Undefeated light heavyweight Paul Craig talked to Bloody Elbow about the Scottish Hit Squad and his UFC 209 bout with Tyson Pedro.
Paul Craig aka ‘Bearjew’ is back in the Octagon at UFC 209 this Saturday night on the heels of an impressive promotional debut in December. At UFC on FOX 22 in Sacramento the Scottish light heavyweight dismantled Luis Henrique da Silva on route to a second round armbar finish. The win earned Craig a coveted Performance of the Night bonus.
For Craig, a former BAMMA light heavyweight champ, the debut couldn’t have gone any better. “Anyone who is having their first fight in the UFC would love to have had that performance,” said Craig to Bloody Elbow. “It was a good back and forth fight– hold on it wasn’t even back and forth, I just walked forward and kicked the f**k out of him, pulled him to the ground and tapped him out. I think every fighter wants that as their first fight. So, I need to be pretty confident in myself after that.”
Along with being his first UFC fight, the clash with da Silva marked the first time Craig had competed outside of the UK and Ireland. Though the bright lights of the UFC were a new experience for him, Craig says he didn’t feel any ‘Octagon jitters.’ “I don’t really get nerves,” remarked Craig. “I don’t really worry about stuff. What’s the worst that could happen in the world of MMA? The worst thing that could happen is I could die, but it’s very unlikely that that’s gonna happen. Worst thing that could happen is I lose via tap out or I lose via knockout, so… why worry about it? If it happens it happens. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, so just ride this wave and see what happens, man.”
Craig says he was riding a ‘wave of emotion’ after his hand was raised in the center of the cage in Sacramento. He cites that for his passionate post-fight interviews both with Brian Stann and with backstage reporters (which he himself calls a ‘tad embarrassing’). Throughout those interviews Craig shouted out his students back home in Scotland. Craig, who is currently on a six month sabbatical, teaches personal development classes to students aged between 13 and 19. Those classes cover communication skills, teamwork, and leadership and are designed to set teens up for success in the workforce.
When he returned to work the Monday after his fight, the reaction from his students was overwhelming. “That was pretty special,” remembered Craig. “It’s a nice feeling you know; getting back to work on Monday, and outside my classroom is packed with young students looking to get a picture or looking for me to sign stuff.” Craig also spoke with emotion about how ‘cool’ it felt to be recognized by his hometown, Scotland, and the entire UK for his ‘hard work.’
Also singled out for praise within Craig’s post-fight comments were his team, Scottish Hit Squad, which is based in Coatbridge; outside of Glasgow. Craig began training in MMA five years ago, under Brian Gallagher. An amatuer boxer and MMA fighter, Gallagher would then create the Scottish Hit Squad gym/team. Gallagher’s sits in the role of head MMA coach, while Paul Murphy – a former WBO welterweight champion – instructs boxing and Marcus Nardini – a BJJ black belt under Amal Easton – coaches grappling.
Earlier this year Scottish Hit Squad also added UFC heavyweight Mark Godbeer to its ranks. Godbeer also fights at UFC 209 (versus Daniel Spitz). Craig has been working directly with Godbeer as they both prepare for their UFC 209 opponents and Craig cited the British former BAMMA heavyweight champion as an invaluable addition to the team. At this point, Craig is so content with his camp he doesn’t see any reason why he’d ever need to leave Coatbridge.
“Why would I go to America and train with guys who I am gonna beat in the future? Or train with guys who are not as good as the guys I am training with?” Craig also enjoys the family atmosphere at Scottish Hit Squad. He claimed Gallagher has been turning fighters away from the gym for fear of the team growing too big and becoming too impersonal.
With his gym Craig is supremely confident that he has all he needs to progress in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. But, Craig’s path to the 205lb rankings might also be aided by something he has no control over. Over the past few months the UFC has made a number of notable roster changes. The shake-up has included formerly top ranked LHW Nikita Krylov being permitted to walk away from the promotion, as well as the very real possibility of both Ryan Bader and Misha Cirkunov joining him out the door.
Even though not having those three names in the division may help Craig climb the ladder, he’d prefer that wasn’t the case. “I’d rather those guys were still around,” said Craig. “A deeper weight class is a better weight class. The more quality guys you have around the more people will be interested in watching it.” Regardless of whether the UFC re-signs Bader and Cirkunov, Craig believes the light heavyweight division is ‘open’ for him to ‘take’. “I believe, give me a year in this division and I’ll be able to make some waves and make this my division.”
Looking to derail Craig’s path to relevancy within the division is Tyson Pedro, who debuted with a victory over Khalil Rountree at UFC Fight Night 101 in November. Don’t expect Craig to tell you much more than that about Pedro. “I know he’s Australian, he’s 5-0… he’s 1-0 in the UFC. That’s pretty much it.”
“I don’t spend a lot of time studying opponents,” revealed Craig. “See, if you’re spending two hours researching an opponent and researching how he fights, why are you not spending that two hours training? Why are you not spending that two hours with your family?”
Craig is aware that, like him, Pedro has finished all but one of his pro wins via
submission. The Scotsman said sometimes he can’t resist fighting to his opponent’s strengths. Therefore he’s relishing the opportunity to put his submission credentials up against Pedro’s. “With Tyson, I’m more than happy to grapple with him. I’ll put him on his back and he won’t be able to move. You get grapplers for MMA and you get grapplers for BJJ, I’m happy bringing him into the world of ‘Bearjew-jitsu.’”
“People think it’s going to be this grappler versus grappler match,” continued Craig. “But you only get grappler versus grappler matches if both grapplers are as good at wrestling. And I don’t believe that Tyson’s gonna have the ability to take me to the ground. He’s gonna feel how much power I’ve got in my hands, and I’ve been saying this for a long time: my boxing ability is very very good. I’ve just never had the chance to show people it and I believe that people are gonna be impressed with my boxing. People are gonna be like f**k this guy’s jiu-jitsu is good, but his boxing is even better.”
Craig also believes conditioning will be a defining factor during the fight. “He’s gonna be in deep water. I drag people into my world, where their lungs are burning and they’re not wanting to be there. They try to struggle, to get out of that place, and the more they struggle the more energy they burn – the more their muscles burn with lactic acid. Then their heart just goes and they give you chances to pick them a part. That’s what happened with Da Silva. My cardio is even better this time around. My body, my conditioning, my striking… everything is better – so I feel bad for Tyson Pedro.”
Paul Craig versus Tyson Pedro is the featured prelim on the UFC Fight Pass portion of UFC 209.