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Paul Craig of Scotland celebrates his submission victory over Nikita Krylov of Ukraine in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on March 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Paul Craig’s Turning Point

Upon His Return To London, Streaking Light Heavyweight Recalls The Fight That Changed Him Forever

There’s a popular meme floating around on the internet, you may have seen it. An old man exclaims “Call an ambulance…but not for me!” as he turns the tables on an attacker. And every time Paul Craig pulls off yet another one of his trademark improbable victories—the kind where he takes a severe beating from his opponent before ending the fight with a beautiful submission—the internet floods with new versions of this meme, with the Scotsman’s face photoshopped onto the original. It’s always hilarious, and hilarious that it continues to be an apt joke.

Craig is back in London, where he’ll meet Volkan Oezdemir on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Aspinall. He had one of those improbable wins here in March when he submitted Nikita Krylov. But it was another bout in the famed O2 Arena that is on Craig’s mind today, a bout that changed the very fabric of who he is as a fighter.

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“The very first time I fought in London, it was the fourth fight on my contract. I’d just lost twice:  in UFC 209 in Vegas and lost in the fight night in Glasgow, my hometown; I’d been knocked out. It was my first contract, and it wasn’t a case of, ‘We’ll look after Paul, we’ll get him a nice, easy fight.’ That wasn’t what they gave me. What they gave me was Magomed Ankalaev. They were touting him as the next Khabib. They were touting him as this boogeyman, Dagestani strangler. He was coming in and he was beating everybody. Even now, you look at who he’s beat and how close he is to the title…and this is who they’re giving me.

“I remember watching him and not having a lot of confidence in my own abilities. Remember, at this point I was on the edge of the cliff. I was doubting myself as fighter…I’m doubting myself as everything. I remember walking out; so much emotion I could have literally cried. It was horrible.”

Bonus Résumé | Paul Craig
Bonus Résumé | Paul Craig

He could hear the announcers read off the Russian’s lengthy MMA credentials before he made the walk and it didn’t help matters.

“I could just feel this emotion. People are going wild. I’m walking to the Octagon. I hear my music…if you had said to me at any point ‘Do you want to just leave this fight?’ I would have said ‘Yeah!’ It was the hardest fight of my life, but I had something in here [points to heart].

“I take my beating. I literally get beat up from start to finish…broke my ribs. We were on the edge of the cage wall, my head was trapped and he’s dropping these massive bomb, bomb, bomb…and everything just stopped. I could hear John Gooden and Dan Hardy because the two of them were going wild at the end, because it was over! I hear the clapper for ten seconds and it was like ‘It’s all or nothing now. I can do this. I can finish submissions. I’ve just got to make sure it’s proper tight.”

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It was indeed proper tight. He miraculously was able to wrap his legs around Ankalaev’s head and squeeze with all his might. As the clock hit 4:59 of the final round, his opponent tapped, setting the then-record for latest UFC finish. It remains the only loss on Ankalaev’s record.

Paul Craig of Scotland kicks Jamahal Hill in their light heavyweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Paul Craig of Scotland kicks Jamahal Hill in their light heavyweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“As I stood up, I had beaten the boogeyman, like every American movie where the bad guy is always the Russian guy…that moment there changed my whole life. Changed me going back to work Monday morning being a normal everyday guy who could have made it in the UFC. That moment made me the guy who can make it in the UFC,” he recalls. “You can make it in the UFC.

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“Everything just started changing. Even though I came back and I got a new contract and a loss on my first fight of that contract, I was still on a different path. I’ve got a crazy analogy, and it’s the worst analogy in the world: everybody can make a pot of soup. But people put all the same ingredients in different quantities, and what it does is makes a different type of soup. And that’s all I’ve been doing, messing about and trying to find what works for me. 2019, the loss and the draw…it was all part of my development. Now I believe I’ve got a nice kind of soup that’s working for me.”

 “BearJew” now finds himself unbeaten in his last six bouts. He’ll try that soup recipe Saturday in hopes of keeping the streak alive against former title challenger Oezdemir.

Last Time In London | March 2022 Flashback
Last Time In London | March 2022 Flashback

“I believe I’ll get the victory because he’s had his chance. I’ve not had my chance. Everything I’ve worked for…I believe my journey to get where I’m going has been a lot harder. This is my time. If I can’t beat Volkan Oezdemir, then I cannot be in the title contention. I can’t be in the top ten. He’s coming off a couple losses, I’m coming off a couple wins. I’ve got momentum. This is my time. This is my purpose. What’s the point of doing this? Are you just going to be a fighter to be a number? Or are you going to be a fighter to make a legacy? To me, that’s what this comes down to.

“I want to be remembered in this sport. I want people to be like ‘Paul Craig did some wild jiu-jitsu. Do you remember the time he triangled the guy? Or the other time when he triangled the guy? Or the other time he was in London and he triangled the guy?’ That’s what I would love. And I would love to do it in spectacular fashion.”

UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Aspinall took place live from the at The O2 Arena in London on Saturday, July 23, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass