UFC

PAUL CRAIG still can’t quite believe he went from putting school kids on the path to a better life to strangling some of the best fighters on the planet for a living.

Before he made it to the UFC in 2016, Craig used to juggle his bid to reach mixed martial arts’ top promotion with his day job helping nurture the next generation of adults.

Paul Craig made his UFC debut back in December 2016

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Paul Craig made his UFC debut back in December 2016Credit: GETTY
The proud Scot used to juggle being an MMA fighter with his day job as a school teacher

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The proud Scot used to juggle being an MMA fighter with his day job as a school teacherCredit: GETTY
Fast forward eight years and the submission specialist is one of the most beloved UK fighters on the roster

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Fast forward eight years and the submission specialist is one of the most beloved UK fighters on the rosterCredit: Getty
Craig is still processing the insane transition from teacher to full-time UFC fighter

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Craig is still processing the insane transition from teacher to full-time UFC fighterCredit: GETTY

Fast forward nearly eight years and the Scot is one of the most beloved fighters to have ever come out of the UK and has nearly 20 fights in the promotion to his name.

Craig, 36, has loved every minute of the rollercoaster that has been his UFC career, although he admits part of him misses the classroom.

“I do miss it,” the Airdrie assassin told SunSport. “But that was a long time ago. I’ve been a fighter now longer than I’d been a teacher.

“It seems like such a long time ago that I was standing in a classroom teaching kids.”

Try as he might, Craig eventually failed to keep a lid on his extracurricular activities.

“I remember the day kids found out I was a fighter,” he recalled. “I never told them I was a fighter and that I was going to be in the UFC.

“And I remember they found out I was a fighter, one of the kid’s older brother said, ‘You’re teacher’s a fighter.’

“And the kids couldn’t believe it. And that was when I said to them, ‘There’ll be a day that I’ll be in the UFC.'”

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One of the kids in Craig’s classroom was vocal about his doubts over his ability to make it to the big show, although he’d later admit he’d been left with egg on his face.

Craig continued: “And I remember one of them said, ‘You’ll never be in the UFC. And I said listen, ‘I’ll be in the UFC.’

Brit UFC champ Tom Aspinall says ‘terrible’ UFC 304 start time should be changed for UK fans

“And he messaged me about a year or six months ago and he said, “I remember you telling me that you’ll be in the UFC.'”

Craig’s latest outing in the octagon will be his 18th in just under eight years, in which he’s produced some incredible moments against some of the current top dogs at light-heavyweight.

They’re a great source of pride for the former BAMMA 205lbs champion, as is being a UFC mainstay for the best part of a decade.

He said: “Eight years down the line and I’ve made it to the UFC, stayed in the UFC and had some great victories.

“[From] to snapping Jamahal Hill’s arm or the last-second submission against [Magomed] Ankalaev or stopping [Andre] Muniz in London with elbows.”

He added: “Eighteen fights in the UFC against the top level competitors in the world of mixed martial arts – it’s mindblowing.

“To think I’ve been here [that long]. When I first joined the UFC, I was still working as a teacher and I was still trying to juggle these two lives.

“Flash forward all these years now and I’m in a much better position than I was then and I’m making more money and my skills have massively improved.

Paul Craig own submission wins over the likes of Jamahal Hill and Magomed Ankalaev

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Paul Craig own submission wins over the likes of Jamahal Hill and Magomed AnkalaevCredit: GETTY

“The age is getting a little bit up there, but everything as an athlete is getting much better.

“I want to keep that love of the sport that I had then, which I’ve got now, going.

“I believe I’ve got until about 40 until I have to walk away from this sport.”

Craig will be back in somewhat familiar surroundings for the latest chapter of his UFC story, which will be written in Rio de Janeiro.

The submission specialist faces up-and-coming middleweight contender Caio Borralho early on Sunday morning on the main card of UFC 301.

Borralho is undefeated in MMA‘s top promotion and on the brink of cracking the top 15, which Craig believes the UFC are using him as a springboard for.

“The UFC are obviously taking me to Rio for the purposes of taking a loss,” he said. “They want to build Caio. And I get it.

Paul Craig faces surging middleweight contender Caio Borralho at UFC 301

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Paul Craig faces surging middleweight contender Caio Borralho at UFC 301Credit: GETTY

“He’s young and I’m coming to the end of my career and he’s just getting started. So they would like him to win.”

As he has done several times in his UFC career, Craig is relishing being the underdog and upsetting the applecart on enemy territory – which he plans to do with his first KO victory inside the octagon.

He said: “I’ve built my career on upsets. When you think about with Ankalaev, Kennedy Nzechukwu and Jahamal Hill, all these guys have been in there to beat me.

“I’ve been going into those fights to lose and every single time when you expect me to lose, that’s when I pull it out of the bag.

“It’s when you expect me to win, that’s when I don’t turn up.

“When you expect me to lose and be an underdog, that’s when I rise to the occasion and produce my best.

“When my back is against the wall, that’s when I produce my best – and that’s what you’re going to see Caio.”

Paul Craig is hoping to pull off a huge upset win in Rio de Janeiro this weekebd

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Paul Craig is hoping to pull off a huge upset win in Rio de Janeiro this weekebdCredit: GETTY



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