Scotland’s Paul ‘BearJew’ Craig dominates in UFC debut
As far as UFC debuts go, Airdrie’s Paul Craig (9-0) couldn’t have dreamt of a better start to his career with the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion. The former BAMMA light heavyweight champion headlined the prelims on Fox Sports, handed Brazilian Luis Henrique da Silva his first professional loss and picked up the $50k Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts.
On paper it could have seemed that the 29-year-old was thrown in at the deep end against a man who was undefeated, ranked 18th in the division, was a former kick boxing champion and had knocked-out 11 of his 12 opponents. But whilst none of that phased Craig one bit, the manner in how he despatched the Brazilian did come as a welcome surprise.
He said: “We knew da Silva was dangerous; he was undefeated with 11 KOs and one submission. I always say that every man is beatable but I just didn’t expect to beat him in that fashion.
“I said before the fight I would stand with him and look for the KO, and I certainly out struck him in the fight. I landed a lot of blows to his face and made a bit of a mess of his eye. He didn’t like that one bit so tried to take me down. When he couldn’t take me down he tried to take the fight to the clinch, but I had been working on the clinch specifically in training. We wanted to use dirty boxing to do damage there rather than just score points, so I controlled the back of da Silva’s head, landed a load of punches and it forced him to lift his head away and release the clinch”.
Craig comfortably won the exchanges in the first round and a bruised and bloody da Silva looked noticeably tired and out of ideas as he made his way to the corner after the bell. Something Craig had picked up on too. He said: “He couldn’t out strike me and he couldn’t take me to the ground. I also noticed his team took a bit longer than allowed in between the rounds to give him time to recover. It showed we had taken his heart, I was prepared for everything he had, it was perfect.
“In the second round I felt as if my grappling and control felt even better and stronger so I was happy to just pull him down and get the fight over with. I don’t get paid for overtime so I might as well finish the fight as soon as possible. When I locked up the arm-bar I knew that was the end of the fight”.
Craig’s rise to the UFC has been pretty meteoric given he started training MMA less than five years ago and whilst he obviously has the natural talent and a strong work ethic, the man known as “BearJew” is always quick to credit his head coach Brian Gallacher and the rest of his coaches at the Scottish Hit Squad gym for bringing out the best in him. He said: “It all just comes down to a combination of my will and determination, plus the fact and that I have better coaches than most guys. There is a good team round about me. I’m the guy that’s fighting but there is folk that sacrifice a lot to help me. Some take days off work and some drive for hours just to be part of this process. I’m always getting asked if I would move teams but there is no chance. It’s not where you train or who has the best facilities. It’s about the team you have and how they all contribute. I get loads of time with each individual coach and that’s what makes me better. They could have said I did great and left it at that but the first thing Brian and all the coaches do is work out what I did wrong. That’s how I progress. If they see anything I’m weak at then that’s what we work on and I thrive on that”.
Craig’s performance was one of the stand-out moments of the entire evening, which was broadcast live on network TV across the United States courtesy of Fox Sports and his stock has subsequently shot through the roof. He said: “I’m just waiting on someone telling me it was all a dream. I haven’t even had time to properly take it all in yet. I just wanted to spend time with my family that I hadn’t seen in two weeks.
“The whole experience was great. My social media has exploded and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. I have even had a couple of celebrity tweets; I got a message of congrats from Biffy Clyro and Chasing Status which was awesome.
“As for what’s next, I really want to fight on the London card in March and then get the UFC back to Glasgow later in the year. I really want to fight in Scotland and be on that main card”.