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Is Paul Craig a Dark Horse for UFC Light Heavyweight Champion?

By Timothy James  |  March 18, 2022  |  236 Comments

A win this Saturday against Nikita Krylov could launch Craig into title talks.

Paul “Bearjew” Craig had an up-and-down start to his UFC career. He came into the promotion as an undefeated 8-0 prospect after becoming the Light Heavyweight champion of the now defunct BAMMA banner out of the United Kingdom.

He won his UFC debut, but went 2-4 in his next 6 fights. What’s notable is that one of those wins came off Magomed Ankalaev, who now seems next in line for the winner of Texeira vs. Prochazka at UFC 275. Ankalaev is on a 8 fight win streak, bringing his record to 15-1, making Craig the only man to ever beat the Dagestani in an MMA contest.

Even more impressive is the fact that it came via submission. Craig is known for his slick BJJ, considered one of the scariest grapplers in the 205 division. It was on full display in his last fight, when he snapped Jamahal Hill’s arm in the very first round of their bout at UFC 263. 

Like Ankalaev, Jamahal Hill is another prospect in talks for a title shot at light heavyweight with a record that would be perfect if not for Craig. The heavy-handed striker is coming off a spectacular first-round knockout of Johnny Walker last month at UFC Vegas 48, bringing his almost unblemished record to 10 victories and 1 Paul Craig.

Interestingly enough, Craig has kept close ties with Hill and his team since their bout. Craig stated in a media scrum leading up to this Saturday’s event that he still texts Jamahal, and that Hill’s mother even thanked Craig for helping to take her son to the next level.

While having a bit more growing pains than his counterparts, Craig nonetheless has an impressive ledger, standing at 15-4 in his MMA career. He seems to be hitting a stride, going 4-0-1 in his last 5 fights, including wins over Hill and Shogun Rua.

A win this Saturday against Ukrainian Nikita Krylov would position Craig perfectly to be in the mix for a title shot, proving that he’s a threat to be reckoned with at light heavyweight. The Scot will have home field advantage in the UFC’s first event in Great Britain since UFC Fight Night: Till vs. Masvidal back in 2019.

For the first time in years, the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division is up for grabs. With Jon Jones likely to return as a heavyweight and DC’s retirement, there’s been more turnover in the division in the past few years than there had been in a decade. While top talents are navigating their way into the title picture, Paul Craig has an opportunity to cement himself as the next likely UFC Light Heavyweight champion.

He first has to best his opponent, Nikita “The Miner” Krylov, who will be fighting for more than usual. The Ukrainian fighter will be the second Ukrainian fighter to participate in the UFC since the beginning of the conflict with Russia. Maryna Moroz was the first, giving an impassioned Octagon interview after her submission win against Mariya Agapova early this month at UFC 272. Krylov famously escaped Donbass during the last Ukrainian conflict with Russia in 2014. While the UK crowd is likely to favor Craig, there’s undoubtedly going to be extra sympathy for Krylov.

Both men have a lot at stake this Saturday and it’s sure to be an amazing fight from the O2 Arena in London, England. It’s a super stacked UFC Fight Night card, with Dana White wanting to give the British crowd a treat for their long wait for live UFC action. Craig vs Krylov goes down in the prelims, which begins at 1 P.M. Eastern-Standard Time on ESPN+.

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