After the UFC’s first event in Glasgow back in 2015, national charges Robert Whiteford, Stevie Ray and Joanne Calderwood presented a united Scottish front to the gathered media after taking their first UFC wins on home soil.
The togetherness in the Scottish ranks was evident two years ago, but ahead of this Sunday’s event at the SSE Hydro, a beef between two Scots, lightweight Ray and light-heavyweight Paul Craig, has been pushed to the forefront of the news agenda.
For Ray, Craig stepped over the line when he urged the lightweight to “get a job” after he took to Twitter to relay his financial woes ahead of signing with the UFC in 2015.
“I posted up something about my car being broken down and not being able to afford to get it fixed,” remembered Ray. “He replied, without having ever spoken to me, telling me to ‘go and get a f**king job,’ or something along those lines.
“I was a fitness instructor at the time on top of my MMA career. I replied to him explaining that I did have a job, but it just wasn’t a very high-paying one and it all escalated from there.”
Ray took exception to Craig’s comments when he referenced him and his wife “popping out kids”.
“He was calling my family names, and stuff like that,” said Ray. “That’s the reason that I don’t like the guy. The way he was talking to me, he seemed to be suggesting that my family was claiming benefits and popping out kids to get more money.
“I posted the original exchange that this all stems from, and I really think he’s come away from this whole thing looking pretty stupid. Everybody thinks he’s a d**k because of it.”
Craig doesn’t accept Ray’s accusation that he insulted his family. In fact, he thinks that Ray has introduced the narrative to portray him as “the bad guy” ahead of the Glasgow date.
“He was talking about needing money to fix his car,” recalled Craig. “I got onto Twitter and I told him that maybe if he got a full-time job he would be able to support his family. I don’t see that as me attacking a family or any member of his family.
“He’s taken that and he’s trying to make me look like the bad guy. I can be the bad guy if I need to be, but deep down I’m not. The newspapers picked it up. Loads of other media companies picked it up too. I guess there’s no such thing as bad press.”
In the same 2015 thread that started the hostility, Craig took Ray to task about a crowd-funding page that was started to take the Cage Warriors champion’s training camps to the next level.
“At the time, because of my financial situation, my management team started a crowd-funding page so I could go over and train at Tristar in Canada,” explained Ray.
“The people who contributed were mostly my friends and family, but then (Craig) turned it on me again and said that I was begging for money. He was saying how he thought that fighters shouldn’t get sponsorships.
“For a long time he was saying that fighters should not quit their full-time jobs, but then after one UFC fight, that’s exactly what he did. He completely contradicted himself in that respect,” Ray continued.
“Essentially, he’s now doing everything that I was trying to do before the UFC. I was trying to provide for my family while also pursuing a dream. He’s a hypocrite.”
While Craig dismissed Ray’s allegations that he insulted his family, he stands by the comments he made about Ray’s crowd-funding page.
“I’ve seen guys in my gym and other gyms struggling to make ends meet,” Craig said. “They were in the same boat as him and they were still holding down full-time jobs. If they could do it, why can’t he do it? That’s how I saw it.
“He was saying that he needed to be a full-time fighter. He needed to be a full-time fighter because he had no other skills. He didn’t like that I pulled him up on that.
“When you start a (crowd-funding) page to pay for training at Tristar, that’s not really what these things are used for. Those accounts are used to help people who are terminally ill or needing some support for something else,” Craig continued.
“I didn’t like that. He came out and said that his management company started it, but fighters have a say in what their management teams do. He could’ve told them it was in bad taste, but he didn’t.”
Both men agree that Ray has been the most put out by the back and forth. The lightweight revealed that he was at one of his lowest points as a professional when Craig initially replied to his post about his car trouble, which makes it harder for him to put the beef to bed.
“Paul doesn’t dislike me as much as I dislike him,” Ray admitted. “He’s seeing it as a bit of banter, but once you bring someone’s family into things and start calling them names, that’s taking it a step too far.
“Even belittling someone that is already down is a pretty sh*tty personal trait. I was down in the dumps. I was going through a bit of depression at the time, you know?
“I was thinking about quitting the whole thing and giving up on my dream. I was training all the time, I was completely exhausted and I had another kid on the way. I was dealing with all of these things and then I had some dipsh*t calling me names online. It really pissed me off.”
Despite their discrepancies with each other being common knowledge, the Scottish duo was pitted together for promotional rounds ahead of UFC Glasgow in late May.
Their appearance on BBC Sport made everyone aware of their disdain for each other, but Ray reported that Craig privately told him that their falling out was “all banter”.
“He saw that whole thing with the BBC as a bit of banter,” Ray said. “Even off camera at the end of it, he was like, ‘it’s all banter, Stevie,’ but I’m not laughing. I saw in another recent interview that he was saying that he wants to see me doing well and that he’s rooting for me, but it’s all fake as sh*t.”
Despite Craig’s well wishes, Ray, who faces Paul Felder at the event, hopes his fellow Scot gets “knocked the f**k out” in front of his home crowd on Sunday night when he takes on Khalil Rountree.
“At least I’m honest about it, I want to see him get knocked the f**k out,” Ray said. “It is what it is.
“When Tyson Pedro beat him, I was over the moon. He needed that. He was talking about fighting Jon Jones before that fight. He was talking about fighting legends like ‘Shogun’ too. Then he goes out and gets KO’d by Pedro, and fair enough he might be a good fighter, but he’s not a very well-known fighter like Jones or Rua.”
Ray is hoping for another bad night for Craig, but the light-heavyweight doesn’t see the sense in rooting against a fellow Scot, or European, for that matter.
“Even if I was the worse guy in the world, I wouldn’t expect a fellow countryman to wish that on me,” said Craig.
“I look at anyone from the UK, Scotland or Ireland as being in the same boat. If we don’t do well together, the UFC won’t be interested in coming back and doing fights over here.
“I want everyone from Europe to do well and I want Stevie Ray to do well. Stevie Ray winning is good for Scottish MMA,” Craig continued.
“Him wanting me to get knocked out won’t change that. I remember watching him in his first fight for the UFC and I was screaming him on at home. I’m not the kind of guy that thrives on peoples’ failures.”
Ray claimed that a sincere apology would bring a halt to the ongoing feud, but Craig seems in no rush to offer the olive branch.
“He’s not getting an apology for something so petty,” Craig said. “I find it hilarious that he thinks I need to apologize to him. I wouldn’t take it this seriously, Stevie, but I do love winding people up. After hearing this I might just keep reeling that fishing rod out there to see if he will take a bite.”