Perhaps these kind of career milestones are only to be enjoyed in retirement, feet up, with pipe and slippers.
But Paul Craig breaks new ground on Saturday night as the first Scottish fighter to headline a UFC card – just reward for approaching two decades of blood, sweat and tears.
He takes on Brendan Allen in Las Vegas and was able to reflect on his accomplishment, appreciating how far he’s come even while lasered in on the battle ahead.
The 35-year-old exclusively told Mail Sport: ‘It’s huge because I’ve been grinding in the UFC for six or seven years. Prior to that I was fighting for 11 years, so it’s been a long time coming.
‘To see myself on a poster, to see them build a card round about me. It’s amazing to be the first Scottish fighter to headline a card.
Paul Craig (right) takes on Brendan Allen (left) in the main event this Saturday
Craig won on his middleweight debut in London back in July against Andre Muniz
‘I originally set goals maybe five years ago. One was to be in the top 10, which I made as a light-heavyweight and want to make as a middleweight, one was to headline a show and I’ve got that now, one of the main ones was to get a light-heavyweight title.
He added: ‘I still believe there are opportunities to do that but I’m so designed to be a middleweight that it’s too easy to stay here and do the damage I’m going to do as a middleweight.
‘There’s loads of high level middleweights in front of me, I’m facing a very dangerous one on Saturday night. But I believe this is my time, I’m 35 and have six to 10 fights left in me and I believe I can be champ.
‘I believe there’s only one guy standing in front of me who’s going to stop me and that’s Brendan Allen.
‘With my skillset, my jiu-jitsu and the levels of improvement in my striking, I believe I should comfortably win this five-rounder.’
Craig made his middleweight debut in London back in July, elbowing his way to a TKO of Andre Muniz having come down a division from light-heavyweight.
Having made weight without a hitch on Friday, Craig looks in elite shape but faces a tough task against an American rising star who’s won seven of his previous eight.
Being an underdog is something Craig is accustomed to and he relishes the chance to defy the odds.
He explained: ‘It’s never a surprise for me, I’m always counted out. I kind of like being the underdog, I’ve always been the underdog and that’s what inspires me to fight and it makes me work harder when people doubt my ability.
The Scot is a magician on the ground as Jamahal Hill (left) and many others found
‘I know my abilities are through the roof. The only thing that held me back as a light-heavyweight and up to this point was confidence and the more wins you get, the more chance you get to show your skill, the better the opportunity to improve confidence.
‘What you’re going to see on Saturday night is a very confident Paul Craig.’
The UFC’s Apex centre was a useful tool during the pandemic that allowed them to keep running and televise live action.
The decision to keep using it rather than host cards in front of larger crowds has been widely criticised, but Craig does not mind the change of scenery and has fond memories of the venue.
‘It’s a very good stomping ground for me. There’s always pressure going into a fight. I think there’s less pressure at the Apex because there’s less fans.
‘Obviously it is still televised and lots of people are watching but there’s less pressure because there’s not that electricity you get from fighting somewhere like London where the hairs on the back of your neck stand up from the moment you step in the arena to the moment you leave.
‘The noise, the love, the cheers, the boos, everything, whereas in the Apex, that’s all dialled down, it’s like a really hard sparring session in the gym. There’s background noise of people talking so I do enjoy the Apex and I do enjoy watching cards in the Apex.’
Craig has fought at the UFC’s Apex centre before and beat Mauricio Shogun Rua
The 35-year-old has title aspirations and thinks he could be a couple of wins away from a shot
Craig has always been one of the UFC’s most dangerous jiu-jitsu fighters and many light-heavyweights have been snared in his traps down the years.
Now the bigger man in a lower weight class, he thinks a win over Allen and one more after that will elevate him into the title picture.
‘Most divisions are the same, a few wins and you can catapult yourself up there,’ he continued. ‘A few high level wins can get yourself a title shot. Jamahal Hill jumped the queue massively at light-heavyweight. That’s the way this sport is. If you’re able to string together a couple of wins, put on some entertaining fights then you’re going to get an opportunity.
‘Sean Strickland wasn’t the No 1 contender but still got the opportunity, the same for guys like Sean O’Malley. First and foremost, the UFC is about entertainment, it’s not about the fighting, it’s about the entertainment and the fighting is secondary and that’s how you get these title shots.
‘A victory over Allen, a victory over another top 10 guy and you could be in a place where people are then saying your name.’
Tom Aspinall’s recent triumph, leading him to become the third British UFC champion, albeit for the interim heavyweight belt, was another signpost of a hugely exciting time for MMA on these shores.
Craig looked in top shape as he made weight for the bout on Friday this week
Striking improvements have been made to his game, which is largely ground-focused
Craig was out in Las Vegas, savouring the action. ‘I watched it in a bar with my team. Watching it… it was amazing to see Tom get the victory and get the belt, him his father, his team, everything about it was amazing and I’m super proud to be part of the UK scene at the moment.
‘We’ve got victories with Leon Edwards and Tom Aspinall and that lines up with something big coming to the UK. That’s what I’m hoping. I’m expecting as a whole, MMA, the UFC in the UK is only going to get bigger and that’s what I want, I want to be part of this.
‘The victory for Tom looked so comfortable, he looked great and will go on to bigger things. I believe he’ll be champion for a long, long time – I don’t think anyone else in that top 10 has the skills to beat him and that goes as well for Jon Jones.’
Craig has title aspirations of his own and clearly the belief in his ability, especially at middleweight.
So, how does ‘Bear Jew’ see his match-up with Allen playing out?
‘You know, it’s 25 minutes and I’ve trained for the 25 minutes. We did a lot of tests on the engine, we need to make sure the lungs, the heart, the muscles can go for 25 minutes.
‘It’s just about showcasing what we’ve got. It’s going to be about putting the pressure on him, stopping him executing his game plan, which is wrestling and submissions.
‘It’s more likely going to be done within three rounds, that’s what I hope. Just with the way I fight, my pressure and opportunities to see submissions – so under three rounds.’
‘Bear Jew’ shared an intense face-off with Allen ahead of their fight on Saturday
Sophie Anderson, a UK-based writer, is your guide to the latest trends, viral sensations, and internet phenomena. With a finger on the pulse of digital culture, she explores what’s trending across social media and pop culture, keeping readers in the know about the latest online sensations.