Woodbridge natives Kris McCray, Justin Hickey chase their MMA dreams

Justin "The Butcher" Hickey, left, and Kris "Savage" McCray. Hickey, who will fight in a 145-pound match in UWC 8: Judgement Day on May 22  at Patriot Center, hopes to follow in his best friend's footsteps. McCray went 4-0 in UWC cards before making it onto Spike TV's reality series The Ultimate Fighter 11.
Justin "The Butcher" Hickey, left, and Kris "Savage" McCray. Hickey, who will fight in a 145-pound match in UWC 8: Judgement Day on May 22 at Patriot Center, hopes to follow in his best friend's footsteps. McCray went 4-0 in UWC cards before making it onto Spike TV's reality series The Ultimate Fighter 11. (Courtesy of MikeBurnsphoto.com)

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By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 20, 2010; 1:20 PM

Update (5/21): Ryan "Lion" Diaz, challenger to Mike "The Hulk" Easton, was diagnosed with parotitis, an infection that blocks the salivary glands causing swelling and pain, that will prevent him from competing in Saturday night's main event.

When Woodbridge natives Kris McCray and Justin Hickey stood shoulder-to-shoulder slicing meat as butchers at a local Food Lion, they dreamed that one day they'd be able to rip off their hair-nets and trade in their blood-stained plastic gloves for a glamorous path in mixed martial arts.

McCray -- a 185-pound sensation -- has worked his way up through local cards and recently earned his break on The Ultimate Fighter 11 -- a Spike TV reality series that has produced some of the sports' most recent stars. He's shown Hickey, his best friend, a clear path to the sport's biggest stage, that their dream is possible.

"We're like brothers, best friends, roommates. His stuff is still here," said Hickey, 22, as he pointed to the back of his 800-square foot Dumfries apartment. "Wherever he goes, I go."

But McCray, a fan favorite who is nicknamed "Savage," has started to ascend the sport's ladder by keenly playing the gray area between malicious bruiser and charismatic joker.

Long gone are the days when McCray would apartment-hop with Hickey and scrape by on odd jobs while moonlighting as a known bar-brawler.

If Hickey, a 145-pounder, is to keep up with his best friend, he'll need to quickly follow in McCray's footsteps, using his fight against Dustin "The Disciple" Pague (6-4) in Saturday's Ultimate Warrior Challenge 8: "Judgement Day" as his launching point. The 10-card MMA event will be headlined by three-time UWC champion Mike "The Hulk" Easton (9-1) in a bantamweight title fight against Ryan "Lion" Diaz (17-11). The card is UWC's return to Fairfax, which seemed unlikely after Easton's Oct. 2009 victory over Chase Beebe -- a result that many thought the Virginia State Athletic Commission had botched and had promoters swearing they would not return to Patriot Center. With the recent arrival of UFC in Fairfax and Dana White's pledge to make D.C. an MMA fight town, Saturday's card is as important to UWC's survival as it is to Hickey's budding career.

"This is probably the most important fight of his life right now," said McCray, who was 4-0 in UWC fights before getting his break in the TUF house. "This is like his first kind of test in front of his home crowd and everybody is going to be there, so he really wants to do well."

With his compact 5-foot-7 frame nestled into the corner of a couch, Hickey ordered his overweight pit bull Sasha to kneel at his feet as he described his passion for fighting.

"I'm just an animal," said Hickey, a former area wrestling star who transferred from two high schools (Woodbridge, Freedom-Woodbridge) before settling at Gar-Field and posting a 55-5 record as a senior.

Hickey's fighting career started when he was 12, discovered by a middle school wrestling coach on a basketball court in one of Woodbridge's toughest neighborhoods, Woodbridge Run.

"I used to carry boxing gloves in my backpack and just go around challenging people," Hickey said.


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