Friday, March 2, 2007

Ultimate Fighter dies unexpectedly

By Kelly Pakula

EDWOOD CITY — Eric Wray, a young mixed martial arts fighter who had won 11 of his 12 fights, was gearing up for the biggest fight of his short career this month.
After losing to former Spike TV Ultimate Fighter contestant Jason "Live Wire" Von Flue in October, Wray, 25, was excited to redeem himself in a March 31 fight against Gladiator Challenge Welterweight Champion Jeremiah Metcalf.

"He was four weeks away from headlining his first main event," Mike Bazzel, Wray's strength and conditioning coach for two years, said. "He was fighting for the title. He was nervous and excited."

Wray had just started working out again when he suddenly fell ill Tuesday night. Wray's girlfriend found him in their Redwood City home nearly unconscious. She called 9-1-1 and paramedics responded. They tried for 45 minutes to revive him, but their efforts ran short.

He was pronounced dead shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday at Kaiser Hospital in Redwood City. The cause of his death is still pending, according to the coroner.

"He texted me at 9:30 Tuesday night about what time to meet on Wednesday. By 11:30 he had goneto bed and by 12:30 I got a phone call from his girlfriend," Bazzel said. "By the time I got to Kaiser, he was gone. We were with Eric in the (hospital) room, but he had already passed."

In the tight-knit fighting community, Bazzel, who had known Wray since he was a teenager, said word of Wray's death traveled fast.

"The fighting community is a very small community in this area, and everyone knows him and everyone has been pretty upset with it," Bazzel said.
According to Eugene Jackson, former owner of Gladiators Gym in Redwood City, he met Wray when he walked into his gym at age 16.

"He came in and wanted to box. He was young and exuberant, he wanted to find his way," Jackson said. "He loved the fight world. He was like a fan that fought."

Jackson said as a fighter, Wray's ground game was his strong point. His best move was a triangle choke with his legs. When he wasn't pinning other fighters down, Jackson said Wray would serve as their "chiropractor," giving a probable diagnosis to their injuries.

Outside the gym, Wray was friendly. He was raised in the Bay Area and Seattle and lived in Redwood City with his girlfriend for the last few years.

"The general stereotype of a fighter would be some big, crazed, steroid-type guy who is aggressive and cocky," said Eddie Croft, co-owner of Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos where Wray sometimes trained. "He wasn't that way at all. He was a very low-key, soft- spoken humble guy."

Jackson said what set Wray apart from others was his genuineness. He was inquisitive, caring and always put himself second.

"He would give you the shirt off his back," Jackson said. "If he walked in with a Togo's sandwich, it would be cut into eight pieces before he even got a bite."

Friends and family plan to say goodbye to Wray during services Sunday in Half Moon Bay.


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