After four long weeks on the couch, often with only unfamiliar pangs of powerlessness for company, Stevie Ray was becoming increasingly crushed under the weight of his own thoughts.
He knew his mind was veering in the wrong direction and headed for a destination that is far easier to get to than leave.
So, without a fight to train for or even an official spot on any promotion’s roster, the Scottish lightweight got back in the gym. It was all he could do.
“I definitely got a bit lost with the depression because I was just sitting in the house twiddling my thumbs and wondering what the hell am I going to do,” Ray told MMAjunkie.
“The difference between now and a month ago is that I’m back training, trying to stay positive and push on through. It can be hard when you wake up and you’ve not got that drive because, just like everything in life, you need goals.”
A little more than two months have passed since Ray (28-7 MMA, 5-2 UFC) most recently fought. At UFC Fight Night 113 in Glasgow, while a raucous horde of his compatriots roared him on against Paul Felder, the 27-year-old was knocked out for the first time in his career.
At the elite level, all bouts are laden with a variety of potentially irrevocable consequences, but the stakes were particularly high for Ray that night.
The contest with Felder was the last on his second contract with the promotion, which had offered him a slightly improved deal that was declined. Ray and his management believed he was deserving of something better, so the UFC’s vice president of talent relations and matchmaker, Sean Shelby, told him a victory over Felder would secure the terms he was asking for.
It took Felder less than four minutes to render Ray unconscious with a string of vicious elbows and derail what was shaping up to be a career-best year for the Scotsman. Ray knew all too well the margin for error was minuscule, but backed himself to get the job done.
Furthermore, and perhaps a little naively, “Braveheart” assumed his future with the company was secure, no matter how events transpired at SSE Hydro arena.
“The thing is, I never thought it was a massive risk,” Ray said. “I just thought it was a case of me asking for a certain amount of money, then being told I would get it if I won the fight. I really thought that if I lost the fight, I’d get one (contract), but not as good. That was a risk I was willing to take.
“It’s not worked out, but now I’d honestly sign the contract they’d offered me before the Felder fight. I can’t know now what they’ll even offer me. I wasn’t trying to be an arse about the contract, and I was willing to fight for the money I felt I deserved. That’s what I tried to do for my family.”
As is standard practice, Ray was placed on medical suspension due to the nature of the defeat and, with his partner and three young children out of the house for long stretches, he was left to contemplate a wholly uncertain future. The fallout was predictably unsavory.
“I hit that bit of depression, which was probably boredom and not being sure what’s going to happen,” Ray explained. “I’m still unsure about what the future holds, but at least I’ve been back training and keeping my weight down.
“Usually when I’m training, I have a contract and know I’m going to get a fight, even if I don’t have one lined up. But now, I’m in a bit of limbo and don’t have a clue what’s going on, so it can be tough to stay positive and stay in the gym.”
Ray and his representatives at Epoch Management have spoken separately to Shelby, who they said told them he has more pressing priorities to address, but not much else.
And so Ray currently languishes in professional purgatory, where constantly seeing the faces of those he’s charged with providing for makes it easier and easier to question life choices.
“To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do if they didn’t offer me a contract,” Ray said. “I’d be absolutely devastated because I’ve put 10 years of my life into the sport and had to do an awful lot to reach my dreams.
“If I don’t get another contract, I’m not sure what I’d do with my life. There’s obviously Bellator and some other promotions that might offer some stuff, but I never stuck with school long enough to go and get a decent job to the same sort of standard as what I’ve been earning.
“The whole contract situation is just stressful because it’s not like it’s just me that I care for – I provide for three kids and my missus, as well. And it’s obviously not fair to my partner because she wants to know what’s going on with our future.”
There are people who will say Ray is paying the price for a needless act of hubris and that, having been offered a contract with the greatest MMA show on earth, he should have put pen to paper. But there was absolutely no animosity during negotiations, which concluded with Shelby laying down the gauntlet of turning over Felder.
“I didn’t beat Felder,” Ray said, “so I accept that I don’t deserve the contract that I wanted, so they should obviously give me one that’s not as good. I never, ever thought it might be a case where I might not get a contract at all. I do believe it would be really unfair if I didn’t get one, just because I got knocked out by somebody who is doing really well.
“I beat Joe Lauzon and Ross Pearson and feel like I’ve given a lot to the UFC. As I say, it’s just for me but also my family, so I need to know what’s going on. I’m just hoping that the UFC still see what I bring to the table.”
The fight with Felder was Ray’s fourth in 10 months and, had the event been anywhere else but Scotland, it’s unlikely would have competed again before winter. With the benefit of hindsight, Ray recognizes he should have sat tight.
“Mentally, I had a dreadful camp and there was just a lot of stress. I was in great shape, but mentally I was so fed up in fight camp. I maybe started dieting too early and hadn’t really got on well with my missus the whole time.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have taken another fight so soon. But because it was in Glasgow, I knew I would have been gutted if I wasn’t a part of it. I probably should have taken a bit more time off to enjoy the Lauzon win.”
And therein lies the fighter’s instinct. The one that belligerently beckons challenges, regardless of how insurmountable they appear to the rest of us, or seeks out opponents who, according to all reasonable evidence, should be avoided at any cost. According to Ray, it’s matter of skirting the fine line between unwavering confidence and delusion.
“When the whole job is getting punched in the face, be it MMA or boxing, then it’s a risk but I’m willing to take it for a better life,” he said. “I was never scared of getting punched or kicked – I’ve done it (fighting) my whole life.
“But I am scared of losing, or getting embarrassed or shown up. If you don’t believe you can do it, then it’s over before you step in there. Sometimes guys win fights they probably shouldn’t just because of belief. Or you might just be an unrealistic (expletive).”
So, what now for Stevie Ray? There’s some money in the bank, but not an endless amount, and with the mortgage to be paid at the end of every month, he cannot afford to sit idle for much longer.
“I obviously don’t want to wait until there’s no money so I might end up as a laborer – back to the life I used to have. Don’t get me wrong, a job is a job, but I’ve obviously been doing what I love for a massive company and been making good money.
“I knew that fighting wasn’t going to last forever, but I just hoped to make a lot more money and do something with it. That’s why the fight business isn’t for everybody.”
His UFC debut came on two weeks’ notice, so Ray is acutely aware he’s just one training accident away from getting the call that could turn things around. Last week, he even availed of the tried and tested MMA formula of picking a fight with no-one in particular on Twitter.
The whole affair has not so much proved a learning experience, but ruthlessly reinforced what Ray already knew.
“That’s the thing with fighting, you can be top of the world one minute and absolutely devastated the next, he said. “When you win, the media is behind you, so are the fans on social media, and you’re getting spoken about a lot.
“I went from having a really good year – beating Pearson and Lauzon, making my American debut – to getting knocked out in Scotland.”
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Original Source Credit: mmajunkie.com