The first thing worth knowing is that Ray Borg has no anger in his heart. For someone who has had so much turmoil in his young life, that is saying something. That is almost a miracle.
And it’s precisely because of his little miracle that he can say that.
Anthony Borg, born three weeks prematurely on March 27, only to be diagnosed with hydrocephalus and spend 60 days in the hospital, is improving. He is strong and growing, and in his most recent check-up, his specialists liked what they saw. Ray was able to bring him home by Father’s Day, so really, what else matters?
Suddenly, nothing about the past seems so important. Not being sprayed by glass in Conor McGregor’s infamous Brooklyn bus attack. Not missing his scheduled UFC 223 fight against Brandon Moreno due to resulting corneal abrasions. Not his UFC flyweight championship loss to Demetrious Johnson. And not his rough and poor upbringing in tiny towns across the U.S. southwest.
“After having a kid and watching him go through what he had to go through, I learned that there’s not a whole lot of room for hate,” he told MMA Fighting. “Everything that happened with me and Conor, I don’t hate the dude no more. I have a certain feeling toward people who have healthy kids. I value that, so it actually makes me really happy that Conor has his boy and shows him off on social media. What we went through, I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, so it’s nice to see people enjoy their kids.”
His own start wasn’t quite as difficult as his son’s, but it had its challenges. For one thing, he was born in Arizona only because his father was in court to answer a warrant and while there, his mother went into labor. It’s as good an origin story as any, even if it served to portend his nomadic future. Over the course of his childhood, Borg was constantly on the go, moving back and forth between his divorced parents, and from town to town in Arizona and New Mexico. In the third grade alone, he says, he attended eight different elementary schools.
Though his family was at the time something close to rudderless, Borg found direction through sports. First kickboxing, then football, and finally, in the eighth grade, he found mixed martial arts. His first coach, former DREAM fighter Abel Cullum, saw something in Borg that he did not see in himself, and told him that he must chase it as a career.
But equally important was his dedication to family. Despite his rootless childhood, Borg grew so close to his brother and sister that he went so far as to sell his Christmas gifts in order to help provide for them.
“People probably thought I was a little weirdo or a crack-baby kid,” he said. “I would walk around Albuquerque and for example, one time I received an MP3 player, and I’d go around and ask people if they wanted to buy it, so I’d have money to take them to the movies or dinner. Growing up was about learning to survive.”
Still is, in some ways. This includes taking in and raising his younger brother Johnathan when Johnathan was 16. Even before then, Borg had seen the way his brother looked up to him, which caused him to adjust his thinking and behavior. At the time, Borg was what he calls a “little skater kid” who was doing skater kid things, like vandalizing property.
“I knew what I was doing wasn’t good at all, and I didn’t want him doing the things I was doing, so I started to learn to be on my toes with him,” he said. “I’ve seen kids follow their older siblings into things like that and end up in hardcore s**t or even die. I wanted to make sure my brother never followed a bad path, and that’s why I moved him in with me.”
All of this is to say that Borg has seen his share of adversity. All of this is to say a little glass in the eye and a trying family period won’t hold him down. With baby Anthony recently clearing a dangerous period for the shunt inserted within a ventricle inside his brain, Borg is raring to get back to work, with hopes of a September return. He’d like to tangle with current No. 2 flyweight contender Sergio Pettis, but if the UFC doesn’t like that idea, he’s happy to fight someone like Wilson Reis or Ben Nguyen.
“My weight’s good, I’ve been taking care of my body, I’m good to go,” he said. “I’m ready to get back in training, feel it out, and let these hands fly.”
Borg can’t be blamed for wanting to put the past behind him, even if he knows full well that the past helps determine who we are. His fight with Johnson, for example, was a lesson he carries with him. Originally scheduled for September 9, 2017 but pushed back a month after Borg fell ill on the eve of the bout, Borg was eventually stopped via armbar in the fifth round.
“I learned that my wrestling is good but not as good as what it needs to beat DJ,” he said. “He stuffed a lot of my takedowns and out-scrambled me in a lot of positions. I’m one of the best in the world for a reason. I’m ranked No. 4, but there’s so much more room for improvement than what I could have imagined. Skill-level wise, there’s a bunch of stuff that happened in the fight that we take in and improve on. As far as my hands go, my wrestling, jiu-jitsu. A lot of technical improvements and psychological ones, too.”
In his perfect plan, he’d come back and rack up a couple of wins and fight Johnson again. But he doesn’t know if that will happen, mostly because he wonders if Johnson is on the way down from his lofty peak.
Borg has a feeling that Henry Cejudo will upset Johnson when they face off in their August rematch. He doesn’t say this is a dismissive way, only that when he watches past Johnson fights, he sees differences.
“DJ is by far the strongest guy I’ve ever fought,” he said. “But I think when he fought me he was at the top of his peak. He might have one more fight at the top of his s**t. But even if he beats Cejudo, it’s going to be a lot rougher fight for him, and I think as soon as he has that rough fight, we’re going to see the time ticking on when he’s really out the door.”
Still only 24 years old, Borg sees himself as the heir, that he’ll be able to wiggle his way back toward what he wants, the way he’s always done.
“I’m an expert at figuring s**t out,” he said. “I’m an expert in surviving.”
He’s illustrated that over the last several months. He doesn’t need to hear an apology from McGregor — “He’s got his own problems to deal with and I’ve got mine, so him saying sorry would do nothing for me” — and he glides forward with his family as the wind behind his sails.
Life has been difficult, but somehow, life is good, too. His son is healthy, his brother is happy, and his career is soon to be back on track.
“My vision for the rest of the year is to beat up whoever I need to beat up,” he said. “The goal is the same. Rack up as many wins as I can, get as good as I can, and go get that belt.”
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