Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Paul Craig: A Story For The Times

High school students in Scotland were used to staring at Paul Craig as the clock ticked on slowly. If Paul Craig’s classroom was anything like so many American classrooms around the country, you can be sure that regardless of how much they enjoyed Mr. Craig’s class, they would much rather be home playing video games, Netflix and chilling, or doing whatever it is Scottish teenagers do…STV and chill? In any event, I think it’s a safe bet that these students would count the minutes down to the seconds for when the class would be dismissed, and they would be free to go on about their day…if only that darn clock would just hurry up.

What was also considered a safe bet was betting on Magomed Ankalaev to defeat Paul Craig…so much so that Ankalev closed as a -700 favorite for the bout. In listening to the many different breakdowns and perspectives about this fight from various experts and analysts, one thing seemed to be unanimous: Not only was Ankalav a justified monster favorite, but Paul Craig stood next to no chance to win. In fact, when it comes to safe bets, Ankalev seemed to be arguably the safest bet of 2018 among both experts and betters, save Cris Cyborg.

What was peculiar to me was the extent to which every expert seemed to be overlooking Paul Craig’s submission game. It’s one thing to be going against a striker like Khalil Roundtree or even pounded out in less than a minute on the mat to Tyson Pedro after already taking many shots on the feet…but when you look at Craig’s body of work juxtaposed to Ankalev’s fighting style, a submission victory for Craig seemed like a very realistic possibility. That body of work, by the way, consists of eight of his nine victories coming into the fight being by submission. That’s right. Coming into this fight, all but one of Paul Craig’s victories were by submission, including one in his UFC debut against Henrique da Silva via armbar.

How is it even possible to overlook an incredible statistic like that, knowing that Ankalav more than likely was going to take this fight to the mat and try to pound out a victory? And although that incredible submission victory/ratio of 8/9 should be impossible to ignore on its own merit, just go back and watch Craig’s mat work on the regional scene, and an expert should have known that this fight coming in was much, much more competitive than the odds suggested, especially when we consider that Ankalav, though a prospect coming into the fight (and still a hot prospect in my opinion), was making his UFC debut! What evidence was there that Ankalav would be able to avoid a Paul Craig submission for an entire fight?

And let’s address one thing right now before I go any further. Paul Craig’s victory was not a fluke. The reasons for this are twofold:

1) All but one of the man’s victories are by submission. It’s what he does. It’s not like he landed a Hail Mary punch or did something out of his nature. On the contrary, he did something that his record and film should have made obvious to any expert that he was capable of doing, especially in what was predicted to be a mat war.

2) The biggest argument that it was a fluke will no doubt come from the fact that the submission came in the last second of the fight. How could that not prove it was a fluke when Craig was being dominated, right? This would make sense, but there’s just one problem: a submission only takes seconds to pull off. If we can agree that a submission such as an armbar or a triangle choke only takes seconds to be successful, then the time gap between 4:50 and 5:00, which is the approximate time frame the submission was locked in, is not at all out of the ordinary.

“To put this in perspective, imagine if, in the closing seconds of UFC 220’s main event, Francis Ngannou was able to knock out Stipe Miocic in the closing seconds after losing all four rounds. Would that be a fluke? Of course, some would say so, but they, too, would be illogical because Ngannou’s knockout style is that in which it only takes one punch. If it only takes one punch that means it only takes one second. If it only takes one second, then it makes no difference whether that second was at 2:25 in the first round or at 4:59 in the fifth. If someone achieves a victory in the final seconds by a skill they specialize in that takes seconds to pull off, it cannot be a fluke.

“So I hope the experts who let down their listeners with this overconfidence will not use this cop-out and instead accept the fact that they underestimated a submission expert in a mat war against a fighter making his UFC debut and, like Ankalav, just take the L.

Once again, Paul Craig’s former high school students were staring at Mr. Craig this past Saturday, and once again, time was not on their side. Only this time as they were staring at him, they weren’t hoping that time would hurry up. Instead, they were hoping that he could have just one more round…just a few more minutes…a few more seconds more than the final ticks he was provided as Ankalev laid on top of him. But as these students would soon find out, Craig didn’t need it. Like any good teacher, Mr. Craig made use of the time allotted to him, and he schooled Ankalev and every MMA expert within earshot of the MMA community of what a top-level jiu-jitsu practitioner looks like and, more to the point, just who in the hell they were disrespecting.

Although it was not fluky, it was certainly inspirational. It gave not only his former students a lesson, but anybody watching around the world: never give up. When the clock is ticking on a battle that could shift the outlook on your entire life, do not ever give up. As cliché as that may sound, if Paul Craig’s come-from-behind final second victory does not put a spark to those overused words, I’m not sure what could. As far as come-from-behind victories go, this has to rank in the top five, if not at the top of the list, of what I have ever seen…not just because of the final seconds but because of how many people did not give Craig a chance to win.

“Well, right when it looked like his UFC career was going to be thrown out like old lesson plans, Craig added a second Performance of the Night bonus to his resume to complement his 2-2 UFC record. In doing so, he didn’t just, in all likelihood, buy his UFC career more time…but much to the delight of his former high school students, whenever they turn on the TV on fight night with this Scottish hero on the bill, they will get what they took for granted in those dragging minutes in the classroom: more time to watch Mr. Craig do what he loves.

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Where do you think Paul Craig’s comeback victory ranks?

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