PFL 3 lightweight Stevie Ray and wife Natalie have been going through one of the worst nightmares imaginable for a parent, with their daughter Myla struggling for years with epileptic seizures.
While in many cases epilepsy can be successfully treated with medication, that was not the case with Myla — who last year was diagnosed with a brain abnormality that requires surgery.
A little over a week ago now, the Ray family launched a fundraising campaign via GoFundMe in hopes of collecting enough money to pay for Myla’s surgery outright through a private clinic, rather than risk her enduring further damage while waiting for surgery under NHS, the U.K.’s National Health Service.
The fundraiser was, suffice to say, a smashing success. With a goal of 100,000 euros, the campaign surpassed its target in little more than a day, with high-profile donations from the likes of Dana White, Sean O’Connell, Paddy Pimblett, and the PFL itself.
Speaking to Cageside Press ahead of his April 14 fight against Natan Schulte at PFL 3, Ray revealed that after years of seizures and consulting with doctors, Myla’s condition changed ahead of last year’s PFL championship, where Ray faced Olivier Aubin-Mercier.
“About four to five weeks before the final last year, the Mercier fight, we were unexpectedly told that something was found in the MRI scan, that Myla had an abnormality in her brain,” Ray recalled. “That it was Cortical Dysplasia, and that basically she needed brain surgery to remove it.”
The news left his wife in tears, and admittedly “was a lot to take obviously,” said Ray. “It was four weeks before the final, so that was tough mentally, trying to deal with that, and the fight.”
The decision to go public to raise funds for surgery was to get the operation done quicker, “because we were told by NHS that it wouldn’t be until the end of the year. We then done the fundraiser, it went viral, it’s been a bit surreal to be honest.” While NHS eventually said it might be possible to get the surgery done sooner, by the beginning of April, Myla still wasn’t on a waiting list. With the GoFundMe campaign blowing past its goal, however, “it means that Myla’s going to be getting surgery soon now. It’s not before this fight, so I can at least focus on this fight, and then take it from there.”
Around 80% of people with epilepsy can control their seizures through medication, and some even grow out of it. Myla, however, is in the 20% where medicine cannot fully control the condition. “She’ll have medicine, and it’ll work for a little while, and then it stops working and she needs the dosage up. And then that’s just a repeat process, and eventually she ends up getting to the maximum dosage, and then that’s when it’s a problem.”
At seven, Myla probably doesn’t grasp things like medical bills and fundraisers, but the Rays have passed along the messages of support that have come from the campaign.
“She knows she’s getting brain surgery, we’ve told her the amount of love and support that’s been overwhelming from everybody in the word, really. Mostly the MMA community, but even from complete strangers,” Ray said. “I think a lot of people that have kids themselves, or nephews, nieces, whatever, they’ve just heard our story and felt that they wanted to donate. It went a little viral, it felt surreal, some famous people, strangers, everyone. It’s just been mental, it’s been really surreal.”
With so much going on at home, it’s a miracle Ray has even been able to focus on fighting — but he believes his toughness has been an asset, and is using the situation as motivation. And he knows his family isn’t the only one who have hit a bump in the road.
“After the last fight, it would have been good to win the million and retire, if I’m really honest. But it’s just one of those ones, if you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up again, for one. Sometimes life gets in the way. We’re not the only ones with an issue in life. There’s loads of people out there struggling,” said Ray.
“Ideally, if I didn’t do this this year, I could be there for Myla, for the surgery, take time off. But like I said, life goes on. I’ve still got bills to pay, and yeah, it’s hard obviously juggling fighting, fighting’s hard alone, never mine dealing with four kids and one that’s going through some issues, but you’ve just got to get on with it. I believe I’m tough, mentally and physically, and I do think, I might be biased, but a lot of people would have given up, done something different. But I’m just using it as motivation. I’m going to try and smash this year, and take it from there.”
Ray admits that one of the toughest parts of fighting is the financial side. “The biggest part for me is the financial security. It’s tough. The amount I’ve done in this sport, I still struggle at times, still worry about paying bills,” he said. “It’s not like a lot of other sports. If anybody had done what I’ve done in this sport, in another sport, they’d probably be f*cking rich. I’m not rich. It’s tough, it’s tough going. I think this might be my last year. This might be my last year, unless— the only thing that would make me want to fight again next year would be big names. Give me guys like Nate Diaz, or like when I fought Anthony Pettis. Give me Jake Paul. I’ll box him then fight him in MMA. Stuff like that.”
While the retirement decision is not 100% official, “I’ll see how I feel at the end of the year, but that’s the plan I think, that this will be the last year,” Ray added. “The problem is though, what do you do after you’re done, when you invest your life in something, to then do something different? It would be cool if I could do something else, that’s related. Maybe PFL could give me some sort of job in the sport, that would be cool. But we’ll see what happens.”
For now, however, there’s still Natan Schulte to deal with. The Brazilian is a two-time PFL champion, going all the way in 2018 and 2019. Ray is ready to find out who the better fighter is between them.
“He’s a good opponent. If you look at everybody in the PFL, every one of them are tough,” Ray noted. “They’ve all got different challenges. So it doesn’t really matter who you get, every fighter’s going to be tough, they’re going to have certain challenges. Natan Schulte, he’s won it twice, it was a wee while ago now. We’ve both lost to the same guy, Olivier. He’s well-rounded, he’s a good fighter, but I believe I’ve got the skills to beat him, and in 10 days time, we’ll find out who’s the better man. But I’m ready to go.”
Watch our full interview with PFL 3 lightweight Stevie Ray above. Ray faces Natan Schulte on April 14, 2023 at The Theater at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, NV.