Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Paul Craig believes he has more to show to the world.
This past weekend, Craig pulled off yet another incredible performance, submitting Nikita Krylov in the first round at UFC London. The win was Craig’s fourth finish in a row, and with the 34-year old now having so much success in the octagon, he’s putting his retirement plans on hold.
Previously, Craig had made it clear that he intended to walk away from MMA once he hit age 35. However, with his 35th birthday coming up in November, “Bearjew” says those plans are now out the window.
“When I first started the sport at the age of 24, I looked at the ages of the fighters in my division, and 35 seemed like a really good number,” Craig said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I felt like 35 was a number where you could leave the sport, still have your mental clarity, and still feel good about yourself. The sport’s evolved so much since I first started watching the sport to now, I believe that I’ve got a little bit more mustard in the tub. You know that wee bit in the corner where you really can’t really get with the knife. I’ve got that wee bit of mustard still left in me.
“I’ve still got a lot of mental clarity. My fights don’t go that long, and the ones that do go long, I typically don’t get a lot of head shots. It’s mostly body shots, a lot of grappling. So I believe I’ve still got something left in me, and after that victory this weekend, I believe that I’ve got more to do in this sport and I’m so close to being a name in this sport.”
Craig does appear to be on the verge of breaking out among the broader MMA consciousness. His submission over Krylov earned Craig is seventh “Performance of the Night” bonus during his UFC tenure and figures to move Craig into the top 10 of the light heavyweight division. And given his exciting style and current winning streak, Craig is hopeful that fans and the UFC are about to get behind him in a major way.
“I’m just letting it go. I’m just gonna ride the wave,” Craig said. “Sometimes you go to the beach and the waves are small and sometimes they’re big; I believe right now, this is a big wave I’ve got, and when the wave starts to slow down and get a bit smaller, then it’s time to jump off the boat and maybe paddle off to the side of the water. But right now, the wave is massive, and hopefully the UFC gets behind me, hopefully the fans get behind me and are like, ‘You know what? I kinda like this guy. I kinda like this getting beat up and drop them there with a submission.
“Because let’s be honest, watching that fight Saturday night, I bet there was people who have never seen me fight before who were like, ‘Paul Craig, he’s done. He’s about to get knocked out and it’s game over for him.’ And then there’s people who know how I fight and have seen me fight before and fight the exact same way who were like, ‘No, he’s still in. Old Braveheart is still in, man. He’s got a wee bit left.’ And I showed it Saturday night against a top level opponent.”
For his next fight, Craig is hoping he will get an even higher level opponent.
Following his win on Saturday, Craig called for a fight with one-time light heavyweight title challenger Anthony Smith, however it appears that Smith is likely to be matched up with Magomed Ankalaev in a potential title eliminator bout. Given that, Craig is hoping that his years of service to the UFC will earn him a crack at another top name.
“I’m always looking up. I’ve fought the guys at the back and I’ve fought the guys just coming in. I believe I’ve done my dues, I’ve paid my dues,” Craig said. “There’s guys in this sport, like [Jiri] Prochazka — and I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, he’s had some amazing fights, and don’t get me wrong, he came in as a very experienced athlete to the UFC, but he’s only had a few fights in the UFC. Where there’s guys toiling, and I believe I’ve toiled. I’ve fought all the guys up-and-coming and I’ve shown the UFC what I can do, and there’s never been a time where Mick Maynard’s sent an email saying, ‘Can you fight this guy?’ and I said ‘No, I don’t really want to fight him, I’m scared, I don’t want to do that, he’s not a favorable fight.’
“If the UFC sent a name, then I’ve said, ‘Yep, we’ll take it.’ There’s not any going back and forth. ‘Can we have this guy? Can we have it here?’ I’ve said yep, because it’s the attitude I’ve got where I’ve not got long in the world of MMA, and to be the best you can be, you need to go up against the best and find ways to beat them.
“It’s about showcasing what you’ve actually got and showcasing what you’ve not shown,” Craig continued, “and I know I’ve got still so much more to show in this sport. You’ve only seen a very, very small part of my jiu-jitsu game, and you’ve only seen a very, very small part of my striking. There’s more in there.
“We’ve seen Thiago Santos against Ankalaev, and I don’t want to be picking fights with guys on a losing record, but he’s still fought for the title, he’s still in the top 10, he’s still a household name, so that would be an interesting fight. The same again for [Volkan] Oezdemir, the same again for Dominick Reyes. All these guys are guys that I would fight.”