Ray Borg has never lost, and doesn’t plan to start.
Nick Urso has lost once, and hated the feeling.
Barring the unlikely and unwanted possibility of a draw, however, someone will lose when these two up-and-coming MMA fighters climb into the cage at Route 66 Casino Hotel on Friday night.
The stakes are high, the interest higher. Both fighters live and train in Albuquerque, but in rival gyms: Urso (7-1) at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, Borg (5-0) at FIT-NHB.
A victory would constitute a step up to the next rung of the ladder toward both fighters’ ultimate goal: the UFC. A loss, while not a deal-breaker, is a detour neither wants to take.
Pressure? Neither fighter will admit to feeling any.
“I don’t feel any more pressure than I normally would,” Urso said in a recent interview. “I just want to perform.
“The stakes are a little higher, but I don’t even put that into my mind frame. … I’m just wanting to better myself every training camp.”
Motivation? There’s plenty of that, and Borg will take it where he can get it.
Rhetoric from the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp at a news conference in February, he said, rankled a bit.
“I’m a respectful guy,” he said. “I respect my opponents, and I respect where they come from. But Nick and his camp kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
“I don’t go into a fight having to make it personal, but if you’re gonna make it personal, then it’s an easier fight for me.”
Urso doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s no grudge match for me,” he said. “A fight’s a fight. There’s no emotions involved for me. … I’m just here to be professional and get down to business.”
The two fighters arrived at their place of business by different routes.
Urso, 28, was working at a Florida law firm when he decided he’d rather fight for a living. He moved to Albuquerque about six years ago to train at Jackson-Winkeljohn.
“That’s completely behind me now,” he said of his dalliance with the legal profession. “… I would never leave MMA full time.”
Borg, 20, is a child of the Southwest. He has family in Bayard, lived in Tucumari, went to school in San Jon, but did most of his growing up in Tucson.
With a background in wrestling, he was introduced to MMA by Abel Cullum, a Tucumcari fighter. Borg found his way to Albuquerque, and FIT-NHB, about three years ago.
Both men said they’re acutely aware they’ll be representing their respective gyms Friday.
The rivalry is a natural one.
Tom Vaughn, FIT-NHB’s founder, was among Greg Jackson’s first black belts before eventually opening his own gym with his wife, Arlene Sanchez.
Neither man has ever been quoted as speaking ill of the other. Still, some high-profile defections from FIT-NHB to Jackson-Winkeljohn – Carlos Condit, Coty “Ox” Wheeler, most recently Donald Sanchez, who’s also fighting on Friday’s card – spice the rivalry.
Borg is acutely aware he’ll be representing FIT-NHB against Jackson-Winkeljohn, among the world’s best-known MMA concerns. But, he says, he won’t be thinking about that once the cage door closes.
“It’s pretty important to me, and not only me,” he says of the intracity rivalry, “to my gym and my coaches and everyone around me.
“But it’s just another fight. It’s nothing too crazy. … I’m doing this to better my career and take me to the next step. But, yeah, it’s a big deal for our gym.”
Urso said he’s aware of the high level of interest the involvement of the two gyms has created. But, like Borg, his focus is on the fight.
“I’m here to represent my gym, no matter who we’re competing against,” he said. “I represent myself and my gym at the same time.
“I respect (FIT-NHB); I respect Ray. I’m just gonna compete.”
For both men, then, the goal is the same.
“Losing? I don’t even make it an option,” Urso said. ‘I’ve had the taste of a loss before, and it didn’t sit well. I don’t plan on letting it come back into my life again.”
Borg has never tasted defeat, even as an amateur, but doesn’t have to taste it to know he doesn’t like it.
“I never have losing on my mind,” he said. “I’m gonna try and stay undefeated as long as I possibly can.”