Kirkcaldy fighter Stevie Ray has made a case for a life-changing call-up to the UFC after defeating arch rival Curt Warburton at Cage Warriors 73 on Saturday.
In front of a big crowd at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena, which included 100 travelling Fifers, the 24-year-old claimed a stunning second round victory via submission to retain his Cage Warriors lightweight world title.
The result gave the former St Andrews High School pupil the 2-1 edge over Warburton in their much-hyped trilogy and his performance will have gone some way towards gaining the attention of the UFC, the world’s biggest mixed martial arts promotion.
“It went pretty much exactly how I’d planned,” Ray told the Press. “It couldn’t have gone much better.
“I wanted to finish him with a rear-naked choke hold and that’s what I did.
“I was always confident I would be able to win - but I knew he would be training just as hard as I was.
“There was added pressure as well because of all the hype, and the fact the fight was in his home town.
“It was an important win for me because I’m hoping to get called up into the UFC.”
Fighters who sign for the UFC - short for Ultimate Fighting Championship - can earn six-figure sums for winning a fight.
It’s a massive leap from the relatively small purses Ray currently competes for in Cage Warriors - Europe’s strongest MMA promotion - and with a young family to support, a UFC call-up could make a huge difference to his life. “I know I’m at that level – it’s just whether the UFC want, or need me,” Ray said.
“Curt has won fights in the UFC and I’ve beaten him twice now.
There’s other fighters in the UFC that I know I’m better than and I want to get to the top of the game as soon as I can.
“People tell me I have plenty time and not to rush it, but I’ve got a two kids and a third on the way, so time is something I don’t have!
“I’ve had to move from Kirkcaldy to be closer to the gym in Whitburn, so I’m living in Harthill now and getting by can be a struggle at times.
“I’m putting so much of my life into this that I need to be making money from it.”
Ray, who has won seven of his last nine fights, is hoping to emulate Irish fighter Conor McGregor - the previous holder of his Cage Warriors lightweight belt - who has since gone on to become a top earning UFC star.
“He signed to the UFC in 2012, won his first four fights, and now he’s a millionare,” Ray said.
“The week before he signed with the UFC he was signing on the dole - and that’s what motivates me.
“He didn’t have any money - now he’s well off and living the dream. That’s what I’m looking to do - follow in his footsteps.
“I’ll just keep beating anyone who gets in my way until the UFC give me my chance.”
With the UFC planning an event in London in February, time will tell whether the man known as ‘Braveheart’ will get his shot in the big leagues.
But if he is forced to wait, Ray could be in line for a dream home town fight with Kirkcaldy mooted as a possible venue for his next Cage Warriors title defence.
“My management contacted Fife Ice Arena and they are up for it - but I think Cage Warriors are a little worried about the logistics of it,” he said.
“It would be amazing to get a fight in my home town - and reckon I would sell it out. We’ll just have to wait and see what they decide.”