Stevie Ray is not taking any shortcuts before his ‘do or die’ matchup with Jessin Ayari at UFC Fight Night 138.
After winning five of his first six bouts with the UFC, Ray has since dropped consecutive fights to Paul Felder and Kajan Johnson. Now, the Scottish lightweight is taking all measures necessary to ensure that he returns to winning ways against Ayari on October 27 because anything less, he believes, could see him cut from the roster.
Speaking to John Hyon Ko of Kumite Radio, Ray reflected on what has been a ‘frustrating year’ and how training at Tristar Gym is helping him stay focused during what he considers to be the prime of his career.
Training at Tristar Gym helps Stevie Ray stay focused
Typically, fighters will move between camps to utilize better coaching, improved facilities, or to merely work with similarly sized bodies in the build-up to competition. For Ray, who is no stranger to the team at Tristar Gym, he’s returning to the Montreal-based gym to improve his focus ahead of what seems to be a pivotal moment in his career.
“The main reason I’ve come back out to Tristar is not really for the coaching or the training partners,” Ray explained. “I’ve got great coaching at home, I’ve got good training partners, different sizes, it’s more just about the isolation. I’m away from all the distractions, and I can purely focus on training. That’s why I’m here. All I do when I’m here is train, eat, sleep, train, eat, sleep, so at least if things don’t go my way, then I can look back and say I did everything possible to win. I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t do something like this and then I lost because I could get cut if I lose. I’ve always fought well when I’ve been out here and done some of my camp here as well.”
“This is like do or die for me. This is all or nothing. So this is why I’ve come to Tristar, this is why I’m putting everything into it, and from the bell, I’m going to punish him [Jessin Ayari]. He’s picked the wrong time to drop to 155, and I’m gonna make him pay for that.”
Moving forward after a ‘frustrating year’
The last year hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Stevie Ray inside or outside the cage. In a matter of only 18 months, Ray has gone from being in a position to roll the dice during contract negotiations with the UFC to now seemingly being on the cusp of losing his spot on the roster after losing fights to Paul Felder and Kajan Johnson.
“The last year has not been great,” Ray shared.
“I lost to Felder; the first time I have ever been knocked out, in Scotland. I went through a process of not knowing if I was going to be re-signed and it was stressful, and then eventually I got the contract and fought a really frustrating guy that I felt like was running away from me a lot. It was a split decision, and obviously, it went the other way. So yeah, not the best year.”
“I’m still 5-3, which is still a decent record, and I have beaten some good guys, but I’m not done now. I’m still only 28 [years old]. I feel like I’m in the prime of my career.”
But now is not the time to look further down the line and Ray understands that his upcoming fight with Ayari is one that could change everything.
“I’m not even looking at ambitions, I just need to make sure that I win this fight. I believe I’ve got skills to submit Jessin. I can ground and pound him, knock him out on the feet or decision him, I don’t care. I’m just going to make sure that I get the win.”
“I would like to go back to finishing fights, as well. I’ve got a lot of finishes on my record, but lately, it has been a lot of decisions. I want to get back to finishing guys and the possibility of getting that bonus at the end of the night. It’s not even so much for the bonus but just to start finishing guys again. It’s more exciting, so for this fight, I’ve not really got a game plan. I’m kind of treating this, not like a street fight, but just as soon as the bell goes, I’m going to try and put him away any way possible.”
Hoping for a fast-paced fight with Jessin Ayari
For Jessin Ayari, UFC Fight Night 138 will be the first time he steps foot into the cage since being defeated by Darren Till in May 2017. Since that day, Till springboarded to score impressive victories against Bojan Velickovic, Donald Cerrone, and then Stephen Thompson before earning himself a shot at Tyron Woodley and the UFC Welterweight Championship. In that same time, however, Ayari has been missing from action, and he’ll have been away from the UFC’s Octagon for 517 days by the time he competes against Ray on October 27.
“I don’t know why he took so much time off,” Ray shared. “I heard some stories saying that he got married and stuff like that, but whether he’s had all of that time off or he only had three months off, he’s got me at a bad time.”
Ayari’s efforts to disrupt Till’s smooth striking mostly consisted of wild flurries and forward rushes to turn the fight into a brawl. The prospect of this fight with Ayari being an all-out slugfest has Ray extremely excited.
“I pray to God that he is going to be an aggressor. That’s the fight I love. This is why I wanted to fight Joe Lauzon. Look at my fight against Joe Lauzon, look at the third round. You know, I’m going towards him, and I made Joe Lauzon look like not so much as the crazy war guy that he was because it was all me swinging and I was hoping he was going to be swinging back. That third round, the last two minutes of that fight, I said it in my head, I am going to try and take his head off, let’s go.
“I was praying he would swing back so we would steal ‘Fight of the Night’, but I’m guessing he was so gassed, that it was one way a bit. But, that’s what got me the win, so it all worked out. I love those fights, I’ve been in loads of those fights. So I hope he comes at me because if he does, it’s not going to be pretty for him.”
Positioned as the very first fight of UFC Fight Night 138 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, on October 27, Stevie Ray plans to return to form and secure his first stoppage victory since July 2015.
“Everybody’s going to see it, I’m the first fight on the card, and it’s going to be a cracker. I pray to God that he’s going to come towards me from the bell because I’m going towards him and I’m going to try and take his head off. The best man will win on the night.”
Quotes from John Hyon Ko’s interview with Stevie Ray on October 11, 2018.
Jake Nichols is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief. Previously, he was the MMA Editor at RealSport.