The Ultimate Fighter
For more than six months, Paul Craig has been mastering the art of repetition. While it’s no easy task, especially for someone looking to ride the momentum off two dominant finishes in 2020, the Scot has embraced the opportunity to fine tune sets of granular skills.
“What was it that Bruce Lee said? Don’t fear the man that does a thousand kicks once, fear the man that does one kick a thousand times,” the five-year UFC veteran said in a UFC 263 fight week interview with UFC.com.
And while Craig has practiced the immense amount of patience that’s required to prepare for a single opponent over the course of six months, he said that he doesn’t have patience for someone who appears to be in the sport for the wrong reasons.
“What’s actually infuriating is having someone who’s on social media just making stupid videos,” the 33-year-old said of his opponent, Jamahal Hill. “He could be spending that time learning and improving his craft. So, for me, it strikes me that he just wants to be famous, rather than wanting to be a fighter.”
After defeating Maurício “Shogun” Rua by second-round TKO in November, Craig said he immediately got back into camp to prepare for whatever was to come next. It ended up being “Sweet Dreams.”
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Originally slated to be featured on a card in March, this light heavyweight matchup was postponed when Hill disclosed that he tested positive for COVID-19 -- a plot twist which created a bit of tension between the two, which has festered publicly over the course of the past few months.
“It’s been nearly six months that this camp’s run for,” Craig said. “In those six months, what’s happened is we’ve gotten better - strength is better, more athletic, and just overall better prepared for this fight.”
With just three UFC fights under his belt but more than half of his professional wins coming by way of finish, Hill has quickly made a name for himself in the UFC light heavyweight division. But the 14th-ranked light heavyweight remains dismissive of the hype.
“I think Jamahal Hill is a very, very good striker, but his level of striking for the UFC - I don’t think it’s there. He’s claiming that he’s got the best jab in the division, but I find that really hard to believe. His striking is good, but it’s not UFC level. We’re going to find out if his grappling is UFC-level; that’s what we’ll see next.”
Confident that he’ll hand Hill the first loss of his mixed martial arts career, the “BearJew” said he sees holes in the style that Hill used to stop the likes of Ovince Saint Preux inside of two rounds.
“He doesn’t have a hard guard. He does get caught with strikes, so it’s not as if he’s a very, very tough opponent. His kicks aren’t lethal,” Craig said as he listed off weaknesses he sees in Hill’s game.
“When you’re thinking about someone whose kicking is dangerous, you’re thinking about someone like (Edson) Barboza. You’re thinking about people who have heavy hands, you’re thinking about your Khalil Rountrees, your Jimmy Crutes. He doesn’t fit in that bracket. He’s very experienced and very athletic, but it’s MMA. It’s a full sport. It’s the grappling, it’s the athleticism, it’s everything.”
Above all else, Craig said he believes the biggest difference that sets him apart from the 15th-ranked Hill is simply differing levels of exposure in the sport.
“Octagon time is priceless. The experience comes from standing up in front of an opponent,” Craig said. “Having that ring time, being in there more than him. It comes down to how many hours you train, and you put in, but it also comes down to how many hours you spend in the Octagon and feeling comfortable in that moment.
"It does get a bit daunting. I remember my second fight (against Tyson Pedro), where it all just got too much for me, and I lost my second fight in the UFC, and it was just due to being too green. And I believe that’s where Jamahal Hill falls in this bracket.”
With three-times the amount of UFC fights Hill has and five Performance of the Night bonuses on his resume, all 14 of Craig’s wins have been finishes, with all but two coming by way of submission. So it’s really no surprise what Criag’s prediction for this matchup is.
“I see this happening by a second-round submission,” Craig said. “I see him too emotional, and I see him just trying to win this fight early. I’ve seen when people try to finish me too early; I can ride the storm and drag it out.”
Although he’s starting 2021 a little later than expected, Craig said his top goals for the year are to be “as active as possible” and to fight in front a home crowd in the United Kingdom again.
“I’d like to get another two fights, work my way up to that top 10 spot and then into the contender spot, but I’d love to fight in the UK again,” Craig said. “It’s been a tough year and a half for the UK, and it would be good just to give something for people to look forward to - a sporting event. So, that’s ultimately what I’d love to see happen.”