Paul Craig doesn’t know what it’s like to go a full 15 minutes in the Octagon. But he can tell you all about going 14 minutes and 59 seconds.
“When I watch it back and I listen to Dan Hardy’s commentary, and I listen to him screaming…it gives me goosebumps.”
He’s speaking, of course, of Craig’s last second submission of Magomed Ankalaev at 2018’s UFC London event. And it gave any number of people watching that night goosebumps. Down on the scorecards as the clock ticked away, he dug down deep and pulled out a freaky triangle choke that forced his opponent to tap at 4:59 of the third round. It was a UFC record for the latest submission, and despite the fraught, tense moment, Craig can recall what he was thinking.
“Everything is sliding away from you, because you put so much in at fight camp. And that was the last fight on my contract. I was coming off two losses back to back. If you’re not pulling weight, there’s a potential you’re not gonna get a new contract. So I could feel everything I’ve worked for to that point, to get me to the UFC, was just about to disappear. And I managed just to think about everything, like your family, like pictures of your family, images in your head, and I just felt like this was meant to be. I fired up a triangle, nailed it, and the rest is history.”
Fast forward to UFC Philadelphia last March, and there was Craig, disproving the notion that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Down on the cards again, this time against Kennedy Nzechukwu, Craig whipped out the exact same triangle and locked it in with less than a minute to go in the fight. If these fights had happened in a movie, you might not believe it.
But for “Bearjew,” it’s not so unbelievable.
“You can train to defend the triangle all you want…but when you’ve got long limbs and you’ve got the dexterity that my hips have got, it’s just so easy to catch them,” he explains of his signature move. “It’s hard to simulate the ability that I’ve got in my hips. Once you’ve felt what my triangle feels like, it’s very, very hard to escape from.”
Still, with all the nerves and anxiety that can come along with these last-minute Hail Marys, you might think the proud Scotsman is hoping to get his night over with a bit earlier this Saturday in Minneapolis.
“You know, there are some bonuses that come with last-minute submissions, and one of them is the fact that you get the Performance of the Night bonus. So there’s always that. The bonus is nice, but it would be good just to go out in the first 20 seconds and land a big overhand right and it’s game over. But I’m learning how to strike in the Octagon and learning my craft by being in there more. So going 15 minutes is great for me.”
Win or lose, his next fight doesn’t have any of the makings of being a 15-minute affair. In drawing hot prospect Alonzo Menifield, Craig will be sharing the cage with another fighter who has never left it in the judge’s hands. As of this writing, Craig was the betting underdog, a fact he seems to relish.
“Everybody loves an underdog, you know? We love these movies where the guy comes back. Everybody wants that. I work better under pressure. When my back’s against the wall, that’s when I produce the best from myself.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve