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Stevie Ray: Anthony Pettis trying to ‘reassure himself’ with excuses ahead of PFL playoff rematch

Stevie Ray pulled off one of 2022’s front-runners for Submission of the Year in June when he submitted Anthony Pettis with a modified twister to punch his ticket to the PFL playoffs.

Ray is now set to face Pettis all over again six weeks later when he meets the former UFC lightweight champion on Friday at PFL 7. The immediate rematch is one of the semifinals of the promotion’s four-man lightweight playoff bracket, and ahead of the matchup, Ray stopped by The MMA Hour to reflect on his performance in the first fight and break down one of the slickest submissions seen in high-level MMA over the past several years.

“It can hurt your ribs, but it’s kind of spine as well,” Ray explained this week when asked about the Pettis finish during an in-studio appearance on The MMA Hour. “So you’ve got to think, like, what is a twister? It’s twisting the spine. And then when I’ve got the body triangle with the leg on the inside — because I’ve not got the body triangle just completely on his back, like trying to get a rear-naked choke, it’s almost like I’m side on him a little bit.

“So his upper spine is turning to the left; his lower body, or lower spine, is still facing the right, because of the lock I’ve got on his lower spine. And then so you control him.

“All my training partners watching that we’re probably knowing exactly [what was happening],” Ray added.

A former UFC standout, Ray said he learned the unique submission years ago while training a Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Someone hit him with it during a training session and Ray had no idea what was going on until he was suddenly tapping out because of the “horrendous pain” in his spine. Since then, it’s become one of his favorite moves to surprise people with on the mats. He even hit one on Craig Ewers during a Polaris event in 2021.

His finish of Pettis was particularly clutch though. Because of the way PFL’s point system works, Ray needed either a first- or second-round stoppage to sneak into the playoffs after losing his debut PFL match against Alex Martinez. Luckily, a second-round submission is exactly what he got. Now it’s him and Pettis in a rematch for all the marbles, with the winner advancing to the finals to vie for the bracket’s $1 million grand prize.

Pettis has since attributed the loss to him playing it safe and fighting not to lose, as the former UFC champion had already locked up his playoff spot. But Ray isn’t buying it.

“He’s obviously saying that to try and reassure himself I think,” Ray said. “Whether he believes it fully or not, I mean, when you’re in the octagon or in a fight with another guy, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you’re trying to win. Because he was saying he’s playing it safe. Maybe he was playing it a little bit safe, but he still hitting me with [shots], he was still trying to finish me. He hit me with everything he had and I was still pushing forward. I feel like even before the submission, that it wasn’t going as well as he’s making out as it was.

“And then obviously, if I didn’t get the submission, I had his back — and I would’ve still been on his back. I only allowed him to come up into the guard, if you like, because I’ve done this submission. So I’d still be on his back with a body triangle, probably punching him in the face, winning the second round.”

Ultimately, it’s all rather fortuitous how the situation worked out for the 32-year-old Scotsman. Because of circumstances outside of his control, Ray and Pettis were the last lightweights to fight before the playoffs were set. That meant they also had the shortest turnaround time to prepare for the semifinals. And that suits Ray just fine.

“I would say it’s worked out better for me,” Ray said. “Because he was injured. I know he said he wasn’t, but he was obviously a bit injured after that fight. He was down, holding his ribs, and I know how brutal that submission is.

“So he’ll know — he’ll know himself that for the first few weeks of this fight camp, he will probably have been sitting at home resting. You can’t go straight into a sparring hard and taking body shots and grappling and wrestling when I’ve just done what I’ve done to his rib. And he’ll know that in his head. And obviously, I remember listening to an interview he said before, ‘That confidence comes from your work ethic and how hard you’ve trained.’ He’s going to be battling some stuff in his mind when he walks out on Friday, knowing that he’s not been able to do everything.”

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