Jon Hess will forever be remembered for one of the “dirtiest” fights in UFC history, but “The Giant With Attitude” fought during a time when the organization was billed as having “no rules.” Hess talks about the early days of the UFC and professional mixed martial arts.
Tony Reid – You competed in some of the earliest NHB and MMA events. What were your thoughts and feelings at the time about entering the competitions and your performance (1-1) overall? What are your thoughts looking back now at your time spent in the Octagon?
Jon Hess – “My thoughts and feelings entering the competition were ones of expectation and joy at getting the chance to test my skill, and the opportunity to do it legally. As previously challenge matches were not legal in the US. I was really excited because I’ve had a love of martial arts since I could walk! To this day I love MMA and the martial arts.
“My thoughts regarding my performance back in the early days was one of regret and shame at my poor showing. I felt that I shamed my teachers and my family by not becoming a champion.
“Looking back now I liken my experiences to something the legendary success coach Jim Rohn said regarding money. He said, ‘Become a millionaire not for the money but for who you become as a person to create that amount of money’. I needed to become UFC champ for the person it would force me to be to accomplish that task.”
Tony Reid – It was reported that you had a 10 minute workout with Art Davie prior to UFC 4 that led to your signing. Can you elaborate on that story a bit?
Jon Hess – “When I was in my late teens and early twenties I was a martial arts savant and prodigy. It seemed like I could do anything and I had a pretty strong reputation in the SoCal area. I was 6’7” and 245 lbs with an ideal fighting body which is long arms, shorter legs and lean and wiry muscles. In addition, the great Jerry Peterson was training me!
“So Art (Davie) watched me and I was in the UFC. Art saw me when I was on and without question that me is the best of the pioneers (UFC 1-5). As you may recall, Tony, members of the Gracie Family were partners in the UFC back then. This is why I believe I was in UFC 5 not 4 as he (Davie) was protecting Royce from me as I would be a really bad matchup for him. What I mean is I was too strong for him to get me to the ground and he would be easy pickings for me with his non-existing stand up skills.”
Tony Reid – At UFC 5 you came on the scene as “The Giant with an Attitude” and beat Andy Anderson in what some call a dirty fight. What did you take away from that fight and that experience?
Jon Hess – “Yes, Jerry Peterson gave me some really bad advice in that he told me to have a certain training partner of mine corner me. Well this guy was a total control freak and he did all this talking and interviews where he said he was me. (Hess laughs at his stupidity) Well this guy gave me this stupid nickname because I was a giant compared to him. He talked non-stop smack and as I didn’t want to get involved thereby I talked it through him by osmosis. Plus he tried to start a fight with the announcer Jeff Blatnick at the UFC; he even pushed Blatnick out the way when he was blocking our path. I don’t blame the things Jeff said about me as how can you like rude people?
“He (my corner) and I almost went to blows the night before the event. It was pretty messed up. But it’s all good now, I learned my lesson, and whenever I have cornered fighters I’m always calm, organized, encouraging and 100% on their side. And I never toss announcers! Even when they are blocking my path!
“As far as a dirty fight, it was pretty rough fight I’ll say, but it was a pre-sport challenge match and that meant there were no rules. Anderson was pretty bitter about the loss and his training partners were waiting for me at the hotel to jump me that was until they all came to their senses and backed up and chilled out without violence, fortunately for them.”
Tony Reid – A few months prior to UFC 5 you quit smoking 2 packs a day and put on about 40 pounds. Can you talk about that experience and your training leading up to your fight at UFC 5?
Jon Hess – “Yes, I was really stupid when I was younger I started smoking cigars when I was ten from ones that my dad would throw on the ground. The first time I was drunk was at ten years old as well; so you can fill in the blanks and see I had some issues. The reason I was smoking so much was because I had my own security patrol business and I was always working long hours and I would get so bored. I would also chew packs of gum, and sunflower seeds and flip my baton so much that a photographer was intrigued and took a bunch of photos of me with my baton. When I was in elementary school I would practice for hours with nunchucks and in Junior High I mastered the Zippo lighter and butterfly knife. I still flip my keys like I would with my butterfly knife and I wish that the liberals running California would unban them.
“I put on the weight because of the crazy diet my corner man thought up. It was really lame but I didn’t know anything about nutrition at the time. And he was older and a navy seal so I figured he knew. He kept saying things like, “mass is power” and I would say,” Lew I’m getting fat” he was like “Don’t worry about that, we’ll drop it after the tournament.” Another thing he had me do was ride the stationary bike for hours a day which is 100% the wrong way to train for a fight. And instead of sparring it was grappling all day. Finally, when a local San Diego reporter was interviewing ‘us’ he wanted to see me spar and he (my corner man) was the only one there (laughs) so I put a pretty good beating on him for all that awful snoozeville bike riding. I still hate gym bikes to this day.”
Tony Reid – Back in the early days of NHB in general and the UFC specifically, many fighters were trying to piece together a skill set that was effective wherever the fight may go. Talk about your style of SAFTA and how effective it was for you in an actual fight.
Jon Hess – “I studied San Soo Kung Fu brought to America by the great man Jimmy Woo. San Soo says no “sport fighting” so out of respect for my teachers we invented our own art. I never made any money from SAFTA although there were videos sold, seminars given, and students taught. SAFTA was and is an evolving system which is pretty much is all that I have learned and continue to learn. SAFTA today contains “street techniques” and “sport fighting techniques”. SAFTA is very useful in actual fighting, but like all knowledge, you have to use it correctly.”
Tony Reid – Most MMA fans will remember you as you were almost a decade ago. What do you do for a living now? What, if any, capacity are you still involved in MMA?
Jon Hess – “I work with at-risk youth trying to help them the best I can. Sometimes I corner fighters and sometimes I try to make a comeback but so far all I have been able to do is get injured and not comeback.”
Tony Reid – I am currently rewatching every UFC event starting with UFC 1. Being a part of that history, what would you want me or any fan to take away from the early days of the sport?
Jon Hess – “The early days were a span of time unlike any other. There were no rules and little, if any cross training. We were risking our lives and no move was banned. What that meant is you could get your fingers pulled back, punched in the junk, eye attacked, fish hooked and hair pulled, even biting was allowed. It wasn’t a sport, it was real! It mixed different martial arts against each other, as opposed to now where the mixed in MMA means combined. Basically the first five UFC’s were old school challenge matches where you step up and we see who the Alpha male is. The UFC now is a sport and the danger is so much less for the fighters and that’s a good thing for the athletes.”
Tony Reid – Do you follow the sport as a fan? What are your thoughts on the growth of MMA over the past few years? Do you have favorite fighters you enjoy watching today?
Jon Hess – “I love MMA and the growth is fantastic. I think Dana White is a genius and I really respect him. In our modern American society I believe there is movement to de-masculine society and we need the UFC where men can be men and others can be inspired by their skill and courage.
“I watch my friends compete like Tarec Saffiedine and Thierry Sokoudjou. I’ve sparred some long rounds with Thierry and he’s the only person I’ve ever gone against who is faster than Belfort and he’s bigger and has natural strength.”
Tony Reid – Do you keep in touch with any of the people you worked with back then (sponsors, trainers, competitors)?
Jon Hess – “Most of my martial arts friends come from either Team Quest or my kids Judo. Team Quest is a great gym and I love it and the fighters there are great. Team Quest is the only place where I feel I belong. Dan Henderson runs such an awesome place and draws cool people like himself. If you’re not cool its probably not a good place to train. And my oldest son loves Judo and his senseis are fantastic and really love the sport of Judo.”
Tony Reid – What is your fondest memory of your time spent in the UFC? Conversely, what is your least favorite, or worst memory of your time spent there?
Jon Hess – “My fondest memory of the UFC is the fans. The fans were so cool to me. I got so much encouragement and love. I was and am humbled by how nice people are and how great MMA fans are as a group. In my opinion they’re the cream of the crop!
“MMA fans in SoCal are still nice to me. It’s hard for me to explain all the good people have done for me. I really appreciate them and I feel like I failed my fans and there is nothing I can do to repay all the love that I have been given other than to say, ‘Thank You’.”
Tony Reid – Can you share a behind the scenes story from your days in the sport that the average fan would never hear about?
Jon Hess – “A funny thing happened but it makes me sound a little crazy but it’s true and I think pretty amusing. When I knocked Anderson down I thought he was KO’d so I heard in my mind, ‘This ones for the Hulkster baby’ so I made a split, micro-second decision to do my first ever single leg drop and pin ala Hulk Hogan. I jump up in the air and much to my dismay I see Anderson bring his knees up very much awake. I then made another micro-second decision and invented the worst move in MMA history, the double knee drop. (Laughing) I still get razzed today for that. What was I supposed to do? I was in the air. This has always been me. I like to play around and have fun. I still joke and have fun when sparring today.
“Another funny thing that happened involves Oleg Taktarov. When I was at the weigh in/press conference in Hawaii. He comes up to me and says ‘Jon Hess I hate you! I could beat you at Sambo, Boxing, Kickboxing, in the cage, in the street, in basketball!’ He would have continued but I started laughing and he says ‘What the hell’s so funny!?’ I say ‘Oleg I hate you too! You couldn’t beat me at anything! All you’re going to do is get faded!’ Well he didn’t understand me so I said “I will kick your ass right now if you like!” This apparently was the right thing to say to him as he laughed as well and said ‘Lets sit down and talk.’ We then sat right next to each other in the very crowded room and had a very interesting conversation and I learned besides hatred Oleg and I had many common interests. As I sat next to Oleg I thought what I strange world this is that I could have such a good conversation with this angry little Russian. I do regret that I never had the chance to introduce Oleg’s face to fist though. I have respect for Oleg and all the other ‘No Rules’ fighters.”
Tony Reid – There was a report that you actually challenged Royce Gracie backstage but for whatever reason the fight never happened. What was the story behind it?
Jon Hess – “I first saw Royce as I was coming out of the gym after my stupid stationary bike ride. Next thing I know there are all these Brazilians mad dogging me and it is just me. (Royce and some of his clan) The next day Art Davie has me driving around in a van with one of his brothers who won’t shut up about how great BJJ is and great Royce is. I couldn’t take it any more so I said, ‘I’ll smoke Royce anytime and you too if you don’t shut up!’ In retrospect I realize I needed to be more tolerant of others but I used to be like that. So to answer your question I never really challenged him ‘backstage’ more like “backseat”. I did challenge him in the press, which smartly for him, he never accepted.”
Tony Reid – You had an interesting time leading up to your fight with an unidentified person that turned out to be Vitor Belfort. Can you share that story with us?
Jon Hess – “I could never get Art Davie to pay me (Never got any money for being in the UFC) or agree to fair terms to fight in the UFC and every other venue was mysteriously closed to me and I felt that I was blacklisted by him so I said “F” it and got a job. I had shut my security business down to train. After UFC 5 I was ready to go for 6 and would have won easily in my opinion. My weight returned to closer to normal around 260 which made me lethal. In retrospect, I should have taken the pathetic contract Davie offered me but live and learn. Well, I had a new wife and baby and I was broke so I got a job selling life insurance. Let me tell you that’s a hard living. I worked fourteen hour days and went through all my savings. I put 75lbs on and was so broke I got down to my nickels. I did nothing but “not” sell insurance full time.
“I get this call where it was said Royce’s younger brother is calling me out. I’m like, ‘I’m down give me two months to get in shape’. They were like “It’s this week. So are you going to fight or are you just a bitch?” Well no one wants to be a bitch and I was that easy to manipulate back then. Stupid me I said I’m there and if it had really been one of his brothers I would have been OK.
“However, what I get is introduced to ‘Victor Gracie’ who turned out to be Vitor Belfort. I could have handled Belfort if I met him at UFC 5 or before and I think I could still handle him right now if I’m in shape. But not then as he was a super fast left handed striker, and I believe totally jacked on the juice. He was so strong I had no chance. For anyone who judges me on this loss imagine fighting Vitor on performance enhancing drugs and me 85lbs overweight with no training. People said I was a poor sport when I said back in the day he was cheating but I think history has vindicated me on that point.
“I would like again to apologize for my pathetic performance and for my general stupidity. I have to wear that day and I keep a picture to remind myself to prepare, prepare, prepare, and keep your mouth shut. On that day the boy Jon Hess died and the man I am now was born.”
Tony Reid – Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to discuss?
Jon Hess – “I would like again thank all my friends, fans, training partners, coaches and everyone who has helped me. I have been very fortunate to have the fight of the night at the UFC and to be a main event fighter. I didn’t understand physical conditioning, nutrition, contracts and how to develop a team you need to succeed. I want everyone to know that I have learned all these things and I am now the man I should have been back then.
“I ask for forgiveness from all the stakeholders in my MMA development and support. I failed you and I am sorry! I’ve learned the lesson and I hope the little I do to help others can be a sort of repayment however inadequate.”