Ray Borg briefly upended the MMA world earlier this month when UFC doctors withdrew him from his scheduled main event challenge against flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson just two days out from UFC 215 due to a viral illness.
Aside from a Twitter outburst that same week, Borg has largely laid low since the incident, electing to quietly return to the grind as he prepares for a rescheduled bout against Johnson on Oct. 7 at UFC 216. But on Monday’s episode of the The MMA Hour, Borg finally broke his silence regarding the sickness that forced him to postpone the opportunity of a lifetime. And for the 24-year-old, the trouble started before he ever even arrived in Edmonton to begin UFC 215 fight week.
“The plane ride over there, I was just kinda feeling like sh*t,” Borg recalled on The MMA Hour. “My body was aching really, really bad, and it was just really, really hard. And it was just kinda like, alright, it is what it is, I’m probably just getting over a tiny cold or just the atmosphere change. And then open media day wasn’t too, too bad; I was feeling a little uncomfortable.
“It wasn’t until open workouts (that I started to realize it was bad). Open workouts, I felt like I was having to push through a hard, hard workout. Like, I felt like it was one of my hardest training days of fight camp and I was having to push through it. So it was kinda at open workouts where I was really like, ‘This isn’t quite right. I’m feeling absolutely horrible.’”
Borg said he returned to his hotel room that Thursday after UFC 215 open workouts and immediately fell asleep — a practice which had already emerged as a worrisome trend as “The Tazmexican Devil” attempted to navigate through a difficult week. And ultimately, after having watched several of his Jackson-Winkeljohn teammates deal with similar illnesses in the weeks leading up to UFC 215, Borg knew that he may have caught the most ill-timed bug of his life.
“That was a key thing on why I knew I was sick,” Borg said. “Because I know my body very well, and on fight week, I’m active. I like to walk around, I like to hang out. And just the whole fight week, I just slept, and it was unusual for me because I’ve never been like that. I’ve never just been so dead tired on fight week. After [open workouts], I went to my hotel room, I slept, woke up, started throwing up a little bit, feeling like sh*t, and it was then when I was just — it was one of those things that had to be called.
“Everyone at Jackson’s, even Greg Jackson himself, came up to me and told me he doesn’t even know how I made it to fight week,” Borg added. “Because Greg Jackson was sick as well, and my wife caught it before I did, and just everyone at the gym was just catching it; the flu was going around, a lot of people were staying home sick. I think what really intensified it is a lot of people were also trying to push through it, and a lot of people were training sick (at the gym). So it was just, the flu was going around here in Albuquerque with the weather change and everything. It just so happened to be bad timing.”
A majority of outrage that emerged after UFC 215 centered around speculation that Borg’s illness and withdrawal was a direct result of his weight cut. Borg has missed weight twice in the UFC. He also pulled out of a Sept. 2016 contest against Ian McCall the day before UFC 203 weigh-ins, citing an illness, and publicly parted ways with his nutritionists, Perfecting Athletes, the day after his UFC 215 withdrawal.
But despite the optics of the situation, Borg on Monday reiterated his past statements that his pullout had “not even a little bit” to do with his weight cut, and only was the result of his illness.
“Weight cut was not even an issue,” Borg said. “I have done way, way worse weight cuts. This was going to be my easiest weight cut. This weight cut, I went into fight week lighter than what I did when I went to Brazil (for UFC Fortaleza). When I fought in Brazil and I made weight piece of cake — I went into fight week lighter by two pounds this time around than I did when I went to Brazil.
“I used to do huge weight cuts back in the day when I first started. People don’t remember, I had no problem cutting weight when I first got into the UFC. And they have it on record — I’m sure that they have it on record, what I showed up (weighing). I used to show up at, like, 138 or 137 on fight week my first four to five fights in the UFC, and made weight, cake, like nothing. I never looked depleted, I never wobbled onstage. So it was far from a weight cutting issue.”
Moving forward, Borg said that he does not plan to hire a full-time nutritionist for UFC 216. He explained the decision by stating that he’s hoping to get back to his roots as a fighter, and he simply wants to streamline his preparation as he readies for the biggest opportunity of his life.
“I found myself in a weird predicament,” Borg said. “I found myself wanting to just do what I did to get to the show. When I got to the UFC, UFC fights prior, I knew my body more than any nutritionist did. No matter how many nutritionists I’ve worked with, I know how my body reacts to certain things and I know the way I can cut weight the easiest, the best, and the fastest. And I tried to complicate things by adding in too many people just to make things easier throughout my career.
“So as of right now, I’m just doing what got me to the show, doing what I used to do with a little bit of guidance from … the nutritionist for the UFC Performance Institute. So, just consulting with him, he’s going to just kinda monitor everything, make sure I’m doing everything right and I make sure I stay on my food, make sure the biggest thing is recovery after training, things like that. But other than that, right now, where my weight’s at, I don’t need a nutritionist. I’m just going to do what I’ve done before.”
Borg acknowledged that the days after UFC 215 were a scary time for him. He wasn’t sure whether he’d get the opportunity back to challenge for Johnson’s flyweight title, or whether the UFC would hold it against him for causing the cancellation of a pay-per-view main event on such short notice.
But things ultimately worked out for the best, and Borg remains grateful that his chance at gold was not wasted.
“This is something I’ve literally been working my whole life for,” Borg said. “People don’t know, I’m only 24, but I’ve been in this game a very, very long time, since I was 13. When I got in this game when I was 13, I was in this game. I wasn’t taking beginner karate classes or jiu-jitsu classes. I was in this fight game at 13. So, to work this hard and get to the point where I want to be, when this happened, of course (I was scared).
“I didn’t know whether or not I was going to get this shot. The turn of events took a very, very hard turn, and it was just a sh*t day, a sh*t week, and I had no clue what was going to go on. I was just moping around my hotel room for like three days because I don’t know what’s going on. They could’ve very, very well (replaced me). Henry Cejudo looked good that night. They could’ve been like, ‘Well, you know, let’s give Henry Cejudo another crack at it,’ or, ‘Sergio (Pettis) just beat (Brandon) Moreno, let’s give him another crack at it.’ But I’m very blessed and I’m very fortunate to still have the opportunity to go in there and face Demetrious Johnson on Oct. 7.”