Two fights into his UFC career, Scotland’s Stevie Ray has already endured two of the more stressful, challenging situations a fighter can experience when preparing to step into the Octagon and fight on the biggest stage in the sport.
For his debut effort, the 25-year-old lightweight accepted a bout with Marcin Bandel on less than two weeks’ notice, walking into the Polish competitor’s backyard and walking out with a second-round technical knockout victory.
Three months later in his sophomore outing, Ray played the role of hometown favorite, stepping into the cage with Leonardo Mafra in front of a partisan crowd in Glasgow. Exactly halfway through the opening frame, the roof on The SSE Hydro nearly came off as “Braveheart” picked up his fourth consecutive victory, his second straight stoppage win in the UFC and the first Performance of the Night bonus of his career.
“I’ve kind of faced both sides of the story now,” the now 18-5 emerging talent laughs, reflecting on the unique start to his time in the UFC. “I’ve fought going against the favorite, hometown guy and I’ve been the hometown guy as well.
“It’s been a great start to my UFC career because I came out of both fights unscathed, not taking any damage in the fights whatsoever. It’s been perfect, really – win, got the finish, came out uninjured and got the bonus in one of them; just missed out on the bonus the first time, I think. I’m hoping this can continue – keep getting those wins and hopefully keep getting those bonuses as well.”
On Saturday, October 24, Ray faces the first “regular” fight of his UFC career when he squares off with Frenchman Mickael Lebout on the preliminary portion of the organization’s return to Dublin.
After picking up back-to-back stoppage wins in high-pressure situations, the announcement of the bout between Ray and Lebout caught many off guard, including the Scot, who is one of three fighters from Europe competing on the UFC Fight Night event that prepares for battle across the Atlantic at the Tristar Gym in Montreal.
Another member of the Tristar European triumvirate competing in Dublin is Joseph Duffy, the Donegal, Ireland native who headlines the show opposite former featherweight contender-turned-intriguing lightweight addition Dustin Poirier; welterweight Tom Breese, who takes on hometown favorite Cathal Pendred, is the third.
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While Ray understands why his friend is getting a healthy push from the promotion – as you might have heard once or twice, he’s the last man to defeat Conor McGregor – he points to their shared paths over the last several years as explanation for why he was a little caught off guard when he got word that he would be facing Lebout and not someone a little higher up in the pecking order this time around. That being said, he’s more than happy to collect a third straight UFC win and start eyeing up stiffer competition to start next year.
“No disrespect (to Mickael Lebout), but even using my Tristar teammate Joe Duffy as an example, me and him have both basically done the same things. We both fought in Cage Warriors – I was the champion, he was potentially one of my opponents before we both joined Tristar. We both got signed around the same time. We’ve both got two wins, both got one performance bonus and we’ve both stopped both fights.
“(We’ve got) similar paths, but I know they’re obviously looking to build him up because he’s beaten McGregor, but the way I see it, I’m not in any rush to get up there. I’ve got plenty of time. Maybe we’ll get this fight out of the way – another win, another finish in the UFC – and then I’ll be looking to call out or get a Top 15 guy and climb up the ranks.”
With this fight taking place in Dublin, Ray could have opted to skip the trans-Atlantic flight and prepare for his matchup at home, but the routine and rapport he’s building with coaches like Firas Zahabi and Eric O’Keefe has been paying dividends, and the opportunity to prepare alongside Duffy and Breese as all three ready for competition was something he wasn’t going to pass up.
“I had the choice to maybe do my camp at home versus going to Tristar and some people said they didn’t feel I needed to go to Tristar for this fight and maybe should have done it at home, but I’m not underestimating anyone,” he explains. “I’m looking to always get the best preparation, and going to Tristar for a month and being away from my family – if that’s what’s best for me, that’s what I’m going to do and that’s what I did.
“The fact that two of the guys are on it – Breese and Duffy – it was a good camp. It wasn’t just me. The fact that they’re both on at the same time, that they’re both working to peak at the same time, doing the same stuff, it’s good.
“Duffy was especially good for me and I was good for him because he’s fighting a southpaw around my height in Poirier, so I was a good sparring partner for him and he’s also roughly the same size and weight as my opponent, so we were sparring partners for each other. It’s been good.”
Having faced specialists under challenging circumstances and beaten them both at their own games to begin his UFC tenure, the confident lightweight who carries a four-fight winning streak into action in Dublin doesn’t expect to have too many problems with Lebout when they share the space inside the Octagon.
“I’m feeling confident ahead of this fight; I was confident the last one as well,” Ray says. “The last two were a little different, I feel. The first one, against a submission specialist, that’s sort of a danger that I had to work out from – the same with the striker. But this next guy, I kind of see a little bit like a warm-up. He grinds out those wins and he’s got a lot of decisions on his record, but he’s not got anything that’s worrying.
“Not saying that he can’t do it or he’s not a good fighter, but he doesn’t have that area that I need to watch out for.”