Stevie Ray overcame adversity in Nashville, Tennessee to advance to 5-1 in the UFC and now, the Scottish fighter aims to sell out The SSE Hydro when the promotion make their long-awaited return to Glasgow in July.
Featuring on the main card of UFC Nashville, Ray (21-6) took a majority decision win over American fighter Joe Lauzon, with one judge scoring the fight a draw (Dave Tirelli 28-28) whilst judges Jeff Mullen (29-27) and Chris Lee (28-27) both saw the bout in favour of the man from Fife.
It was a close but competitive affair where 32-year-old Lauzon began the stronger of the two, dominating the first round on the ground, which included some ferocious elbows to Ray. However, slowly but surely, Ray began to reimpose his grasp on the fight over the next 10 minutes, landing 105 significant strikes compared to Lauzon’s 27 in rounds two and three. This was arguably a definitive factor in his win.
Ray, 27, spoke exclusively to MMA Plus following his return from Nashville, and he commented on the furore of the result, which has since garnered some backlash.
“Two of those judges believed I won and one thought it was a draw, so obviously I got the majority win, but at the same, It was close,” said Ray. “I remember thinking ‘this third round, I’m going to have to go and give it my all and even stop the fight’, but when you’re in the moment, you’re not really thinking about that. You’re just thinking about trying to win any way possible, and in the first round the only thing I was thinking about was trying to survive.”
He added: “I want to get back to finishing fights because I do believe watching it back I should have stopped him in that third round, I never quite realised how tired he was.”
Stevie Ray ponders whether he will return to Tristar
With the unflustered advice of Higher Level MMA head coach James Doolan in his corner, Ray credited their special relationship for his recent success. But it’s this success, mixed in with the comforts of home, which “Braveheart” explained makes it harder for him to return to Tristar Gym in Canada.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in the isolation of Montreal solitude, Ray expressed his desire to return to the famed Firas Zahabi-run gym, but detailed his internal conflicts which have made the decision to go back less than straight forward.
“I’ve not made any plans, I would like to go back over. Now the problem I’ve got with that now, with the whole Tristar thing, it’s a bit of a sticky situation because I do like going to Tristar because there’s other really high-level guys there,” Ray said. “And the main thing I liked about Tristar was the isolation, you’re there to train, eat and sleep and I’ve not got the distractions of family or the silly things like having to take my kids to school.
“But, the problem is now, I kind of want to have James [Doolan] my main coach with me all the time, he puts more work into me, no disrespect to Tristar but they’re not going to put 100 percent work into me unless they know I’m committed to the team,” expressed Ray. “I’m kind of affiliated with them, I am technically representing Tristar and Higher Level MMA. I would have liked for James to come over to Tristar with me, maybe even the whole camp if he could but he runs a gym back here as well. Also, JoJo is at Tristar now as well so James probably wouldn’t even come to Tristar because of that, because they used to be partners.”
Ray claims he could sell out The Hydro on his own
Now, Ray turns his attentions to the next opportunity, with the UFC’s anticipated return to Glasgow on July 16. It is widely speculated that Ray will feature on the event, and the Scotsman even confirmed that following his victory at UFC Nashville, he and UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby engaged in preamble.
“I think obviously [Sean Shelby] wants me on, but what he said was ‘you were just in a really tough fight, you’re going to be bumped up and bruised up, you’re not going to want to jump back in there too soon if you’re not going to be ready just because it’s Scotland. Take a week or two, heal up, go and chill out and then let me know where you’re at, what you’re thinking’. So basically I’ll get back to him in a few weeks and let him know if I definitely want to go for it because obviously, it’s a short turnaround. Give it a week, I’m going to be pretty much recovered and back to training, so it should be all good.”
Alongside Joanne Calderwood and Robert Whiteford, Ray helped make history back in 2015 at the UFC’s debut Scottish event, packing 10,451 into the SSE Hydro. Now, two years later, after co-main eventing UFC Belfast in November and his prominent position in Nashville, the Kirkcaldy fighter sees no reason why he can’t do it again at The Hydro.
“I’ve already co-main evented a UFC, I co-main evented Belfast against Ross Pearson, so if I can co-main event in Ireland and it can be good then I don’t see why not with Scotland. If I got a big name, I think I could even main event. And as a far as selling out the Hydro, I can guarantee you even if I was main event, or co-main event or even on the undercard, the Hydro’s going to sell out as soon as I’m matched on that card, I’ve got the potential to sell out on my own without any other Scottish fighters.”
He finished: “I don’t see why not, I’m not in any rush like ‘I need to get a top 15 guy or whatever’, I’m not too in a hurry for anything, if they give me a top 15 guy fine, if they give me a top five guy fine, I’ve never declined fights, I’ll fight anybody the UFC puts in front of me.”