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For Ray Borg, ‘normalcy’ just means getting the chance to step into the Octagon again

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Ray Borg (pictured) fights Casey Kenney in a bantamweight bout Saturday at UFC on ESPN 2 in Philadelphia
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Define normal.

Maybe it’s getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home, and spending time with the family. Or maybe it’s going to school, studying hard, and then hanging out with friends after. Maybe it’s traveling, or watching movies, or playing in a band on weekends.

For most people, normal is not getting paid to undergo months of rigorous training and dieting to prepare oneself to step into a cage and physically batter (and be battered by) another human being. But that’s the kind of normal that Ray Borg is trying to get back to this Saturday.

It will be over 500 days since Borg last fought when he faces Casey Kenney in a 137.5-pound catchweight bout (Borg came in heavy on Friday for what was supposed to be a bantamweight bout and will forfeit 30 percent of his purse) at UFC on ESPN 2 in Philadelphia. 2018 was a lost year for Borg as bouts with Brandon Moreno and Joseph Benavidez fizzled (the Moreno bout multiple times, including once as a result of Borg ending up with glass shards in his eye from the infamous Conor McGregor bus attack last April) and Borg’s family continued to work through his newborn son Anthony’s hydrocephalus diagnosis.

Anthony underwent surgery for his condition last summer and celebrated his first birthday on Wednesday.

“I think this is the most, I guess you could say normalcy that we’ve had in the last year by far,” Borg told MMA Fighting. “His condition’s really smoothing out. It’s really mellowed out. With his condition, it’s all about meeting milestones and we’ve met a lot of milestones and we hope to continue meeting milestones and we’re excited about how far we’ve come and how things are looking right now.”

Borg explained that those milestones are things that most families wouldn’t ever have to worry about. After the initial surgery, the first three months were spent worrying about Anthony avoiding infection from the shunt that had to be placed inside his brain. And only then after six months does it become less probable that there will be a shunt malfunction. After 12 months, the hope is that any further problems with the device are a rarity.

Even given Borg’s struggles in his youth, he couldn’t recall a more difficult stretch in his life dating back to September 2017 when he was first scheduled to fight Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight championship at UFC 215. An illness forced Borg to withdraw from that bout just two days before fight night, though he would meet Johnson a month later at UFC 216, where he was on the receiving end of Johnson’s unforgettable “Mighty Wizbar” submission.

The personal and professional setbacks have added up, lending the 25-year-old Borg a unique kind of resolve.

“My whole life has kind of been all over the place, back and forth,” Borg said. “To this magnitude, no, I can’t remember. When it involves your son, your firstborn son, I don’t know if anything can ever put a cap on that.

“I’ve been damn near homeless and I’ve struggled my whole life, I’ve bounced around from place to place my whole life, and all that looking back was a cakewalk compared to having to watch your son go through any surgery. Have things fall so out of place so quickly. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever experienced a time as hard as the last year, but I got through it and I’m here and I continue to still stand.”

Even with his first booking of 2019, the MMA gods couldn’t help but take a few more jabs at their favorite punching bag. Borg was originally scheduled to fight Pingyuan Liu on Saturday, only to have Liu withdraw due to an injury. Liu was replaced by The Ultimate Fighter 27 contestant, Kyler Phillips, but that matchup didn’t last two weeks before Phillips also suffered an injury.

Fortunately for Borg, the UFC was able to sign Legacy Fighting Alliance standout Casey Kenney to fight him on short-notice and Borg could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Not that he was too stressed about it anyway.

“I kind of just laid back and let it unfold,” Borg said. “I know the UFC is really good at handling situations like this, so I just did my part, which was continue to train. Continue to focus on March 30 and all the things above. Focus on my son, focus on myself, my family, and with what I’ve been through the last year I just don’t care anymore.

“I don’t care who it is, who I have to fight, who I have to face off against. I’m out of cares to give when it comes to all that stuff.”

Given the uncertain future of the flyweight division and the fact that Borg will be making his 135-pound debut in the UFC on Saturday, it’s difficult to say where Borg ranks as a contender despite the fact that he is fresh off of a title shot. Henry Cejudo currently rules over the flyweight division and he could soon add another division to his domain after it was announced that he would be fighting Marlon Moraes for the recently vacated bantamweight championship in June.

Cejudo is an opponent that Borg has had his eye on, even before Cejudo stopped Johnson’s streak of 11 consecutive successful title defenses. He’s not interested in picking fights at the moment, but sees himself being a challenge for Cejudo whether they meet at 125 or 135 pounds.

“The fight kind of went exactly as I thought it would go,” Cejudo said of the Cejudo-Johnson clash at UFC 227. “I thought that if Cejudo beat him, he’d beat him in a razor-close decision. I didn’t think Cejudo would finish him.

“Cejudo’s obviously a really skilled fighter, but I think stylistically we match up really well. It’s all about styles in this sport, it really is, and I think with my style that I have and his style that he has it would make for a really fun fight, and I think I would give him a lot more problems than a lot of other guys.”

Borg still believes that flyweight is the ideal weight class for him, though he admitted that he was enjoying not having to do extra laps or sit in the sauna just to shed pounds during training, and he’s comfortable with the idea of permanently moving up.

Given all that he’s been through lately, any path that leads to Borg competing regularly again is one that he welcomes.

“It was kind of already my thought process with moving up to ‘35 is I am a veteran, I am top-5 at flyweight in the world, but I personally am considering this ‘35 move as a fresh slate,” Borg said. “I’ve washed my hands with all the bad juju that I’ve had at ‘25 and the last year and I’m considering this a fresh start. This is just a fight to get my feet wet and to get back in there and challenge myself mentally. And then after that I can start looking at the board and saying, ‘Okay, let’s start climbing these rankings even if we’ve got to fight dudes outside of the top-15 for a while.’

“Whatever I gotta do and then just let it happen naturally rather than trying to boost my way up into the top-15.”