The flyweight division is still in its infancy as far as the everyday fan is concerned. The flyweights are not always known for their knockout power, but they are known for their ability to consistently provide an entertaining fight, whether it be on the UFC Fight Pass prelims for three rounds or the main event that could go the full five rounds. So, for up-and-coming flyweights like Kevin “Pocket Herc” Gray, who fights on the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 22 card this Friday, it all comes down to the performances inside the cage.
“You see [flyweights], but you don’t see them as much, which sucks for us,” Gray told Combat Press. “There is plenty of flyweights out there. Flyweights hands down have entertaining fights. These guys are going balls to the wall a mile a minute the whole fight. Flyweights, you put them out there, no matter who it is [and] they will give a good entertaining fight.”
Gray’s background is similar to that of many fighters who are now involved in mixed martial arts today.
“I started with wrestling, obviously,” Gray said. “I wrestled in high school and was a state placer. One of my teammates was Tim Elliott, who I wrestled with in college. He actually gave me my first loss my junior year in the semifinals. So that was kind of a good way to meet him.
“But, after I graduated, I went to Labette Community College, which is in Parsons, Kansas. I went there for three years, and my second year there, we won a national title, which was pretty neat. In my third year, I blew my knee out and pretty much sat off the whole season. I think I wrestled a tournament and was pretty much out for the rest of the season, which helped me get healthy and ready for the next year when I transferred.
“I transferred to York College, wrestled there for a year and was a national qualifier. A high school coach contacted me and asked if I wanted to transfer for my senior year to Dana College, so that’s where I ended up transferring to. That’s where Benson Henderson ended up going. I wrestled there for a year and did fairly well. I lost in overtime to the All-American, which was kind of a bummer, and I think that’s what sparked my interest in MMA — to keep competing and fill that empty gap that I didn’t get with my collegiate career.”
MMA seems like the most likely path for many wrestlers to take when the transition to mixed martial arts is achieved. Other than the Olympics, where else can a wrestler go after their college days? There really isn’t anywhere. Gray took that to the next level. Watching some of his teammates compete was the catalyst that he needed to get to make that leap.
“I had some teammates that had competed before, and I kind of thought about it,” Gray explained. “And, you know, not being able to fulfill what I wanted to do my senior year — working so hard and being that close and being cut short — just put a fire in my butt to do something, you know? MMA is probably the closest thing you can get to a wrestling match. It’s the same concept — grinding out, one-on-one, you and another person — except the only thing is, you have punches, kicks and submissions. I kind of joined a gym, and at first I just wanted to join to see if I could actually do it — if I was going to be fine with getting punched in the face — and learning submissions. And, being a wrestler, I picked up [MMA] fairly quick. I think [wrestling is] a good background to have if you are going to go into MMA.”
Gray’s statement rings of massive truth. Look at current UFC champions Cain Velasquez and Chris Weidman. Both have very extensive wrestling backgrounds and it has proven to be, at times, their most valuable weapon. In the case of Gray, he leans on his wrestling but makes sure that it isn’t the only aspect that he focuses on. He doesn’t have just one way of winning his fights either.
“Every fight I train for, I always train to go all three rounds [and] five if needed,” he said. “I’m training, not to really finish a fight, but to really be decisive and win the fight by however necessary. So if they slip and give me a submission, I’ll definitely take it. All of my pro fights have been by submission. And my amateur fights, I think I had two submissions and two decision wins.”
Going back to his amateur days, Gray has a pretty short resume compared to that of other fighters at his level. He only had four amateur fights, and he won all four of them. So, why the short run before jumping into the professional level?
“If you are fighting good competition at the amateur level, there’s no need to keep going and rack up 15-20 wins, because it really doesn’t do much for you other than to give you that good experience,” Gray explained. “So, if you are beating guys that are tough, you can definitely compete at the pro level and you might as well make that jump.”
It seems simple enough. Experience is invaluable in professional mixed martial arts, but as it has been said many times before, anything can happen inside that cage. What seems to be another part of Gray’s success in his young career is the people he has surrounded himself with at his gym, Premier Combat.
“We’ve got Joe Ellenberger. Jake Ellenberger comes in every once in a while. You have Houston Alexander, Ryan Jensen, Jason Brilz, all of these guys that have fought at the UFC level,” Gray boasted. “We have guys with so much experience, and they are so helpful. They have been through a lot and they know that these young guys like me, with a strong wrestling background, they try to make me work outside of my wrestling. Most of those guys are bigger than me, so if we are going and I take a shot, just because I am in trouble, they make sure that is when they use their weight and their strength to try and stop it. But when we are on the feet, they let me work, which is really good and very helpful. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to be around, that’s for sure.”
It seems as though there is always that one person in the gym that a fighter connects with on a different level when it comes to training. In Gray’s scenario, that relationship is reminiscent of the one that B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes cultivated after meeting each other inside the Octagon. Gray found his best training partner in the form of an old foe.
“He was my last amateur fight, which is funny. Darrick Minner,” Gray chuckled. “He was kind of training at Premier at the time that we fought. He was going in the afternoons and I was going in the mornings. Then, after we fought, we agreed that we should get together and start training together because he was one of my toughest fights up to that point, for sure. So now he helps me a lot and he’s actually going to be my corner man up in Colorado. He’s also a wrestler, but his style is more all-around because he is really technical on his feet and now his jiu-jitsu is really good. He’s a good partner to have. I can wrestle and scramble with him or stay on my feet and really work my movements and combos.”
Gray also feels that inspiration from other experienced fighters in his gym, such as Dakota Cochrane, pushed him to continue his dream.
“He was one fight away and the guy that ended up beating him ended up going [to the UFC], and it was a guy that Dakota was favored over,” Gray recalled. “He has had so many opportunities and he never stops. He keeps coming back. He’ll take a defeat and come right back. He never loses his composure. Some guys would be broke down after getting so close and being knocked back down to have three more fights to get back to that chance. I think he’s a really big inspiration for me. He’s a hard worker and a hell of a fighter.”
Gray’s fight this Friday in Colorado Springs comes against Joey Eisenbraun on the main card of RFA 22. Eisenbraun, at 3-1, actually holds the exact same professional record as Gray. Both fighters have two guillotine wins and one rear-naked choke win. Gray will be going into this fight at a little bit of a height disadvantage, but that doesn’t concern him one bit.
“He’s a southpaw, and the leg I prefer to shoot on is there the whole fight,” Gray pointed out. “I watched a couple of his videos and he’s good with his right hook. So, if I can just get on the inside of that, I think I will be fine. I like to move a lot and I am pretty quick. I try to use that to my advantage as much as possible. The only thing I really do is think about winning the fight every way possible. If it’s a decision, it’s a major decision. If it’s a rear-naked choke, then it’s a rear-naked choke. But I try not to get too caught up in, ‘Oh, I’m going to catch this guy in a guillotine or I’m going to get a submission on him,’ because if he defends a few, then that kind of breaks your morale because that is what you were shooting for. So, I am planning for a three-round war.”
The question that came next is one that burns in every fighter’s mind. It’s a goal that a majority of fighters strive to achieve. The goal of a UFC contract.
“I think the RFA is the perfect organization because they are just feeding the UFC,” Gray said. “All of their champs might defend the belt maybe once and then they are gone, if they get a chance to defend it. RFA is a good organization, and I think if I just keep my composure and keep striding, it can’t be more than two or three fights away at the most, I imagine, at this weight class.”
It’s not hard to deny that a fighter who is finishing fights consistently would get the call to fight for easily the world’s biggest stage, especially considering that neither the Bellator or World Series of Fighting rosters currently boast flyweights.
Gray will be competing for only the second time in a year, which leaves a lot of down time. While it is not unusual for fighters to have full-time jobs outside of fighting, none could be more perfect than the job Gray has as a personal trainer.
“Well, the good thing is working in a gym [allows me] to get workouts in, even if I can’t make it to my fight gym,” Gray explained. “Once I am in my fight camp, I make sure that I have a set out time that I go to practice and I don’t schedule anybody then. When I don’t have any fights planned, I still work out and I still do my high-intensity workouts so I am staying in shape. I’m keeping my cardio up and just making sure that my lifts are predominantly for MMA so I can still be explosive in my movement and whatnot, making sure not to take a step back because of work.”
The flyweight division might still be in its infancy, but fighters like Gray are poised to help the weight class reach its next level. He’s also a good bet to deliver another one of those entertaining performances everyone has come to expect from the flyweights.