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It wouldn’t be unfair to call Paul Craig an “all-or-nothing” fighter. The affable Scot has demonstrated a penchant for the dramatic in an up-and-down UFC career that has seen him enter the record books for one of the greatest come-from-behind wins in UFC history.
Craig (11-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC) has never gone to the scorecards in his 14-fight mixed martial arts career, but that’s not to say all his fights have finished quickly. In each of his last three outings, Craig was embroiled in back-and-forth battles that went deep into the third round.
He came through two of those bouts victorious, dramatically submitting a previously dominant (and undefeated) Magomed Ankalaev in the fight’s last second at UFC Fight Night 127 in London last year, then claiming another late submission to defeat Kennedy Nzechukwu at UFC on ESPN 2 in March this year.
Craig’s gritty approach to his fights and relentless pursuit of the submission finish has made his fights must-see TV, with his record-setting win over Ankalaev proving that even if he’s being dominated by his opponent, he only needs a glimmer of an opportunity to turn the fight on its head and walk away with his hand raised.
“I think it’s just being Scottish,” he told MMA Junkie this week. “We don’t know when to lie down – we constantly keep going. I’ve got a massive heart, as you saw when I fought Ankalaev in London. I’m always looking to get a submission, I’m always dangerous and I was always looking for an opportunity to turn that fight around.
“I work better under pressure. Maybe I shouldn’t, but as a species, we work better under pressure. We are complacent and sometimes there’s no drive there, but when I get into that octagon, I feel I can produce so much more.”
On Saturday night in Minneapolis at UFC on ESPN 3, “Bearjew” lines up against the dangerous Contender Series graduate Alonzo Menifield (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), a dangerous newcomer to the UFC’s 205-pound division whose undefeated eight-fight record features seven KO/TKO finishes and one rear-naked choke submission. Like Craig, he has never seen a judge’s scorecard in his career, but Craig says a glance over their respective career records reveals a telling advantage for the Scot.
“When I look at opponents I always compare myself to them,” he explained.”And comparing who we’ve fought, and comparing my road to get to the UFC to his road to get to the UFC, I believe I’ve fought higher-level skillset opponents. From my days in BAMMA fighting the likes of Karl Moore and Marcin Lazarz to my six fights in the UFC, who were all against top-level opponents.
The guys who I’ve fought and the guys who have beat me are all Top 20 guys. Look at Jimmy Crute. He knocked out ‘Smile’n’ Sam Alvey and he’s now going to go on and fight Misha Cirkunov, so he was a top-level opponent and I took him three rounds.
“So the guys I’ve fought and the guys who’ve beaten me are far better than what he has (on his record). He’s also coming here as a Contender Series fighter. I know he’s had one fight in the UFC, but he fought a Contender Series guy, and sometimes these Contender Series fights can have a huge mismatch”
Menifield has a submission win on his record, and has been happy to go to the ground with opponents in the past. That’s a red flag to Craig, who says the American will find himself out of his depth if he ends up on the mat with him on fight night.
“He’s fighting a grappler. So if he comes into this with the attitude that this is going to be a grappling match he’s going to be in for a bad night,” he said.
“I do love going three rounds, as you’ve seen in my last few fights, I enjoy getting the time in. I would love to knock him out in the first round, you know? Get in, get out, get paid and go home to see the family and spend summer with them, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
“I think it’s going to be quite a tough fight. I think you’re going to see a lot of grappling from myself. I imagine he’s going to be very explosive early on to try and get me out of there early. But I can’t see him over-committing with his shots because that only leads to an opportunity for me to take him down. And lying on his back, or lying in my guard, is a very dangerous place to be.”
So while Craig says he believes he’ll find the route to another stoppage victory, he warned his loyal fans back home in Coatbridge, Scotland are likely to be put through the wringer once again.
“I think it’ll be three rounds again,” he admitted. “It’s just a case of wearing him down until he makes that mistake and allows me to sub him.”
UFC on ESPN 3 takes place at Target Center in Minneapolis. The card airs on ESPN.
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