Following a two-year sabbatical, recuperating from a debilitating knee injury, Flying Scotsman Stevie Ray is hellbent on leaving the UFC with egg on its chin.
The recently married Fife-born father of four was strangely culled by the promotional powerhouse shortly after registering a career-best win, squeezing past St Louis veteran Michael ‘The Menace’ Johnson on a split in Singapore in October 2019. Nursing a bruised ego, as well as a severely damaged knee, the 31-year-old has not been seen publicly since.
But suitably rehabilitated and now armed with a fresh deal with the PFL, Ray is set to rebound, intent on realising ambitions unfulfilled.
‘There’s no animosity. More confusion. I’d just won my fight against Johnson, signed a new four-fight deal, got offered a fight in Vegas, but before that could happen, I was told maybe it was better if I went as a free agent. Very confusing,’ disclosed the brawler known as ‘Braveheart’.
‘Ali (Abdelaziz, his manager) tried to explain it to me a bit, but I never fully understood it. Then Sean (Shelby, UFC’s Senior Vice President of Talent Relations) actually emailed me recently and cleared it up. He explained it was the UFC doctor that recommended the decision; said the knee wasn’t great and that there was no short-term solution. So they figured it would be better for me to go elsewhere, go do my own thing.
And that was the initial plan, leave the UFC and sign as a free agent. But nothing was really coming at that time because of Covid. And to be honest, my knee really wasn’t great back then. It had blown up like a balloon. After a couple of bad days of training with it, I was like, ‘You know what? The UFC is right. My knee is pretty fucked up. I’m done.’
I tried to think of all the benefits of retirement but, then when I finally did, I was like “Shit. What am I gonna do now?!”
I had my gym, which I opened up after the Felder loss (a first-round count out before his own Scottish brethren in Glasgow in July 2017). So I’ve got a business that I can run and make money from. But the truth is, I missed the buzz, the buzz of fighting. Going in the gym, I felt I still had the potential to achieve a lot more, I’m not done!’
Just 29 and in prime form when persuaded to curtail his career two years back, the Caledonian grapple ace concedes that the setback adversely affected his mind as much as his body.
He said:‘Such an injury can totally play with your mental health; totally fuck with your emotions, especially if I’ve got training or something big coming up. I could go to bed in a totally good mood then be woken up because my knee is badly swollen. I then wouldn’t be able to go to training because that would only make my knee worse.
‘And the uncertainty was always a big thing for me too, not knowing what I wanted to do, because I did go through a stage where I thought “Is this me done?” That was a little bit stressful because, deep down, I never really wanted to retire, I only retired because of the whole way things happened.
‘But I’ve not even had to ice my knee in months. Since doing a lot more yoga, I’ve been getting more and more mobile, greater range of motion in my knee and more flexibility in my hip. In addition, I’ve been doing all the training I would normally do – obviously not as hard as if I had a fight lined up -but I’ve still been sparring, rolling, wrestling, jiu-jitsu – everything!’
Next season, refreshed and rejuvenated, the 5ft 10in fan favourite intends to prove his best years still lie before him by storming to the PFL title and million-dollar bounty.
‘I definitely have it in my head, I wanna show the UFC, – not that they made a mistake because my knee was bad – but that perhaps they could’ve done something else,’ concludes sting Ray.
How do you think Ray will fair at PFL? Let us know in the comments!