THIS is Paul Craig’s moment.
At some point this afternoon, a teacher from Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, will walk into an arena filled with 10,000 fans as well as millions of eyes around the world watching on at home, wearing nothing more a pair of glorified budgie smugglers, aiming to fight for his future.
“The first time UFC came to Scotland I was sitting in the crowd as a fan. Two years down the line I’m doing it,” said the 29-year-old of his home debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
And he is that. Against Khalil Rountree, Craig will attempt to get his career in the UFC back on track. A career for him that is all about the here and now. Only signed up to the global brand in December, he quit his teaching job to pursue his ambition that was flickering into life two years ago when the UFC first landed in Scotland.
In his first two fights Craig has had mixed results. In his December debut, he defeated Henrique da Silva in California to announce his arrival on to the big stage. Only in March, though, his flying start came shuddering to a halt when, at the showpiece UFC 209 event in Las Vegas, he lasted just four minutes and 10 seconds against Tyson Pedro.
It is lesson this teacher acknowledges he has learned from as his steep learning curve in the UFC continues.
“I think I’m going to be in pretty early. These other guys are experienced. I’m the new guy, I’ll start at the bottom but it’s going to be an explosive fight,” said Craig. “I thought there was maybe an opportunity for me the last time.
“I was a teacher. I worked for an educational charity called Skill Force. I loved my job, no two days were the same, the kids’ patter was the best ever. I miss my job massively and the kids. To have a job like that was brilliant. But you know what, I can go back and do that. I can’t go back and do the UFC when I’m 40. I’m at my prime right now, and I needed to leave my job so I can 100 per cent focus on MMA.
“This is only my third time fighting. This time is the redemption for me. My hometown, I’ll make it up. When I look back at the fight in Las Vegas I don’t think I was ready for it. But in hindsight I still would have taken it. If you look back in the past you miss the future and the present. I’ve not watched the fight back, I know I messed up. There’s no need to go back. Now it’s UFC Glasgow.”
Just a week on from Josh Taylor filling the smaller Braehead Arena to get the better of Ohara Davies in a boxing ring, over double that amount will cram into the SSE Hydro to take in the sporting phenomenon that is the UFC.
This is only the second time it has come to Scotland but you can be sure it won’t be the last. The four Scots on the card – Craid, Stevie Ray, debutant Danny Henry and co-headliner Joanne Calderwood – suggest the popularity of the discipline among competitors, a heavy home presence in Glasgow speaks volumes of a sport that continues to gain spectators by the bucket load.
Already one of the most watched sports across the globe, success for Craig and his compatriots tonight will only heighten the interest in the most unforgiving arena in world sport.
Source : HeraldScotland