UFC London is just under a month away. It’s time to look at the fighters who will represent our fair isles.
The first of our beloved British combatants on the list is none other than Paul Craig.
The ranked number ten limb snatcher takes on his southern neighbour at number 11 in the rankings, Nikita Krylov.
UFC London : How Did Craig Get Here?
Craigs UFC debut against Luis Henrique da Silva announced him onto the scene as a versatile striker with a range of kicks to keep his opponent guessing.
What stood out in the fight was how sharp his Ju-Jitsu was, with his offensive submission game not being common in the light heavyweight division.
His opponent, da Silva, is a solid BJJ practitioner, with his previous fight being an armbar victory over
Joachim Christensen. That made “Bearjews” dominance on the ground all the more noteworthy and to the surprise of everyone other than those UK scene fans with long memories, how active he was from guard.
After a few flurries at the start of the second round, Craig pulls guard from a clinch. As he famously does, he seizes onto an arm from the bottom. Craig held on as da Silva struggled in vain before tapping.
Tougher Roads Ahead
After the perfect debut for Craig, things got tough.
With an aggressive bottom game, the likes of which no one had seen for a long time, he was a good size and a diverse striking arsenal.
Yet in his next outing against Tyson Pedro, he looked a different fighter, with Craig barely getting a chance to get going.
Kicks were thrown, and Pedro managed to control the caged clinch positions. When they parted ways and met in the middle of the cage, Pedro hit Craig with a hard straight right that dropped him.
They re-engaged in the clinch, landing hard knees and following Craig to the mat, landing some of the hardest elbows we have seen inside the octagon to finish the fight.
More setbacks were to follow against his next opponent Khalil Rountree. A powerhouse Muay Thai fighter who, on his day, can strike with the best in the world, as proven with his knockout over kickboxing royalty Gokhan Saki.
Craig did manage to mix it up and land some good shots, but Roundtree Jr looked far more confident in his power, and Craig seemed tentative to throw hard meaningful shots.
The closing sequence showed why.
After committing to a hard kick, Craig was hit with a short punch that dropped him and signalled not only the end of his night but his second consecutive loss in the octagon.
Really? An Undefeated Russian?
Craig was now 1-2 in the UFC, with back to back stoppage losses. To add to his woes, he was confirmed to fight undefeated, highly regarded Russian Magomed Ankalaev.
Ankalaev dominated the Russian amateur and professional ranks for years and was heavily favoured to beat Craig For every part of the fight excluding the last 15 seconds, it looked like he would.
The Scotsman Craig did try, but Ankalaev was just too good, too strong and too ferocious. He had not beaten Craig. The one thing he didn’t count on was being outsmarted by the Scottish Hit Squad delegate.
He caught his opponent in a triangle choke in the dying embers after controlling his arm following a sloppy grounded punch attempt. We at home had already heard the signal for the final ten seconds and assumed it was a hail mary, desperation driven the last crack at a win.
Craig pulled off the unthinkable forcing the tap and raising the roof of the O2 arena in London and securing a fresh contract.
Take One to Give One
Over his next 4 outings, Craig went 2-2.
Although he was progressively looking more and more like someone who could be a mainstay of the roster. Against Jimmy Crute, he didn’t look out of place, but Crute was able to control the grappling and nullify Craig’s dangerous guard.
In the second round, “Bearjew” himself managed to get the top position and controlled most of the round from inside Crute’s guard.
After a failed takedown that resulted in Crute in the top position, Craig defended a head and arm choke well before tapping to a Kimura late in the round.
Light Heavyweights Triangle King
He soon reappeared in the win collum, rebounding against Kennedy Nzechukwu, a Nigerian knockout artist with lethal striking.
The fight started with Nzechukwu stalking Craig around the cage, trying to catch him with bombs from the centre of the cage, before the Scotsman drove in on a single leg before pulling guard. The fight seemed over when Craig secured an armbar from the bottom—forcing his opponent to slam his way out of the lock.
For the rest of the round, Nzechukwu, chased by a running Paul Craig, lost a lot of gas.
Craig simply wasn’t taking no for an answer when it came to the ground fight he desired. The fight was back and forth. Craig’s backpack position was reversed, and his adversary enjoyed some success with ground and pound, which ultimately proved to be his undoing.
With a minute to go, Nzechukwu was dominant, throwing strikes enough to take home the judge’s decision, and then he got Bearjewed.
Nzechukwu had either gotten lazy or forgotten who he was in there with.
Craig spotted an opening and locked in a triangle. Before following into full mount, he started in guard and finished the triangle choke there.
The Menifield Minefield
In what was his 6th undefeated opponent in his 7th UFC fight, Craig next fought another fighter with dynamite in his hands, Alonzo Menifield.
Craig looked to assert himself early by pressing forward. Still, Menifield is powerful and presents enough danger with his strikes that Craig is soon on his heels and caught with his back against the fence in a mainly defensive position. This was the case for the majority of the opening minutes, and after a failed takedown and a few exchanges, the Scotsman laid the foundations of his demise, in which he was the lead architect.
After landing a decent wheel kick, Craig sensed this might be a tool of value in his bid to secure victory. It may very well have been if he hadn’t thrown another immediately. Menifield was expecting it and easily sidestepped the effort, catching an off-balance Craig with a punch behind the ear and blowing the whistle on the “Bearjews” match for the evening.
A New Bearjew?
Submission seeking Brazilian Vinicius Moreira was the next to test the metal of the Airdrie born Craig. He seemed unphased by the credentials of the former.
In what looked his most assured performance to date, Paul Craig looked a far more dangerous fighter on the feet out in Mexico City. He looked assured in his ability to change the momentum of positions against the cage.
When on the ground his strikes seemed much more intent on damaging his counterpart.
After a short time with his back to the cage, Craig secured a takedown and held the Brazillian there for some time, landing some stifled shots before both men regained their footing. Here is where Craig looked most different, battering the slowly wilting Moreira and dropping him with two bigged knees to the head, set up by some beautiful framing from “Bearjew”.
Craig followed him to the ground and commenced to rain down punches on his fallen foe before accepting his neck and writing another tick down in the win column, another submission victory for Craig taking him to 2-2 in his last four.
Scottish Pride Against a Pride Champion
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is someone that the legends call a legend. Having won the 2005 Pride middleweight Grand Prix and the UFC light heavyweight title, he prematurely ended the Machida era by knockout.
It looked to be a win by Craig over a Hall of Famer, albeit a scrappy back and forth affair. The judges surprised many at home when they announced a draw, even though Craig had doubled both the number of total strikes and significant strikes landed by Rua.
Although it looked like victory, Craig wanted the rematch to settle the debate. First, he had the not so small problem of Russian Strangler Gadzhimurad Antigulov to get past.
The bout took place on UFCs fight island, and Craig’s opponent, like so many others before him, made the simple mistake of trying to take Craig down.
As he went to his back, Craig began ensnaring various limbs of the Russian, confusing him as to where exactly the Scotsman was trying to attack.
Within two minutes, Antigulov had thrown a sloppy enough punch to entice Craig into action, securing a triangle, the third for “Bearjew” in the UFC.
With that win, Craig was in the position to rematch Rua, who himself also had a victory since their last encounter.
Revenge on Rua
Speaking on the Shogun fight Craig said :
“I asked to fight Shogun straight after the draw we got last year, it was a year yesterday.
There is some unfinished business, and he made some comments that he is interested as well,”. Craig told UFC.com.
“It made perfect sense. It’s the only draw on Shogun’s record, so why wouldn’t we run it back? I’m quite excited to get the opportunity a year later.”
At UFC 255 Craig made it known who the better fighter was. From the outset, he looked bigger, stronger and more powerful than the ageing “Shogun”.
Rua couldn’t seem to get a moment of rest without Craig hitting him with something. In the first round, Rua was hit by knees and forced to carry Craigs weight throughout the transitions. Whilst being punched in the face. In the second round, it only ever looked like a Craig victory.
He repeatedly took him to the ground, securing back mount and forcing the great Brazillian to call it a night via submission to strikes.
Best of Enemies
Jamahal Hill was the next opponent before Craig. He was sure to be a difficult one after he knocked out UFC veteran Ovince St Preux.
Hill looked like and still does, a very dangerous outing for any man in the division.
With plenty of trash talk in the lead-up, Craig did not seem phased. When the fight began he had a brief exchange of jabs with Hill before trying an arm drag takedown.
Although he failed he managed to subsequently pull guard while still maintaining control of the arm. He used this to attempt an armbar, with which he dislocated Hills arm.
When Hill refused to submit to the hold, Craig triangled his legs and unleashed a furious swarm of elbows and punches until the referee intervened in Craig’s favour.
After the fight, Craig and Hill were out for a drink together. This was much to the amusement of the fans they have hit it off, further endearing Scotlands Paul Craig to the wider MMA audience.
UFC London Calls For Paul Craig
Craig now makes his way back to London on March 19th in a huge fight against the unconventional Ukrainian Nikita Krylov in what will be a fun bout for the fans.
Krylov himself is an effective and unorthodox striker with a lethal ground game. He will be one of the best Craig has ever faced.
Yet as we now know, difficult situations are where Paul Craig show his best.