There’s a familiarity and comfort to fighting at home that can’t be attained anywhere else. Light-heavyweight Paul Craig knows this, just as every other fighter knows this.
It’s perhaps why ‘Bearjew’ feels so happy and content heading into a fight this Sunday (July 16) with hard-hitting Khalil Rountree, despite the pressure of having to rebound from a first-round knockout defeat in his last fight.
The Rountree bout, you see, Craig’s third with the UFC, takes place in Glasgow, Scotland. Best of all, it marks only the second time Craig, a 29-year-old hailing from Airdrie, will have ever competed as a mixed martial artist in his home country (the last time was four years ago, on his debut).
“After the last fight, I had a week off and it was just straight back into it,” says Craig. “Coming off the loss, I needed to get straight back into it.
“We knew we had Scotland coming up. The Scotland card had already been released, but, even though I wasn’t on it, I was 100% (sure I would be). I’m Scottish, I’m fighting in the UFC, I’m going to be fighting there.”
Craig’s last two fights have taken place Stateside. The first, a UFC debut against Henrique da Silva, ended in a submission win and celebration, while the second, a first-round loss to Tyson Pedro, acted as a reminder of just how tough and unforgiving the sport of MMA can be. Craig, brought in to test a fellow prospect, found himself TKO’d following a flurry of elbows.
As with any loss, however, Craig, 9-1, will look upon what happened in March as a learning experience. He will, in the short-term, seek to grow from it, get better. Then, somewhere down the line, he hopes to reconnect with Pedro and secure his revenge. But, first, he has sights set on accomplishing a more immediate goal – competing in Scotland on a UFC card.
“I was in the crowd in 2015 and I’d have loved to have fought on that show,” he says. “It was the very first time they came to Scotland, but, unfortunately, I wasn’t ready.
“Now, I’m ready. I’m fighting in the UFC, I’m training with guys who are in the top ten, my last two opponents have been top-20 opponents – top-level guys – and it’s the same with Khalil.
“That side of it is going to be amazing. But, when it comes to walking out, hearing Bruce Buffer calling my name… that’s going to be amazing. Bruce Buffer in Glasgow? A few jars with The Buffmeister? That’s pretty cool.
“I’ve met Bruce a few times and we’ll get him some of the local delicacies. You know, get him on the haggis, the fried Mars bar, get him on the Buckfast, get him on all the stereotypical Scottish stuff. If the UFC are reading this, that would make a great video: Bruce Buffer gets buckled on Buckfast! That s**t writes itself, man!”
Paul Craig, as you might be able to detect, feels pretty good going into his Scottish homecoming. He’s relaxed, at ease, having fun. But he’s also well aware of the job at hand; the fight at the end of the fun.
He knows he’d be a fool to overlook a man as dangerous as Rountree, 5-2; a man who, last time out, wrecked Daniel Jolly with a knee after just 52 seconds. Better, though, to be fighting him in Scotland than anywhere else in the world.
“It’s (the crowd) going to be in my favour,” says Craig. “He’s going to have to come over to the UK. He’s not going to be used to the freezing cold weather in the middle of summer.
“My coaches have been analysing me and looking back at my fight with Tyson Pedro to see what I’ve done wrong and can improve. Khalil’s going to be doing the exact same thing. He’s going to be watching me fighting Tyson Pedro and thinking how he’s going to beat me.
“With regards to power, everyone in the light-heavyweight division has power. If somebody catches you sweet, on the button, you go down, unless your name’s Glover Teixeira and you can take the absolute beating he did off Alexander Gustafsson. It doesn’t matter who it is; the 50th-ranked guy to the first-ranked guy.”
A first-round defeat will offer any fighter a healthy dose of reality, and its impact will be all the greater if it happens to be a fighter’s first ever loss. Paul Craig, 29, is living proof of this. He was unbeaten in nine fights before Pedro got hold of him in Las Vegas, and now, as a result of that experience, he has come to appreciate the importance of staying patient and appreciating the finer things in life.
“Currently, it’s all about Glasgow,” he says, “but it’s always good to have goals. After Glasgow, I need to take some time off – not just a week here or there, but an actual bit of time off. I went back-to-back with three fight camps – Sacramento to Vegas to Glasgow. My family are the ones that suffer. I can take the beatings the body gets, I can take the pressure on the mind, but I need to spend time with the family for a few weeks.
“Once that happens, we’ll then set our sights on America and get back in that top ten. A loss to Tyson Pedro probably set me back about six months, but that’s it. It’s only six months. Once I get another win I’ll be trying to rectify my loss.”