A short-notice replacement for the injured Sam Alvey, Craig reached out to the UFC directly for the bout. He was announced as Rua’s new opponent even before he signed on the dotted line.
“Both me and my coach had a conversation like, ‘Why wouldn’t he take the fight?’” Craid told MMA Fighting’s Eurobash podcast. That’s what we kept saying to each other. He’s the co-main event, he needs a fight, and I’m a favorable opponent for him. He could get someone in the division that’s an absolute stud, or he could get someone like me who –maybe I’m underselling myself a bit – isn’t as studdish as some of the other guys there.
“I was thinking, ‘He’ll definitely take it, he’ll definitely take it,’ and then on the Monday, ‘Shogun’ said he would take the fight.”
Craig admits he wasn’t a diehard MMA fan when Rua became a star. But the Scot explained how he felt like a “schoolboy waking up on Christmas morning getting his presents” when he found out that he had secured the Sao Paulo co-main event.
“I’d only really taken up the sport seven-and-a-half years ago,” he said. “He was one of these guys that I knew about. I was interested in watching him, I like his style and I’ve always said that he would be a guy who I’d like to fight. Matching me up with him, I think it’s a really favorable matchup for me. Going into the gym after we had signed the contract, I could barely hit the pads with the excitement.
Craig believes those who think Rua is past his prime should try stepping into the Octagon with him.
“He’s still a very dangerous fighter,” he said. “Regardless of how he turns up to the fight now, he’s still a dangerous fighter who has 15-years-plus of experience with fighting high-level opponents. For anyone who says he still doesn’t have it - why don’t they step into the Octagon with him. Let’s see how long they last.”
“He probably isn’t the same physically as he was back in the day; his body shape has changed. But that’s to be expected. When you’ve got skill like he does, you never lose that.”
He also insists he’s excited about taking the Brazilian legend on on his home turf, despite the nation’s infamous raucous crowds.
“It gives me that wee spark,” Craig said. “I’d like to step into the lion’s den and steal that victory from him, and that’s what I’m looking to do. I always like to travel to fight in the UFC. I’ve been very lucky to fight two times in the U.K., but every other fight has been abroad. It’s been the U.S. and Mexico, Australia – I like to travel about, and that’s a bonus to me when it comes to this job.”
Check out Paul Craig’s recent appearance on Eurobash. The interview begins at 1:09:00.