When Paul Craig stepped into the Octagon last June against Jamahal Hill after a week of back-and-forth banter both on social media and in person, he knew exactly what he needed to do: finish the fight, and convincingly.
And so he did, in a way in which few of us will soon forget, while extending his current unbeaten streak to five and his run of wins by finish to three.
Normally, we’d expect to see someone target a quick turnaround after a performance like Craig had in Phoenix, but to put it into his own words: “Life just gets in the way.”
“I wish I had capitalized on the victory over Jamahal Hill, but this is what the leaves dealt me,” Craig said, adding that he was planning to make his return in September on a card that went from being a UFC London takeover to a British invasion of the UFC APEX.
“I was gutted not to fight in the UK, but also just gutted to not fight,” Craig said of his scheduled matchup against former UFC light heavyweight title challenger and Hall of Famer Alexander Gustafsson.
“This is a guy I’ve looked up to from when I first started watching MMA. This is a guy who I’ve trained with, and I’ve seen how devastating he is in his camps. This is a guy I wanted to beat because he was a title contender, he was the face of UFC Europe, and to share the Octagon with him was another dream come true.
Unfortunately, life gets in the way and we’re now a year down the line and I’ve got a fight against Krylov. You’ve just got to beat who’s in front of you to get to that next level.”
And while we’re nearly a year down the road, it seems to be under the circumstances of a fairly digestible tradeoff: now fighting inside a sold out O2 Arena in London against a formidable Nikita Krylov.
“I’m glad we’re back in the UK, home soil, and the last time we were here was one of my most amazing victories I’m ever going to achieve in this sport, so I’ve good vibes for this one,” Craig said, alluding to his literal last-second submission over Magomed Ankalaev the last time the Octagon was brought to London.
Bonus Résumé | Paul Craig
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Bonus Résumé | Paul Craig
“To be on home soil, in front of fans who know you, fans who’ve seen you from your days as an amateur to now, working your way through the rankings. There’s going to be people in the crowd who have followed my career from day-dot and they’re going to be showing me some love,” the Scot said, cracking a huge smile.
“That’s what it’s about. It’s about being in front of them: the people who have gotten you to where you are just now. Giving back to them. In London and at the first thing that fans have been back at for almost three years: a sellout show, very quick to sell out. I think the roof is just going to get ripped off this place.”
If fighting in front of a “home crowd” isn’t enough to motivate “BearJew,” having an eye on that coveted #10 that currently sits next to Krylov’s name is also a push.
“I think every fight needs to motivate you, I think you need to have fire under your feet to allow you to get up in the morning, to do those long runs, to lift that extra weight, to go into the gym and go those extra rounds, and I think Krylov is definitely one of those guys who brings that out of me.”
Now again, just like last year, the 34-year-old’s objective is simple. Win the fight and do so while leaving no doubt.
“I’m wanting to finish him in the first round,” Craig said with no hesitation. “Going three rounds and playing it safe is good, but what you really want to do is go out guns blazing and really win the fight conclusively, don’t give a reason to not push you up the rankings, to not have your name in the title conversation. What you want to do is finish the fight, get the job done and look convincing doing it.”
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The mission stays the same for the light heavyweight who is hoping to propel himself into the division’s Top 5 by the end of this year, or at the very least, get his name into the title conversation.
“When they talk about Glover (Teixeira) as the champion and Jiri (Prochazka) as a possible next champion, I want them to be saying my name, as well,” Craig said. “It’s one of the most exciting divisions for me to be a part of. What I’m looking forward to is a victory over Krylov, and getting it done early.
“As I’ve said with the convincing factor — I’m not a striker. You’re not going to see me knocking people out with head kicks, overhand rights. What you’re going to see is some pretty slick jiu-jitsu and a never-die attitude. That’s what got me to this party and that’s what keeps me in the party. I’m going to look for that early with a first-round submission.”
With only a single victory by decision across the combined 42 professional victories between Craig and Krylov, it’s pretty safe to assume this fight won’t be going the distance.
“Normally what happens when you have two high-level grapplers is it becomes a striking match, but I don’t see that happening,” Craig said, grinning. “I see it being blood, sweat, tears, snot… you name it. There’s going to be everything and the kitchen sink in this fight, so be sure to tune in and if you’re a first timer, it’s certainly not going to be the last time you watch this sport.”