‘I’m in privileged position’ – UFC headliner Craig

Paul Craig says it is a “dream come true” to become the first Scottish fighter to headline a UFC event.

Craig, 35, will face 27-year-old American Brendan Allen at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The fight represents Craig’s second at middleweight after moving down from light-heavyweight to beat Andre Muniz in July.

“I’ve got a poster with my face on it, I’m going to be signing them later which is amazing,” said Craig.

“Life is all about risk and reward. A ship is safe in the harbour, but that’s not what it’s built for. We’re not designed to be in a nice comfortable life.

“What we should be doing is feeling the turmoil, feeling the waves crash, feeling scared and living every day as if it’s our last. Having the opportunity to headline the Vegas card is a dream come true.”

Craig had spent all of his MMA career at light-heavyweight, where he won eight of his 15 UFC bouts, before making the decision to drop down earlier this year following two successive defeats.

After beating Muniz, Craig is 13th in the UFC’s middleweight rankings, while Allen, who is on a five-fight win streak, sits 10th.

Despite Craig and fellow Scottish fighters such as Joanne Wood and Stevie Ray enjoying multiple wins in the promotion, neither have appeared in a UFC main event before.

“It’s legacy for me, I’m the first to do this,” said Craig.

“As a kid I used to collect football stickers, pictures of other athletes, and now kids are doing that with my card. I’m in a very privileged position.”

‘Middleweight is my home now’

Craig’s decision to drop down a division late in his career is in contrast to the majority of fighters, who often move up as shedding weight becomes more difficult with age, because of factors such as slowing metabolisms.

Light-heavyweights compete at a limit of 205lb in the UFC, with middleweights 20lb lighter at 185lb.

Craig has been working closely with a nutritionist to drop the extra pounds, and has had to end his vegan diet, which he followed for six years.

“One of the things we had to do was increase animal proteins. So we had to add yoghurt and eggs,” said Craig.

“The first time eating these foods I wasn’t enjoying them. Being off them for that amount of time it can mess up your stomach. But now my body is used to taking this stuff because I’m regularly eating it.

“With the reduction in calories you can be a bit short with people, just because you’re on the cusp of not enough calories. But you appreciate food so much more when you’re hungry.

“Something simple as a yoghurt or Brazil nuts, you appreciate them and saviour them, so I do enjoy that experience.”

Craig also believes that dropping down a division late in his career has been more beneficial, as he wouldn’t have had the discipline to fight at middleweight before.

“Middleweight is my weight class and its taken me until I’m 35 to realise this, but I do believe being 35 has helped me,” said Craig.

“In my 20s I don’t think I’d have had the knowledge to work with [a nutritionist]. I’d have a mindset of ‘I’ll just make the weight and reduce calories’ – I’d basically put my body in shock to make the weight.

“But now I’m coming at it as an adult and from a very scientific standpoint.”