Paul Craig is aiming to become UFC light-heavyweight champion and plans to beat Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Johnny Walker in order to realise his dream.
Craig, who used to be a school teacher, came within minutes of potentially being released by the promotion at UFC London in 2019 when he was being mercilessly pummelled by Magomed Ankalaev.
Paul Craig wants to retire Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua by beating him in their rematchGetty Images – Getty
However, he found a last minute triangle to secure a win which effectively saved his MMA career and kept him from returning to the classroom.
This cavalier and bold attitude saw him step up on just three weeks’ notice to face ‘Shogun’ Rua in his Brazil hometown and claim a credible draw.
Craig was despondent with the draw after a furious start but, with a rematch set for the UFC Apex this evening, the Lanarkshire native is confident of securing a positive result this time around.
“I think it is that about the camp,” he told talkSPORT.com. “You can take fights at the last minute.
Craig got a draw after just a two-week camp last yearGetty Images – Getty
“But I think you always need to be on top and, with regards to always being on, I don’t have an off-season. When it comes to taking time off and only eating what I want and drinking lots and not training, I’m always on.
“I tend not to over-consume, over-indulge or under-train because I am always on. I think that’s what allowed me to step in there on three weeks’ notice and get a good result. I don’t think it was a bad result, the draw at the time felt bad to me because I always want to win.
“But as I look back in the year since I’ve fought him; I’m a much better fighter, I’m a much better striker and I’ve got the skillset to deal with ‘Shogun’ Rua.
“We saw what he did in that fight there and then we started working on the way to deal with that. So, my coach, he is obsessed with watching footage and he loves watching footage to come up with different strategies.
“The fact we have such a good team dynamic about us means we can lean on other people like black belts from other clubs to have their input. I think this is one of the best camps we have had, moving into this fight.”
Craig saved his UFC career with a last-minute submission over Magomed AnkalaevGetty Images – Getty
Craig was last seen on Fight Island back in July on Darren Till’s undercard when he submitted Gadzhimurad Antigulov in the first round.
In doing so, he moved level with the likes of Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira with five submissions in the UFC light-heavyweight division as well as the most triangle chokes in UFC history (3).
However, while records are fantastic, the ‘Bearjew’ is hoping to end Rua’s UFC career to boost his own legacy.
“When you talk about records for submissions and triangles, that’s my legacy,” he continued. “I would love to be ‘Shogun’ Rua’s last fight.
The ‘Bearjew’ now harbours light-heavyweight dreams of his ownGetty Images – Getty
“He’s got no other draws on his record; he’s either won or lost. So all these kind of things just add to my legacy and I can kind of tag onto the back of his legacy by fighting him.
“We saw last year he got inducted into the Hall of Fame for his fight against Dan Henderson. Maybe that’s what it’s going to be like with me!
“A three-round fight where I absolutely hose him, then a trilogy fight because he is the guy with power.
“I’ve got no power, he decided he wanted to run this fight back. He’s got tremendous pull within the UFC.”
Craig is in the form of his life and looks in tremendous shape for the Las Vegas showdownHandout – Getty
Jon Jones vacated the UFC light-heavyweight belt earlier this year in order to pursue his goal of becoming heavyweight champion.
In doing so, Jan Blachowicz filled the void created by ‘Bones’ by knocking out Dominick Reyes at UFC 251. However, at the age of 37 and with eight defeats on his record, the Pole is unlikely to reign for an eternity.
There are a host of top contenders at 205lbs and plenty of exciting fights on offer if someone can get a run going.
Craig, who spent his younger years teaching teens vocational skills, is now planning an assault on the title which could include a barnstorming fight with Johnny Walker.
Johnny Walker was once being tipped to challenge Jon Jones
“We had actually asked for Johnny Walker prior to getting the Shogun fight,” he revealed. “It’s not that we had seen lots of holes in Johnny Walker’s fighting style, but what we had seen is he makes mistakes and then explodes out of them.
“So he will miss a kick and then come back round with a spinning back fist and he just turns it on. So we believe in my skillset and my ability to stay tight, ride out that storm and get a victory over him.
“We are always looking to the next fight; we recently watched [Misha] Cirkunov who has been matched with Ryan Spann, who I was supposed to be fighting.
“Everyone in the division has sort of been matched up so I think it’s just going to be one of those things where we are going to have to wait and see who is going to be our next opponent.
Blachowicz became the UFC light-heavyweight champion by knocking out Dominick ReyesGetty Images – Getty
“But, ultimately, what we are looking for is this [Shogun fight] and then a five-round fight to prepare for a title fight.
“I’m not looking through Shogun or past him, I’ve still got a mountain to climb in regards to that. But we are looking to move into that top 10 and beat someone with a higher ranking in a five-round fight. Once we get that five-round fight, then we are going to be looking at that title.
“I want to be a champion. I’m top of those lists for submissions and triangles and I’ve got a few records, but the only record I want is the number one contender and having the belt. I want the belt.
“I think, for my first year definitely in the UFC, I didn’t have that goal. It wasn’t until I sat down and spoke with sports psychologists and my coach and set myself new goals.
“Looking at the division now, it’s wide open. You’ve got Jan [Blachowicz] in that number one position, but the division is open man. I think everybody has got an opportunity to capitalise on this and it makes the light-heavyweight division even more exciting.
“Jon Jones moving up to heavyweight has made this division so much better because he’s not clutching at that title any more and it just means there are more people trying to get to it now.”