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‘Old Braveheart is still in’ - Paul Craig scraps early retirement plans after UFC London win

Originally planning to retire at 35, Paul Craig says he’s still got a “wee bit left” to fight on.

In a January interview, UFC light heavyweight contender Paul Craig brought up the possibility of retiring at 35 years old. Here’s what the 34-year-old Scottish fighter said at the time:

“I made this kind of deal with myself that I’d like to get to 35. That’s my number and I’ve only got a year left on that. Last year was a nightmare with everything that happened.

“But I’m still kind of firm on that number of 35. I just don’t see the point of taking damage, for not being at my best.”

Craig, who turns 35 in November, notched his fourth straight UFC win on Saturday night when he submitted Nikita Krylov in the prelims of UFC London. And with that performance, he now feels a bit of rejuvenation and a renewed desire to fight on.

“I felt like 35 was a number where you could leave the sport, still have your mental clarity, and still feel good about yourself,” Craig told Ariel Helwani during his Monday appearance on The MMA Hour. “The sport’s evolved so much since I first started watching the sport to now, I believe that I’ve got a little bit more mustard in the tub.

“You know that wee bit in the corner where you really can’t really get with the knife. I’ve got that wee bit of mustard still left in me.

“I’ve still got a lot of mental clarity. My fights don’t go that long, and the ones that do go long, I typically don’t get a lot of head shots. It’s mostly body shots, a lot of grappling. So I believe I’ve still got something left in me, and after that victory this weekend, I believe that I’ve got more to do in this sport and I’m so close to being a name in this sport.”

“Let’s be honest, watching that fight Saturday night, I bet there was people who have never seen me fight before who were like, ‘Paul Craig, he’s done,” he added. “He’s about to get knocked out and it’s game over for him.’

“And then there’s people who know how I fight and have seen me fight before and fight the exact same way who were like, ‘No, he’s still in. Old Braveheart is still in, man. He’s got a wee bit left.’ And I showed it Saturday night against a top-level opponent.”

Craig’s road to the success he currently enjoys wasn’t an easy one. His second UFC fight at UFC 209 in 2017 against Tyson Pedro was also his first-ever loss as a fighter, and that led to a short string of defeats. For him, that was a turning point in his career.

“There wasn’t gonna be a ‘Bearjew’ legacy left behind. It was gonna be a flash in the pan for Paul Craig. People would’ve been saying ‘remember Paul Craig was a fighter?’ I didn’t deserve to be there,” he candidly said.

“‘Cause this sport’s brutal, let’s be honest. The fans are tough on the fighters ‘cause they need to keep us humble and they need to keep us hungry for these victories.

“I had to go away and learn my craft again. I had to actually learn how to be an athlete. I had to go away and learn how to be a fighter, a martial artist. I had to go away and look at mental clarity and try to become a whole package.”

Now that he’s put on a little streak with two consecutive Performance of the Night wins to boot, Craig is only looking ahead. For his next fight, he wants someone with a bigger name value, regardless of their recent record.

“We’ve seen Thiago Santos against Ankalaev, and I don’t want to be picking fights with guys on a losing record, but he’s still fought for the title, he’s still in the top 10, he’s still a household name, so that would be an interesting fight.

“The same again for [Volkan] Oezdemir, the same again for Dominick Reyes. All these guys are guys that I would fight.”

With the win over Krylov, Craig improves to a record of 16-4-1. His last four wins all ended via stoppage, including one against former UFC champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.