When Steven ‘Braveheart’ Ray steps into the octagon at a packed SSE Hydro in Glasgow this weekend, he will be fighting for more than just himself.
The Kirkcaldy father-of-three says will be representing his family, his friends, his home town, and the host nation as the UFC – the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion – comes to Scotland for the first time.
Steven will be looking to follow up his stunning UFC debut win in Poland in April when he kicks off the main card this Saturday against Leonardo Mafra of Brazil.
With a sell-out 13,000 crowd behind him, including hundreds of travelling Fifers, and thousands more watching live online, Steven is relishing the chance to fight in a major event on home soil.
“Every time I fight, I’m looking to represent my country and home town,” he told the Press. “There’s a lot of support out there for me and that motivates me to do it for Kirkcaldy and Scotland.
“I want to put the town on the map and for them to be proud of me – I don’t think many fighters from Kirkcaldy have achieved their dream.
There’s a lot of support out there for me and that motivates me to do it for Kirkcaldy and Scotland
“I know a lot of fans are going through from Fife – it just depends how many got tickets.
“I don’t think people expected it to sell out so quick.
“There is going to be a crazy amount of support for me and the rest of Scottish guys.”
With home expectation comes added pressure but Steven is confident he can handle it.
“I didn’t feel nervous in Poland, even though it was in hostile territory,” he said.
“I get more nervous when I’ve got a lot of fans there.
“There’s always a bit more pressure in front of a home crowd, it’s just how I deal with it on the night.
“People tell me I’m one of the best at dealing with the energy from the crowd.
“I don’t let it sink in and tire me out.
“I’m always confident, regardless of where the fight is.
“Even if there was nobody there, I still believe the same outcome would happen.
“But it will feel good to have thousands of people willing me to beat him up.
“If it turns into a three-round war, the crowd can help me keep going.”
Steven’s debut UFC win – a TKO stoppage over Marcin Bandel – came after he was called up as an injury replacement on just two weeks’ notice.
This time, the Fifer feels in top shape after completing a series of intensive training camps both at home and abroad.
“Preparation has been good,” he said. “I went to Canada for a month and trained at Tristar, which was a really good camp.
“I came home and had a good camp with the Dinky Ninjas as well. Now we’ll just see what happens on the night.
“I only had 15 days to prepare for my last fight and I still put in a good performance.
“I feel in much better shape this time – I’ve trained a lot harder and I’m feeling good.
“I imagine my opponent has been training just as hard as me.
“He better hope he’s feeling good, because it will take a lot to stop me in Scotland.”
After years of financial hardship chasing his UFC dream, Steven could make a five-figure sum from Saturday’s fight alone.
He has also set his sights on claiming the $50,000 bonus for Fight of the Night.
“I can see it being a real crowd pleaser,” he said.
“He swings really wild and likes to fight aggressive – as do I.
“It would be great to get the fight bonus but I’m not focusing too much on that.
“I’m just going to try to beat him.
“After struggling so much financially, it’s just a relief to be in the UFC and getting paid more.”
With the UFC booming – last week’s event in Las Vegas featuring the ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor attracted 11,000 fans to the weigh-in alone – Steven insists it is an exciting time to be involved in MMA.
“The UFC is only 20 years old and what it has achieved in that time is absolutely crazy,” he said.
“Frank and Lorenzo bought the UFC for pennies – now it’s a billion dollar company.
“It’s just getting bigger all the time and you’ve got Conor McGregor doing what he’s been doing, talking himself up and backing it up in the fights – it’s good for MMA in general.
“People are now getting on board and realising how big and exciting MMA is.
“Mayweather-Pacquiao was meant to be boxing’s biggest fight in a long time and it turned out to be one of most boring fights ever.
“Whereas at the UFC event last week, the whole card was crazy – every fight was amazing to watch.
“I think boxing will eventauly become a dying sport with a lot of its fighters crossing over to MMA.
“Boxing is only one part of MMA – you are limited to what you can do in boxing – the MMA is fighting at its purest.”
UFC Glasgow will be broadcast live online via BT Sport, with the main card expected to start around 6.00 p.m.