I’m the first Scot to headline a UFC show but my career won’t be complete until I bring them back home, says Paul Craig

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PAUL CRAIG will write his name into the UFC’s history books when he sets foot inside the octagon this weekend.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Craig will become the first Scottish fighter to top the bill of one of the MMA leader’s cards when he faces Brendan Allen at UFC Vegas 82.

Paul Craig has been flying the flag for Scotland in the UFC for nearly seven yearsGETTY

INSTAGRAM@PAULCRAIGThe Airdrie assassin will become the first Scot to headline a UFC card this weekend[/caption]

INSTAGRAM@PAULCRAIG‘The Bearjew’ insists his career won’t be complete until he headlines a card in his homeland[/caption]

The magnitude of the achievement isn’t lost on the submission specialist, who long dreamed of the historic day when he began his MMA career.

But as proud as he is to be the first fighter to set the Scottish milestone, Paul is refusing to sit back and smell the roses.

The Bearjew told SunSport: “When I first started MMA, I had no idea that it would take me to where I am.

“I started as a fairweather trainer – just a few sessions and then I found out I was really good at it.

“So now to sit here, as you’re saying, it’s probably ten our 11 years all in. Six of them being in the UFC.

“And I’m getting paid to travel the world and experience things that I’ve never experienced and leaving some sort of a lasting legacy on UK and Scottish MMA.

“And as you say, to be the first person to headline a main event slot as a Scot is incredible.”

That moment of reflection will come for the Airdrie assassin after he headlines a UFC show back in his homeland, which the promotion hasn’t visited in over six years.

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Paul Craig plans wants to exorcise the ghost of his UFC Glasgow defeat to Khalil Rountree six years agoAP

He said: “That is the dream. We know I had a bad experience at the Hydro [in Glasgow] in my first fight.

“And it came down to inexperience, that’s what that came down to. I don’t believe I’m any less of a fighter by losing the way I did.

“It was just inexperience. I never knew how to deal with emotions, I never experienced being part of an event like UFC Glasgow – the crowd was just too much for me.

“Now as a 35-year-old man, I can go back there and represent myself so much better. I would love the opportunity to do that.”

The likelihood of that happening in the near future, however, is slim given the UFC have made London’s O2 Arena their UK residence.

Craig is all too aware of that fact, although he believes the UFC’s next visit to these shores could be a blockbuster stadium show.

He said: “I would love it to be UFC Scotland next year in the summer, I would love nothing more than that. But I think there is a bigger opportunity for UK MMA.

“I think there is a huge opportunity to put on a coming-of-age UK event and I don’t think Scotland has got the capacity to hold it.

“I believe somewhere like a stadium, like Cardiff, like Spurs – something big to showcase UK MMA and bring in more UK fans.”

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Craig added: “UK MMA is having a bit of a resurgence right now.

That is the dream

Paul Craig on headlining a UFC show in Scotland

“We’ve had Michael Bisping as a champ, we’ve had Leon Edwards as a champ and just last weekend, we had Tom Aspinall securing a heavyweight championship.

“It’s a good time to be at the forefront of MMA in the UK. I’m very hopeful that something big is going to come [soon].

“A victory for me on Saturday, with all these guys lining up and the stars are just falling into position. It’s going to be something beautiful.

“I hope they’re going to utilise this in the UK and I hope that it’s going to be something special the UFC is going to put on in the UK.”

Before Paul can think about fighting in his homeland or the seemingly inevitable stadium show, he must continue his surge up the 185lbs ranks against Allen.

The long-time light-heavyweight made a spectacular debut in the division in July and feels comfortable with the gruelling weight cut and his new lean and mean physique.

He said: “My heart rate is dropping because I’m getting fitter, my energy output is so much better.

“Body fat, body mass, body muscle – all the things that are vital to MMA are improving.

GETTYPaul Craig will look to climb up the middleweight ranks against Brendan Allen early on Sunday morning[/caption]

“So as long as that keeps happening. I’m going to keep pushing.”

Big-time fights against the likes of Roman Dolidze, Marvin Vettori and even Khamzat Chimaev will be in the offing for Craig should he get past the No.10-ranked Allen.

But he’s refusing to think of what fights 2024 will hold for him until after he has his hand raised inside the UFC Apex.

He said: “You never ever look past the opponent that you have got in front of you. But you need to have an eye on where you’re going next.

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“The next thing you want to do is get to your destination and not have anywhere else to lead to.

“So all these guys are in my sights. And a victory over Allen. And as you say, he’s a very good opponent. There is nobody in the top ten in any division of the UFC who is a slouch.

“There are easier fights that stylistically match up better with your style, but Brendan Allen is a great striker, [a] great grappler, [has got] great jiu-jitsu.

“But is he ready for what I’ve got? I’m not sure. And a victory over him will definitely catapult me into that top ten area.”

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