Sauk Valley

Hubbard signs with UFC, debuts next month

Austin Hubbard is going to the big leagues.

The MMA fighter originally from Sterling signed a four-bout deal with UFC, and will make his debut in the octagon on May 18 on the card at UFC on ESPN+ 10 at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York.

Hubbard (10-2) will face Davi Ramos, a 9-2 fighter from Brazil.

“You work so hard for something like this for so long that when it finally comes true, it’s just a crazy feeling that I can’t really explain, such happiness,” Hubbard said.

Though he’s been watching UFC cards since Day 1, UFC was not something Hubbard grew up dreaming about being a part of.

“I never thought about fighting until after high school when I was in college,” he said. “I never thought I would make it into a career. When I started doing it, it was basically just out of boredom. I was just out of high school, and I had competed in sports my whole life. I went to Sauk Valley Community College, and they don’t have wrestling or football. I just got super bored and went to the local MMA gym and gave it a try, and stuck with it – and now I’m here.”

The whirlwind of Hubbard’s career has taken him from a string of Caged Aggression cards after he turned pro in 2015 to claiming the LFA lightweight title by stopping Killys Mota on punches in the fifth round of a December 7 bout in Minnesota, and now to the leading promoter in the sport.

“Some people it takes a lot longer, some people, it may be shorter,” he said. “Just the fact that I’m here finally and competing in the biggest and best organization in the world is just super surreal.”

The journey for Hubbard involved a move west in 2016 to train with Elevation Fight Team out of Denver, sharing a training space with plenty of active UFC fighters, including Neil Magny, who made his UFC debut in 2013 and will be on the same card as Hubbard next month.

Magny (21-7), originally from Dolton, will try to rebound from his UFC Fight Night 140 loss in November to Santiago Ponzinibbio when he faces Vicente Luque in a welterweight bout.

“Neil Magny has been my mentor since Day 1,” Hubbard said. “When I first came out here to train for a week before I moved here, he offered up a place to stay and everything else. … He’s been a great help to me in my career since I’ve been here, for sure.”

Hubbard’s career moving forward means it is no longer a side gig. He has left his day job to train as a professional full-time, working out multiple times a day, mixing in striking and grappling with cardio and strength and conditioning.

“I’ve fully dedicated myself and my time and my life to revolve around this,” he said. “Making dreams come true. I don’t feel I have to do too much different. Keep working hard and specifically gameplanning for this opponent. For the most part, things will stay the same.”

That next opponent is Ramos, who made his UFC debut in a 2017 loss to Sergio Moraes, but has won his last three bouts, catching Chris Gruetzemacher, Nick Hein and John Gunther with a rear naked choke, the last two in the first round. His November 10 win over Gunther at UFC Fight Night 139 in Denver lasted just under 2 minutes.

“He’s a world-class grappler, so I imagine he’s going to try taking me to the ground,” Hubbard said. “We’re drawing up a gameplan to be prepared for that. …. I feel pretty confident that I’ll be able to shut down his wrestling and keep it on our feet and put on an exciting stand-up war.”