When Jay Hieron retired from MMA, he never imagined returning to the UFC a decade later for a fight against Academy Award nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Well technically not an actual fight but Hieron wanted it to look at real as possible when he and Gyllenhaal squared off as part of the production for the upcoming Road House reboot, which filmed scenes around UFC 285 in Las Vegas. The film, which is being produced for Amazon Studios, sees Gyllenhaal playing an ex-UFC fighter named Elwood Dalton and a key part of his backstory was actually showing him preparing for a showdown against Hieron, who’s playing his opponent in the reboot of the classic 1989 movie that starred Patrick Swayze.
The whole experience was a little surreal for Hieron, who ended his career with the UFC after fighting in numerous major promotions such as Bellator, Strikeforce and IFL.
“If you would have told me when I retired that I’d be back in the UFC in an acting scene with one of the top actors, I would have been like no, you’re s****** me,” Hieron told MMA Fighting. “It was great. Once they told me all this and I got the role, I was like yo, this is amazing. Brought back all the feelings. I saw all the guys I haven’t seen in a while. Dana [White], Joe Rogan, Sean Shelby, it was great just being around the environment because I’m not around it as much anymore.
“Of course, I’m always filming so it was incredible. Just to do a fight scene in the UFC on a live card, one of the best cards in the last few years, Jon Jones returning. It was amazing. Couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”
Filming for Road House at UFC 285 actually started at the ceremonial weigh-ins where Hieron and Gyllenhaal were announced just like any other fighters before stepping on the scale and then facing off against each other.
There were numerous takes filmed but one in particular had Gyllenhaal actually slapping Hieron during the faceoff and it turns out there wasn’t anything fake about it.
According to Hieron, he worked with Gyllenhaal to come up with the best possible scene for the movie and that’s when the 42-year-old veteran actor came up with the idea that perhaps tension should boil over between them on stage.
“He was the one who told me ‘Jay, I’m thinking how about I smack you at the weigh-ins?’ and I said ‘f*** yeah’ because I knew that was going to make it more real and you were going to get that realness out of it,” Hieron said. “I was like hell yeah, that’s a great idea, do it. So just how he goes about it, he gets into character. That makes it more real and he didn’t want to disrespect the fans or the fighters so he wanted it to look as real as possible. He did the work.
“He went for it. No doubt. That wasn’t no stunt slap. He went for it. That’s what was great about it. We talked about it before and he’s super respectful and he’s like ‘what do you think?’ and I’m like let’s go! Don’t even think about it. Whatever you feel out there let’s go do it and that brings stuff out of me and it looked great. We got a lot of great feedback. It’s just amazing for the UFC to even let this happen.”
The weigh-in was just one component of filming because director Doug Liman also wanted to get some footage of Gyllenhaal competing inside the UFC octagon, which once again required Hieron to pull from his past as a fighter to make sure everything looked good in the cage.
With more than 120 credits on his resume between acting and stunt work, Hieron has worked opposite Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, and Joaquin Phoenix over the years but his history as a UFC fighter gave him plenty of motivation to ensure his encounter with Gyllenhaal almost blurred the line between filmmaking and reality.
To ratchet up the pressure even more, Hieron and Gyllenhaal only had six to eight minutes to film their scene together in the octagon because they were operating on borrowed time due to the actual event still taking place. That meant it all came down to one take and any mistakes could potentially sabotage production so once again Hieron made sure Gyllenhaal gave him everything he could handle.
“We had one take. Six minutes and you’re out,” Hieron said. “You either get it or you don’t. So that process was great, too. Everybody was dialed in from the wardrobe to every piece of the production. Shout out to the whole team that had the ball rolling. It was just incredible to be a part of.
“It was choreography but right before we did it, we did rehearsals and we’re walking through the cage and he’s like ‘I just don’t want it to look fake’ I said don’t worry about that. If something lands, it’s all good. I’ve been in there before. We were shooting to get them as close as possible and some got in but it’s all good. He’s a very respectful guy and I love his passion and he works hard.”
Jake Gyllenhaal wins as he brutally knocks out the middleweight champion #UFC285 pic.twitter.com/lk1jRUg52Q— Chisanga Malata (@Chisanga_Malata) March 5, 2023
The film, which also features UFC superstar Conor McGregor in his first starring role, was effectively wrapping production with the scenes shot by Hieron at Gyllenhaal after principle photography primarily took place in the Dominican Republic.
Hieron had a blast with the whole experience but it was really just another day at the office for him as his post-fight career continues to flourish.
“I’m humble,” Hieron said about his success in the film industry. “I work hard. I listen more than I talk.
“I’m happy for all the opportunities I get and I work hard. I feel like I’m ready when they come and I’m going to do my job.”