To say revenge is on the mind of Paul Craig would be somewhat of an understatement. This weekend, the former BAMMA light-heavyweight champion will get the chance to settle the score with former Pride Middleweight Grand Prix winner Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC 255 in Las Vegas.
Craig locked horns with the former UFC light-heavyweight champion one year ago in Sao Paulo, with their first meeting ending a split draw.
That night at the Ginasio do Ibirapuera lives long in the memory of the Scottish Hit Squad squad standout, but not because of any pre-fight nerves or reservations about taking on a future Hall-of-Famer.
“As I was walking out, there was a fan – and it was in clear English – when there’s loads of cheers and jeers in Portuguese and you hear English [it stands outs],” Craig told Express Sport.
“And the English words were: ‘You’re going to die, Craig.’ But as I was walking in, I felt so relaxed. And what made it even easier was his song was, he came out to Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’.
“I was so far from under pressure in that fight. That song just lifted me up a little bit more.”
He’s just a man. He’s at the back end of his thirties. So that kind of falls into my plan and my favour.
Paul Craig on ‘Shogun’ Rua
Many fighters have been guilty of paying legends too much respect when sharing the cage with them. Craig, however, had no such problem – although he did pay the appropriate deference to the Brazilian.
“When came walking into the Octagon, he was a man just standing in front of me,” Craig said. “His mystique, him being ‘Shogun’ Rua, was not there.”
Airdrie’s Craig will take the same mindset into his second meeting with the beloved ‘Shogun’, who continues to defy father time.
“He’s just a man,” Craig said of the Curitiba native. “He’s at the back end of his thirties. So that kind of falls into my plan and my favour.”
Although Craig hasn’t dwelled on the judges’ decision to score his first meeting with ‘Shogun’ a draw, the result of the contest still irks him.
“I felt like I dominated that fight,” he said. “Regardless of what other people say or what pundits or cornermen or fight fans say, I believe that I dominated that fight. I showed that in the stand-up – and he laid on top of me.”
Focusing on the negatives associated with his setbacks has never been in Craig’s DNA, with the Scot firmly believing there was a silver lining to the ‘Shogun’ cloud.
“I was quite taken aback by how [how I dominated the fight],” he said. “And it gave me this wee bit of confidence because you always have these doubts in the back of your mind.
“‘Am I ready?’ Two weeks notice – am I ready? Have I done enough?’ And in that fight, when I got in and started unloading on him, they all left.”
Going the distance with ‘Shogun’ has undoubtedly raised Craig’s confidence, although he’s refusing to overlook the wily veteran.
“My efficacy is through the roof,” a confident Craig said. “But, you still need to remember this ‘Shogun’ – he can still turn it on.”
Craig’s second encounter with ‘Shogun’ will provide him with the opportunity to etch his name into UFC history. Should the 32-year-old win by submission, he’ll claim the record for the most submission victories in light-heavyweight history.
The prospect of claiming the accolade is something Craig is well aware of going into his second outing of the year.
“For my last fight, I was joint with Jon Jones,” he said. “There were three or four fighters who were joint for fifth. And this will take me to being the [owner of the] most submissions. I also hold the most triangle wins in the UFC. So I’ve got a couple of records.
“I’ve also got the latest three-round submission in London against Magomed Ankalaev. So I’ve got a couple of these statistical records. And they do mean something to me.”
And another submission victory is exactly what the ‘Bearjew’ is targeting this weekend.
He said: “Every time somebody asks me how I’m going to finish a fight, regardless of it’s ‘Shogun’ Rua or anybody, I always say I would love to knock them out. Knock them out with a big boomf and put them down and flatten them with one dig.
“But I’m more of a grinder. I’m the guy who takes the submission, I’m the jiu-jitsu guy. So it’s going to have to be a submission, probably in the second round.”
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