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Craig White on signing for UFC: ‘It’s a dream that I never thought would come true’

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Dolly Clew, Cage Warriors

The outpouring of emotion for Craig White was palpable last Tuesday.

Approaching his 10th year as a professional, even “The Thundercat” was bemused by the number of well-wishers that reached out to him after being announced as Neil Magny’s replacement opponent for UFC Liverpool.

“I didn’t know that many people liked me, to be honest,” White told MMA Fighting. “If you asked my friends they’d tell you I was an asshole, so to see people saying I was a nice guy was a pleasant surprise. Honestly, it’s been a bit overwhelming. I had no idea that this many people supported me.”

At one stage, it might have been considered a stretch to fathom White reaching a championship level within the Cage Warriors organization. In hindsight, White knows he made some decisions in his fledgling years that may have elongated his path to the top of the sport.

“I’ve been inactive because of injuries, I’ve been inactive because I couldn’t find fights, I’ve taken the wrong fights at the wrong times and I competed in the wrong weight division for a long time too. I’ve made some poor choices and it’s been a bit of a deterrent for me,” he candidly explained.

White, like a lot of the European MMA community, pointed to his drop down to welterweight — a bracket in which he has currently cultivated a four-fight win streak — as one of the biggest factors behind his rise to prominence.

“A big thing for me was when I decided to move down a weight class last year. I think the results speak for themselves since then. I think that’s a big reason that I’m in the situation that I am. It’s all been about taking opportunities and having the right platform with Cage Warriors.”

His last outing at Cage Warriors 92 was earmarked to be a title shot against Alex Montagnani, but it never came to be. After he finished Montagnani with a second-round triangle, “The Thundercat” was as good as guaranteed a championship date.

When Graham Boylan called him about a short notice date with the ninth-ranked UFC welterweight, Neil Magny, in Liverpool the promoter was blown away by White’s laid-back attitude.

“I just kind of said, ‘Yeah, alright then’, and Graham said, ‘That’s a very relaxed response, Craig!’” he remembered. “I’ve always been a relaxed kind of guy. As big of an opportunity this is, it’s just a fight at the end of the day. The bigger platform and the level of opponent are the only things that are different from every other fight that I’ve had.”

White doesn’t get a sense of personal achievement from his UFC contract. “The Thundercat” sees his call up to the world’s flagship promotion as an accomplishment for his team, Lion’s Den, and head coach, Dave Matthews.

“The main thing for me is just getting to be the first guy from my team to get to the UFC. To be able to do that for my coach means the world to me — it’s giving me huge motivation ahead of this fight. That’s another reason for me to put on a show; I want to show everyone what he’s taught me and what the next guys that come through from the team have to offer further down the line. Honestly, I feel it’s been a team effort to get here, it’s not just been me getting here by myself. We’ve put so much time and effort in over the years and for me to be the one that gets to represent the team is just amazing.

“It’s a dream that I never thought would come true — maybe that’s why it hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said.

As an unprecedented as this signing may have been just two years ago, the underdog status he has garnered has prepared him for his showdown with one of the best welterweights on the UFC books.

“I’m the ultimate underdog and I feel like I was for all of last year. A lot of people won a lot of money off me,” he chimed.

“Look, I know there are going to be people saying, ‘Who is this guy, he’s a sacrificial lamb, he’s going in there to get beat and blah, blah, blah,’ but I’m going to prove them wrong. Anyone that wants to earn some money should put it on me because there are probably going to be really good odds on me to get it done.”