Kirkcaldy fighter Steven Ray has realised his ambition after being signed by the multi-billion dollar Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Ray becomes only the third Scot to make it into the world’s biggest mixed martial arts scene after agreeing a four-fight deal that will see him make his UFC debut in Poland on April 11 against Marcel Bandel.
The 25-year-old has spent the past few years chasing his UFC dream in the lower budget Cage Warriors series, where he recently defended his lightweight world title, and was beginning to fear that the chance to make it to the big-time might never come.
“This means the world to me,” Ray said.
“I messaged the UFC match-maker after my last Cage Warriors fight and told him that I’d be willing to fight anywhere, any time, and to keep me in mind if there were any pull-outs.
“He said that he’d keep me in mind, and I thought he was just keeping me sweet, but he’s been true to his word.
“I wasn’t expecting the call for Poland - there was only one lightweight fight on the whole card and it’s only two weeks away - but it just so happens that one of the fighters got injured.
“This has been my main goal ever since I started training MMA, but now I need to set some new goals.
“The hard work isn’t over yet, in fact, it’s only just beginning.”
Ray’s potentially life-changing UFC call-up is just rewards for all the sacrifices and hard work that the former St Andrews High School pupil has put into his mixed martial arts career.
It’s crazy to think that I used to train in a cabin in my coach’s back garden in DysartSteven Ray
Ray admits he has often struggled to make ends meet after quitting his job with Fife Council four years ago to pursue a full-time fighting career.
Now in the UFC, where top fighters can earn six-figure sums, he hopes he will be able to provide a more stable future for his family, with his partner, Natalie, due to give birth to his third child only four days after his fight in Poland.
“I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way,” Ray said.
“Anyone who is not willing to change or go that step further probably won’t make it.
“I believe I’m one of the people that has, and now it’s paid off.
“It’s crazy to think that I used to train in a cabin in my coach’s back garden in Dysart.
“Now I’m in the UFC and I can say it’s all been worthwhile.
“The pay is better than what I’ve been getting but I’ve still got to go out and earn it.
“You get more for winning, and there’s a $50,000 bonus for performance of the night.
“That would be life-changing straight away.
“It would be nice to buy a new car. It’s quite embarrassing that I’ve been signed by the UFC yet I’m still driving around in an old banger!”
Despite taking the fight at just two-weeks notice, Ray believes he will be ready for it.
“I’ve been doing a fight camp anyway,” he said.
“It’s now just a case of stepping it up and tying to get the weight down.
“I’ll definitely be ready but it’s a really tough test.
“He’s a good ground guy and a submissions specialist.
“He’s had 13 wins and 12 of them were first round submissions.
“It’s a tough first fight but I believe I’ve got the tools to beat him.”
Ray’s second UFC fight could be on home soil as the UFC comes to Scotland in July.
“That would be mental,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll want me on the card because I’ll be able to sell loads of tickets.
“For now, all my concentration is on my first fight. Hopefully I’ll get the win and then take it from there.”