Throughout this week at Overtime Heroics MMA, we will be covering the great nation of Scotland’s involvement in the sport by bringing you a series of articles showcasing Scottish talent in the fight game. Here I am going to be analyzing the career and fighting style of Scottish UFC Fighter Paul Craig.
Paul ‘Bearjew’ Craig is a Contender in the light heavyweight division. He has brought much excitement to the octagon. Winning four performances of the night bonuses throughout his career. With one of them being for the latest submission in UFC history. He represents his nation proudly. Even carrying his flag everywhere he goes. In addition, he also wears kilts to media days. Even painting his face blue and white for ceremonial weigh-ins.
Paul Craig started his mixed martial arts journey in 2012. His head coach Brian Gallagher took him from no martial arts experience to 4-0 as an amateur. As a professional, Craig went 9-0 over the span of four years before being signed by the UFC. He won the BAMMA World Light heavyweight Championship at BAMMA 23 when he defeated Marcin Lazarz by submission.
Craig made his promotional debut against Luis Henrique da Silva on 17 December 2016 at UFC on Fox: VanZant vs. Waterson. He won the fight via submission in Round 2. Due to the finish, he was awarded a Performance of the Night bonus. Craig next faced Tyson Pedro on 4 March 2017 at UFC 209. He lost the bout via first-round TKO. In his third fight in the UFC, Craig fought Khalil Rountree at UFC Fight Night: Nelson vs. Ponzinibbio on 16 July 2017. He lost the fight via knockout in the first round.
This was not a good start for Craig going 1-2 with both losses being damaging finishes. However ‘Bearjew’ would not give up after this and was booked to fight again in March 2018. However, it was a fight that he most likely had to win to keep his place in the promotion. This was against the very talented Magomed Ankalaev at UFC Fight Night 127 in London, England. Despite finding himself seconds away from a decision loss to Ankalaev. Craig magically pulled off the latest submission in UFC history when he finished the Dagestani by triangle choke. This not only earned him another performance of the night bonus but a new four-fight contract with the UFC.
Craig returned nine months later. He faced newcomer and undefeated prospect at the time, Jimmy Crute. Their bout took place on the 2nd of December 2018 at UFC Fight Night 142. He lost the fight via kimura in the third round. He would then go on to have a quick turn around. Going on to fight another undefeated prospect, Kennedy Nzechukwu. Their bout took place on the 30th of March 2019 at UFC on ESPN 2. Craig won the fight by third-round submission with 40 seconds left of the bout. Once again, in a fight that he was losing just like the Ankalaev contest. This earned him his third performance of the night bonus.
Paul would then have another quick turn around and fight in June of 2019 at UFC on ESPN 3. He lost by brutal knockout in the first round to Alonzo Menifield. Surprisingly, he would then fight again in September and was scheduled to fight Vinicius Moreira on 21 September 2019 at UFC on ESPN+ 17. This was Craig’s easiest matchup on paper, and with all due respect to Moreira. He clearly was never a high enough level to fight competitively in the UFC. He won the fight via a rear-naked choke submission in the first round. This win earned Craig his fourth Performance of the Night award.
In his fourth fight of 2019, Craig stepped up on short notice replacing Sam Alvey to face the legend, Shogun Rua, on 16 November 2019 at UFC on ESPN+ 22 in the co-main event. This was the biggest opportunity of Paul’s career and he was going to enemy territory to try and slay the veteran. The bout was a back and forth dog fight with both having success over three rounds. It ended in a split draw. Personally I believe that Craig had done enough to get the decision and had definitely done the most damage inside the 15 minutes however a draw was certainly not a ridiculous ending.
Craig was booked to face Ryan Spann on March 21st of this year at UFC London. However, that event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is currently unclear when Craig will next fight and who it will be against. Ultimately so far, the thing that is holding Craig back is inconsistency. He can’t seem to keep any momentum and put together multiple wins in a row to climb up the rankings. Nevertheless, he is constantly improving and will certainly have a chance to surge into the top of the division when the UFC returns to a normal schedule.
Fighting Style Breakdown:
‘Bearjew’ brings a particularly unique and exciting style to the explosive light heavyweight division. On the feet, he is long, rangy, and has shown many technical improvements over time. Which in turn, has brought him to the point where he is a great mixed martial artist rather than the Bjj fighter with limited striking which he once was. He stands at 6’3 with a 76-inch reach. On the other hand, what he uses to advantage most is the length of his legs. He has incredible submissions off his back and a strong top game.
Craig’s losses in the UFC have all came to very athletic fighters. One example is the Alonzo Menifield loss stands out when thinking of this. He was caught in a position that he can not afford to put himself in against these explosive talented fighters. To me this is the main factor behind Craig’s losses, he appears to get way too comfortable in certain positions on the feet and on the mat which you simply can’t afford to do.
For example, against the powerful striker Menifield he threw two spinning hook kicks in a row as Alonzo was coming forward, this was not wise as not only was the second one easier to read naturally because he’d just thrown it but it was slower and times worse than the first. This resulted in him having to awkwardly pull guard when Alonzo stepped in on his back to which Menifield responded with a big punch, knocking Craig out.
Craig has shown many improvements since then, when he took out Vinicius Moreira in his fight after that he showed patience and awareness. Despite Moreira not being the most skilled opponent he was a great comeback fight for Craig to showcase his ability. As for Paul’s most recent contest against Shogun I thought he looked good considering he took the fight on short notice. He had Shogun hurt in the first round, stayed technical and composed on the feet but ultimately couldn’t keep up a high enough pace to see out the decision in his favour.
The things I would like to see Craig work on are his offensive wrestling attacks. I feel mixed with his level of grappling could win him many fights and keep him out of danger. His striking is becoming more kick heavy I believe. He now has to be a similar style to UFC featherweight Contender Ryan Hall. Hall, who uses a phenomenal system based around his excellent grappling to control range on the feet and shut opponents down. Ultimately I expect Craig to have more success in the UFC, hopefully staying active and consistent at the age of 32.
Craig’s Future In The Sport:
What I would like to see next for Craig in terms of opponents is Johnny Walker. Walker is a well-known name who is coming off two bad losses, for Craig to give him a third loss would be huge, earning him a spot in the rankings surely. I like that match up for Craig, he is the more fundamentally sound fighter on the feet and is levels above Walker on the ground. Other than that I would like to see him up against any fighter hovering around the 15-25 spot in the division with a rematch against Khalil Rountree being within the realm of possibility.
In conclusion, I can’t wait to see ‘Bearjew’ back in there putting on great fights again, maybe he will even make an appearance on ‘Fight Island’ at some point in the future.
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