Scottish UFC fighter Paul Craig is aiming to become Scotland’s answer to Demian Maia, as he believes his fighting style closely resembles that of the Brazilian grappling ace.
Craig (14-4-1), who is originally from Airdrie but now living in Coatbridge, returns to action this Saturday when he meets Jamahal ‘Sweet Dreams’ Hill in a three-round light-heavyweight bout on the main card of UFC 263 at the Gila River Arena in Arizona.
Fighting out of Grant Rapids, Michigan, Hill has made no secret of his desire to establish himself as a legitimate 205-pound contender, telling Line Movement earlier this year he will knock Craig out if he gets the chance to, but the Scotsman has plans of his own to put a dent in his title ambitions.
Speaking exclusively to GIVEMESPORT, Craig said that Maia is his biggest source of inspiration because of the way he has maintained his status as an elite-level fighter over the years. Maia also fights Belal Muhammad on the same card.
“I would like to be the Demian Maia of my division,” said the 33-year-old. “That’s what I would like, because Demian Maia, you know he’s tough, he’s very, very good at striking, but his jujitsu is wizardry.
“And that’s why I’d like to have, I’d like to have this air of mystique about me, that ‘Paul Craig’s jiujitsu is this…’
“You know, we’ve seen that in Jamahal’s interviews, like Jamahal is worried about my jiu-jitsu, and every time he’s done an interview, nobody’s asking about his jiu-jitsu.
“They’re not even mentioning his jiu-jitsu but he’s bringing it up because it’s playing on the back of his mind.
“It’s nice to be recognised as something and it’s nice to be the ju-jitsu guy of the division.
“I didn’t enjoy that when I first started, I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be an all-round fighter.
But I think you need to steer into your strengths, don’t you? Rather than steering into your weaknesses, you know, trying to stand and spar with people when you’re not the best striker.”
Craig, 31, has won three out of his last four UFC fights, including wins over Gadzhimurad Antigulov, which earned him a Performance of the Night bonus, and former UFC light-heavyweight champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.
‘Bearjew’ attributes his recent success to the rise of mixed martial arts in the United Kingdom, which he believes has been fuelled by the emergence of homegrown coaches.
He also singled out undefeated amateur fighter Michael Blair for special praise as an exciting up-and-coming prospect.
“You know what, our ju-jitsu level is getting far better than it ever was,” said Craig. “I think with the US having wrestling as a base for a long time, they were miles ahead of everyone else in the grappling exchanges, and then you had the Brazilians, who were taught ju-jitsu when they were kids.
“Now, us UK guys are getting far better coaching, there’s far better resources out there to learn new techniques, so we’re getting this new wave of ju-jitsu fighters who are ripping people’s legs off.
“Going back to the ‘Wild West’ days of MMA – that’s what I like to call it, like, probably going back 10 years ago, when I first started, it was like the ‘Wild West’. You had guys who could only do one thing, you had strikers, you had grapplers, you had wrestlers.
“Now, we’re having these new athletes coming through and there’s guys in the gym… I’ve got a guy in the gym who weighs 77 kg, and I weigh like 100 and, let’s say, like, 105 kg.
“So I’m a massive bet heavier than him and he can give me my dinner. Like, he’s one of these guys where I call him ‘the masterpiece’. And he comes in and just pieces me up.
“And it’s one of those ones where the coach tells me, ‘right, you’re wrestling Michael Blair’, and I’m like, ‘can I not go with somebody else?’ Because he comes in and just gives me it all and, as I said, he’s only 77 kg, I should be able to outmuscle him! But it’s all part of this new wave of ju-jitsu, MMA athletes who are coming through in the UK.”
As for what the future will hold, Craig hinted he will wait and see how the title picture plays out, but hopes to be fighting for the title by this time next year .
He continued: “The way the division is at the moment, because there’s so much movement going on, you’ve got guys who have only had two fights and already talking about title shots, there’s so much movement in it.
“And you’ve still got the OG’s like Glover Teixeira, you know, waiting for his title shot. I’d love to see him become a champion, just because he’s coming up in his 40’s, it’d be a great story to tell, like this guy has done his grind and he’s now got his title.
“Ultimately, I’d like to be there or thereabouts by the end of 2021, I’d like to be the contender in 2022. Obviously, I’d like to have been there a lot sooner. But last year, as we’ve said, it’s been upside down for everybody.
“There’s guys who I’ve fought and are further up the rankings than me and there’s guys who I’ve beat who are further up the rankings than me, but that’s part of the job, isn’t it?
“If my boss tells me I’m No. 14, then I’m No. 14. If my boss tells me I’m not getting that title shot until 2025 then that’s when I’m getting it. That’s just the way it is.”