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Trip to UFC Performance Institute convinced Paul Craig to make changes ahead of UFC London

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Paul Craig Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Paul Craig is ready to right the wrongs of 2017 in London.

The Scot came into his UFC debut in 2016 with a ton of momentum after a successful run as BAMMA champion. It seemed like “Bearjew” was off to the races after his Performance of the Night winning submission over Luis Henrique da Silva, but last year he suffered the first losses of his career.

Ahead of his fourth test in the Octagon, Craig has gotten back to what got him to the dance.

“Last year wasn’t a great year for me in fighting, we had a lot going on,” Craig told MMA Fighting.

“This year we’ve got to look to correct that. We’ve got a difficult opponent in front of us but we’re going to tackle him the way we used to tackle opponents. I got to the UFC as an unbeaten fighter. I always used my grappling to finish fights and my striking to set up takedowns.

“That’s what we’re going to do in here. I think a lot of people will recognize the guy that got to the UFC on Saturday rather than the version of that guy that fought last year.”

There’s no shame in Craig’s 2017 defeats. He came up short against two of the division’s prospects, Tyson Pedro and Khalil Rountree. What may have hurt more was being on the end of a first-round TKO loss to Rountree when they clashed in front of Craig’s beloved home crowd at UFC Glasgow.

“Glasgow was an experience. Mentally we weren’t ready for Glasgow, but physically we were. The mental game is a different part to this. I lost at the start of the year and I never found a way back from that,” he said.

“If you had asked me about Glasgow before it, I would’ve told you I felt amazing — you have to say that. You need to believe that going into these fights and you need to convince yourself, too, sometimes.”

Even though he knows he wasn’t as poised as he would’ve liked to be for his homecoming, Craig wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

“I see 2017 as a year of memories,” Craig said. “I can remember standing in the Octagon watching Bruce Buffer calling out my name and I couldn’t even hear him over the Scottish crowd. That’s one of the best memories of my life even though I lost and I was lying in my hometown with my legs up in the air. If you told me I could re-do 2017, I’d have it exactly the same way. There’s no way I wouldn’t fight in my hometown.”

After dropping two consecutive losses, Craig and Scottish Hit Squad head coach Brian Gallacher visited Las Vegas to see if the minds at the UFC’s Performance Institute could steer them onto a better path.

They found that they needed to go back to a similar program that won Craig a place in the UFC in 2016. A former school teacher, Craig believes becoming a full-time fighter following his debut success led him to over train and lose track of his old regiment.

The change of focus couldn’t have come sooner with Craig facing a potential third loss on the trot in the English capital.

“This is the top of the food chain. For every one of me there are another two or three guys that are trying to get in here and take my place,” he explained.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go around thinking that you can’t be cut. We’ve seen so many guys get cut. You can’t dwell on it at the same time. Look at Robert Whiteford in his last fight with the UFC, he was at the point where he knew a loss could see him cut. He actually won the fight, but not in spectacular fashion, and then the UFC said, ‘Cheerio.’”

Although it’s been a rough time for Craig, it’s his experiences over the last 12 months that he thinks will be the difference between him and his debuting opponent, Magomed Ankalaev.

“He hasn’t faced anyone on the level of the guys that beat me last year,” Craig said. “I’ve lost to two of the best 205 prospects and he hasn’t fought anyone of that caliber. He hasn’t experienced fighting in the UFC either and I don’t know if he will be able to handle it. You just don’t know until you get in there and I don’t think he’s ready for it.”