UFC light heavyweight contender Paul Craig no longer has one eye on a 2022 retirement, claiming he’s now “here for the long haul.”
At the start of the year, Craig, who’s currently ranked #11 at 205 pounds and unbeaten in his last five fights, surprised fans and pundits by laying out a retirement plan that culminated at his 35th birthday in November.
The Scotsman, who had a string of bad luck when it came to fights falling through late last year, cited his hopes to avoid unnecessary damage as the reason for his relatively early desired exit from the sport.
However, as Craig gets set for his first appearance of 2022 and since a brutal victory over Jamahal Hill last June, he’s provided a positive update for those hoping to see a lot more of him inside the Octagon.
Speaking to BT Sport’s Nick Peet ahead of this Saturday’s UFC London card, “Bearjew” agreed to extend his retirement plan by two years. He named the pursuit of light heavyweight gold as the reason for his change of heart.
“Let’s do it. Let’s add two years,” said Craig. “You know what changes people’s minds? There’s a few things in life that will change people’s minds. One of them is a sniff of gold, a gold rush. So I’ve got a gold fever and I’m here for the long haul. The other thing is women. If a woman decides you’re not retiring, then you’re working. So there’s two factors that stop people from retiring. One of them is definitely in my mind at the moment.”
Discussing the open landscape of the light heavyweight division, Craig suggested he’s got a newfound appetite for rising the ranks and joining the likes of Jan Blachowicz, Magomed Ankalaev, and Jiří Procházka in contention.
“It’s getting that gold. The light heavyweight division is moving so quickly,” noted Craig. “We’ve got guys like Jan, who just lost the belt to Glover (Teixeira). Glover’s 42. People believe they can beat him. Jiří Procházka believes he can beat him. So we’ve got that fight happening, we’ve got Ankalaev, who won at the weekend, he’s looking for that gold.
“This is one of the most exciting divisions because we’ve not got somebody like Kamaru Usman,” Craig continued. “You’ve got divisions where the champ stays there and it’s very, very hard to dethrone them. In this division, the champ can be there and he can be there for six months and he’s gone. I’m excited to be part of this.”
Paul Craig’s Path To Gold Starts At UFC London
Seemingly possessing a fresh motivation and sense of ambition, Craig’s targeted march towards Teixeira’s throne will begin this weekend at UFC London.
The Airdrie, Scotland native has fond memories of England’s capital. In his last visit, he submitted Ankalaev with a final-second triangle choke, a victory he described this week as “life-changing.”
He’ll hope for a similarly memorable result when he shares the Octagon with Nikita Krylov inside London’s O2 Arena on March 19.
He further told BT Sport that in order to break through into the group of elite, he must beat “The Minor” convincingly.
“This fight with Krylov, I’m just outside the top 10, I believe I have put in my work, I believe I have done the hard work, I’ve done the unbeaten fighters, I’ve done the guys who the UFC expect to be pushed, like Jamahal Hill… I want to be that. I want to get that push. I want to get higher, into that top five. I want to beat Krylov convincingly.
“I want to be in that top five and I want to be in that mention of, ‘Ankalaev’s close to the title, Procházka’s close to the title, what about Paul Craig? I’m excited to see what a jiu-jitsu practitioner can do in that top five.’ That’s what I want,” Craig concluded.
Who do you think will have their hand raised at UFC London this weekend, Paul Craig or Nikita Krylov?