There seemed to be no stopping Ray Borg.
Then, someone did.
Friday in Las Vegas, Nev., Borg will be back in the octagon for the first time in almost 11 months. The Albuquerque flyweight MMA fighter is scheduled to face Louis Smolka on the main card of UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena.
But will fans at the arena and those watching the pay-per-view telecast see the “TazMexican Devil” who scored three overwhelming victories from June 2014 to August 2015, or the guy who was bedeviled by Justin Scoggins last February?
Scoggins, a 3-1 underdog, controlled the fight virtually throughout the three rounds in defeating Borg by unanimous decision. The loss halted the momentum the Albuquerquean had built with victories over Shane Howell (first-round rear naked choke), Chris Kelades (third-round kimura) and Geane Herrera (unanimous decision). For the Howell and Kelades fights, Borg had been awarded $50,000 performance bonuses.
Borg (9-2) was to have returned to action in September against Ian McCall, but the Albuquerquean fell ill and the fight was scratched.
Now, he said on Tuesday from Las Vegas in a phone interview, “I’m very motivated. … It’s been a long time. I’m ready to show everybody that I’ve been improving and working to get better the whole time, and not just being a lazy bum.”
This summer, Borg made a dramatic change — leaving his longtime training base at Albuquerque’s FIT-NHB gym and moving to rival Jackson-Wink.
Of the change, he said, “I just felt like I was stuck in the mud over there (at FIT-NHB),” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t growing very much. I was plateauing.
“I just wanted to grow more, and that’s what triggered the decision to head over to Jackson’s.”
At FIT-NHB, Borg and welterweight Tim Means — who also is on Friday’s card — were the only UFC fighters. The quality and quantity of sparring and training partners at Jackson-Wink, Borg said, was another reason for the move.
“It was big to have different training partners,” he said. “Someone who’s gonna push me, people who are really gonna test my strength on a daily basis.”
Means, interviewed separately on Tuesday, had a different take on his former teammate’s departure.
“(Borg) stopped showing up, stopped doing the work and blamed it on the gym,” Means said.
FIT-NHB coach and co-owner Tom Vaughn has filed a civil suit against Borg in Bernalillo Country Metropolitan Court, claiming his management company has a valid contract with Borg and is entitled to 20 percent of Borg’s earnings through the expiration of that contract.
Borg, for the second time, declined comment on Tuesday.
The McCall fight was to have been Borg’s debut with Jackson-Wink. Now it’s Smolka (11-2), an unusually tall 125-pounder at 5-foot-9. Borg stands 5-4.
Borg had difficulty closing with Scoggins, who stands 5-7. But changes made in the gym, he said, should help.
“I needed to change my striking style moving forward,” he said. “I felt like my striking style for the Scoggins fight wasn’t ideal. I was too (much) just standing there watching him.
“I didn’t engage, and I should have been moving forward, using a lot of footwork going forward. I feel like my striking style and my entrances moving forward are what needed to change.”
He describes Smolka as a well-rounded fighter, but adds, “We don’t really feel he’s fantastic anywhere. I feel like he’s OK everywhere.
“He’s a well-rounded fighter, but he’s (just) OK.”
Until Friday night, the hard work done, Borg plans to complete his weight cut and hang out in Vegas with his fianceé, Amanda Lovato, and his brother, Johnathan.
“Just relaxing on fight week,” he said, “and trying not to overthink everything.”
HOLM UPDATE: Holly Holm’s Feb. 11 UFC women’s featherweight title fight against Germaine de Randamie will be that night’s main event, UFC President Dana White announced.
The match between Albuquerque’s Holm (10-2) and Randamie (6-3) will be the first UFC women’s fight at 145 pounds.