

You need more than that to beat me at this stage in my career. I am now better than I have ever been, and have both the confidence and experience to back up my skill-set. That makes me a dangerous man in the welterweight division and a nightmare for anybody looking to make waves in this sport by using me as a stepping stone.

Despite this clear threat, I expect Rory to come out there bring it hard from the off. He's young, reckless and brave, and that's all going to play right into my hands. I'll let him come at me as the young and aggressive fighter that he is and he'll then fall into all the traps that "Quicksand" lays for him. I'll tuck him him in nice and tight and then read him a bedtime story …

Follow Mike Pyle on Twitter @Mike_Pyle and be sure to check out his UFC 133 fight Saturday on pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET)

Pyle: 'I will break this kid'

July, 24, 2011
By Mike Pyle
Special to
Mike PyleJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesSooner or later, fighters will realize Mike Pyle doesn't make a good stepping stone.
In this blog, welterweight Mike Pyle discusses training, his upcoming UFC 133 bout with Rory MacDonald and why he has a knack for upending up-and-comers.

I never view myself as an underdog going into any fight. Even if the odds have me as an underdog, I can't let that play on my mind. It means nothing. Being an underdog or favorite isn't going to make me fight any better or worse. You've got to forget all that and just focus on the task ahead. I know how good I am and how good my opponent is, and I can guarantee that I know more about this sport than the guys who determine underdogs and favorites.

So, it comes as no surprise to learn that a lot of people are backing this kid Rory MacDonald to defeat me on Aug. 6 at UFC 133. I'm sorry, but I'm not letting a kid who still gets ID’d stand in my way of getting a welterweight title shot. A lot of these kids get a lot of hype built around them and they receive a lot of praise through potential rather than any real achievement. John Hathaway was the same, just before I beat him at UFC 120 in October. John was a very talented fighter who had just beaten Diego Sanchez, and many people expected him to just walk right through me in his hometown of London. It never happened. Instead, I went out there and dominated him for three rounds. The crowd went silent as a library and John lost his unbeaten record.

People acted surprised by what happened, but let's look at the facts for a moment. As talented as he may have been, John had never beaten a welterweight in my league up to that point. I was a better fighter than John at that stage and was also far more experienced and those experiences made me tough.

When Hathaway tried grabbing a hold of me in the first round, the kid grabbed on to a grown man and ended up getting his ass whooped. He finally knew what he was getting into as soon as he felt my man strength in that first minute. Suddenly he wasn't messing about in the paddling pool no more.

I knew right off the bat that I had Hathaway's number, and nobody could tell me otherwise. I don't give a damn if he was favorite or the best thing since King Kong. I have eyes -- and I know mixed martial arts. I watched his videos, I studied his style, and I knew it would be a straightforward win for me. Nobody believed me at the time, but I knew I was right.

Hathaway and MacDonald are two completely different fighters with completely different styles, but their prefight hype is similar. Both are highly thought of and both bring lots of attention with them. That's great for me, though, as everybody will expecting big things from Rory, only for me to then walk in and upset the applecart, just like I did with John in London. These guys are doing the hard work for me.

The UFC like to build stars and they like to invest a lot of time and effort in these young kids coming through. It makes sense and I get it. What I don't understand, though, is why anybody would think the likes of Hathaway or MacDonald can use ME as a stepping stone to the next level. That will never happen in a million years. I am not the guy you want to face if you're carrying that kind of hype and expectancy with you.

Let's be honest, I was winning fights when Hathaway and MacDonald were rushing home from junior high to play with their Pokemon.

I've put in the work, the time and the blood, sweat and tears, and yet these kids think they can come into my office and beat me at my own game. It isn't ever going to happen. While these young fighters were leaving school and wondering what they wanted to do with their lives, I was already fighting in rings and cages up and down the country. They were thinking about doing it, and I was out there busting my ass and actually doing it. I've paved the way for these kids.

Regardless of age, I feel that I'm a much better fighter than MacDonald right now, and I'll prove that on the night. MacDonald will be in there with a bigger, stronger and more experienced fighter and he won't know what to do. I'm going to break him …

Mike Pyle in his own words

July, 14, 2011
By Mike Pyle
Special to
Ricardo Almeida vs Mike PyleEd Mulholland for ESPN.comGoing strong: At 35, Mike Pyle is now just finding his stride in the Octagon.
In this blog, welterweight Mike Pyle discusses training, his upcoming UFC 133 bout with Rory MacDonald and why he has a knack for upending up-and-comers.

Everything is going just fine in camp right now and I'm right on schedule with where I want to be. You never like to take things for granted at any stage of camp, but it's fair to say I'm very happy with my progress at this moment in time. As I write this first blog, I feel like an unstoppable machine.

I've been doing martial arts for more than half my life now and training and competing are two things I am almost programmed to do. I don't know what I would do with my days if I didn't have to train. Fighting is what I do, and it's the reason I get up in the morning. I've never been happier to be a fighter than I am now at 35 years of age.

You simply don't have to motivate a guy like me. I don't need motivation to train and I don't need motivation to fight. I'd be doing this thing even if there wasn't a great outlet like the UFC to do it in. Fighting is in my DNA.

I've been training for this fight against Rory MacDonald at UFC 133 pretty much since my last win over Ricardo Almeida back in March. I took a little time off after that victory to go fishing, but, as soon as I got back on dry land, I was in the gym and raring to go. I ticked over for a few weeks, kept in good shape, and then got this great opportunity and against MacDonald.

Looking back at my last performance, I would have loved to have gotten a finish against Almeida. There were a couple of times when I nailed him with good shots and probably should have knocked him out. All credit to him, though -- he showed some toughness and spirit in there. Overall, I went in and did the job I needed to do against a guy like Ricardo. I executed the game plan we had worked on in training and did so with minimum fuss. Whenever you dominate a fight the way I did, you've got to be happy with things.

I believe I am at the peak of my career right now. I have never felt better physically and have never been stronger mentally. There are a lot of other guys my age that were great in the past but are now struggling to find their past form in 2011. It's starting to trickle away from them and years of hard grind are catching up a bit.

Thankfully, I am not experiencing any of that and am, in fact, going through the reverse. I am only entering my prime now, at 35 years of age. I'm still figuring out how to be the best fighter I can be, whereas a lot of the guys my age have already been there and done that and are now coming back down the other side mountain. It's a nice position to be in.

I believe the reason I am now enjoying my best years is simply because I am being forced to get better on a daily basis. The challenges that the UFC present you with are so substantial that you must move with the times or else you will get left behind. I know I need to work harder and become better than I was 10 years ago, otherwise I'll be kicked out of the best organization in the world. In many ways, the UFC have made me the best fighter I can be.

In order to survive and compete, we must grow stronger as individuals, and that is what I am trying to do, even now at this advanced stage of my career. Unlike a lot of my legendary peers, I am still trying to make my way in this sport and am still aspiring to achieve my goals. I am not yet content with where my career has taken me. I still have plenty left to achieve and still have sights on that UFC welterweight title. I'm not doing this thing to get on television. I want to fight Georges St. Pierre, I want to become world champion and I won't let some 21-year-old kid named Rory MacDonald stand in my way of doing both …

Follow Mike Pyle on Twitter @Mike_Pyle.

Trials, tribulations have hardened Hieron

May, 6, 2011
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Jay HieronCliff Welch/Icon SMIBloodied, not broken: Jay Hieron channels his frustrations with positive results.
Jay Hieron takes pride in his belief that other men, if put through the kind of frustration he’s endured the last couple of years, would have quit a long time ago.

The 34-year-old could write a book on his hard luck in the sport. Not to open old wounds, but a quick recap:

He had a first-round knockout win over Jason High at an Affliction event in January 2009 dropped from the main card due to time restraints. He was expected to face Paul Daley at Affliction later that year, but didn’t get the chance when the promotion suddenly ceased operations.

He went on to sign a deal with Strikeforce under the assumption his first fight would be against Nick Diaz for the first-ever welterweight title. That fight fell through when Diaz skipped a prefight drug test. Instead of rescheduling the title matchup, Strikeforce paired Hieron with Joe Riggs five months later as an untelevised prelim fight in a Miami show.

Hieron (21-4) did nothing but win during that stretch, but the fact that none of the fights made television has undoubtedly cost him in terms of notoriety and sponsorship money. He’d be lying if he said he never thinks about it.

“I’m fuming,” Hieron told “That kind of stuff can make or break somebody’s career. It could force somebody to pack it in and say, ‘This s--- ain’t for me anymore.’

“But I believe the man upstairs has a bigger path for me. He’s just making me take the long road. I’m a fighter that’s been through everything negative you can go through in a career and I’m still here.”

In many ways, joining the Bellator welterweight tournament this year has been the perfect opportunity for Hieron to start feeling good about his career again.

For one thing, it’s got him fighting with regularity again. After sitting out for more than a year while his contract issues were sorted out, his tournament finals bout against Rick Hawn this weekend will be Hieron’s third fight in as many months.

“It’s a grind, but at the end of the day I feel blessed,” Hieron said. “I had that year off and now this is what I signed up for -- a lot of fights in a short period of time. I want to get back on the scene and show everybody the real Jay Hieron. I’ve been out of the game but it’s time to get back in the rankings.”

As eager as Hieron is to get back in the public eye, especially after watching the careers of his Xtreme Couture teammates like Gray Maynard, Martin Kampmann and Mike Pyle take off during the past two years, he’s constantly reminding himself to do it one step at a time.

Immediately following the announcement he had signed with Bellator, Hieron received questions regarding a possible matchup with champion Ben Askren, an undefeated wrestler with hype building.

But Hieron has seen too many opportunities fall apart on their own to overlook an opponent and mess things up himself. This week his focus is Hawn. Then he’ll start thinking Askren.

“I can’t wait for May 7,” Hieron said. “[Askren] is a great wrestler. I don’t think he’s well-rounded but he has a good foundation and I hope he does keep winning. We’ll meet up soon. But one thing at a time. I work on my mind as much as my body just because of all the stuff I’ve been through. I’m not looking past anyone.”