On June 1, the UFC returns to Stockholm, Sweden, with a critical main event between two perennial light heavyweight contenders yearning for another opportunity to claim championship gold.
The card is stacked from top to bottom with European talent, all of whom are looking to make a name for themselves on the big stage. A match-up being overlooked due to its position on the card is none other than a vital lightweight clash between Stevie Ray and veteran Leonardo Santos.
“Braveheart” spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his last performance, knee surgery, and more.
Willing to fight anybody
Scottish superstar Stevie Ray (22-8) has had one hell of a ride in the UFC. The 29-year-old has built an impressive resume and compiled a record of 6-3 within the promotion, with wins over Joe Lauzon and Ross Pearson – two legends in their own rights.
He recently snapped a two-fight losing streak and is ready to start his own reign of terror.
In October, Ray decisively defeated former welterweight Jessin Ayari via unanimous decision. Despite returning to the win column, he was not pleased with his performance.
“I’m not too happy with that performance, to be honest. Watching it back, I could’ve definitely done more,” Ray told The Body Lock. “Even Dan Hardy said I ended up coasting – just doing enough to win.”
Although he was disappointed, the Scotsman was delighted to collect the win, as he feared he would lose his job if he lost again.
“I was just so happy I got the win. If I lost that, maybe I could’ve got cut. Work’s on the line here.”
Ray revealed to The Body Lock that he had knee surgery after his last performance, which explains the long layoff. He opened up about the extent of the procedure, and how it was impacting him physically.
“I went to the performance center in Vegas and the day before I went I hurt my knee. I had to eventually get an MRI when I was over there and figured out that I had torn my meniscus. It was quite a large tear in the lateral compartment.”
The meniscus is cartilage in the knee that acts as a shock absorber between the shin and thigh bone. If left untreated, it can become loose and slip into the joint. Untreated meniscus tears usually increase in size and can lead to complications such as arthritis.
Ray commented further on the effect this tear was having on his body.
“This was causing a lot of swelling in the knee, and I couldn’t sit back on my heels. [I was] really struggling to do any ground stuff, and it was really bothering me.”
Now that he is 100%, Ray is ready to ‘square go’ with anybody the UFC puts in front of him, and it’s a good thing he’s been able to get back to training his “ground stuff”.
His opponent, Leonardo Santos (16-3-1), hasn’t competed for almost three years. Despite this, he is one of the most dangerous submission artists in the 155 lb division – the multi-time IBJJF World champion has 9 submission wins, and an elite, renowned jiu-jitsu black belt to go along with them.
The Brazilian’s most notable win under the UFC banner is his 2015 knockout over former title challenger Kevin Lee, which earned him ‘Performance of the Night’ honors. On top of this, he won The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 welterweight tournament.
“I’ll fight anybody,” Ray said, “[but my coaches and I] all knew this was going to be a tough fight.”
“I think he’s a seven-time world champion in jiu-jitsu and a fifth-degree black belt. Watching his fights his striking [looks] pretty good as well – he knocked out Kevin Lee.”
Stevie Ray bringing Braveheart to life
For the past few years, Stevie Ray has been splitting time training in his home country of Scotland and at Tristar gym, in Montreal, Canada. He has spoken publicly about the wide array of knowledge and training partners available there in comparison to local gyms. Last year, he opened his very own gym in Kirkcaldy, Fife, called ‘Braveheart MMA’, and it is where Stevie has spent his latest training camp.
“I only started [Braveheart MMA] a year and a half ago, but don’t get me wrong, I have some good fighters that I’ve built up.”
On top of running his own gym, Ray trains at Higher Level MMA in Edinburgh, which is home to UFC featherweight Danny Henry.
“I’ve always trained at Higher Level MMA. We’ve got guys [like] Danny Henry, who’s also in the UFC; Calum Murrie, who fights in the EFC; and Stevie Macintosh, who’s one of my main sparring partners,” said Ray.
“Braveheart” is only 29, and he is well aware that he has a lot of fight left in him. Nonetheless, he is interested in coaching full time after his career; a transition that makes perfect sense.
“Most of [the] work I’m putting in is obviously on me, as a fighter and individual. I’m [still] trying to make it to the top spot and make some money. Then, when I’m done fighting, I’m going to put all of my concentration into Braveheart MMA. I’m just trying to get that balance the now.”
Ray believes his longtime MMA experience will give him an edge.
“I’m taking ideas from actually training rather than just going onto YouTube [like other coaches do].”
A win over a respected opponent such as Leonardo Santos will put Stevie Ray back on track for another ranked opponent, which is an opportunity the lightweight would grasp with both hands.
On June 1, Ray competes for more than just a win; he is carrying Scotland on his shoulders.
Stevie Ray will take on Leonardo Santos at UFC Fight Night: Stockholm on June 1. The fight will be available on UFC Fight Pass.
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.