Paul Craig won himself a new four-fight deal with the UFC after he submitted newcomer Magomed Ankalaev in the final second of their light heavyweight showdown in London.
After the fight, Craig told U.K. outlet Metro that he would have retired after the fight if he wasn’t offered a new UFC contract.
During an appearance on the latest episode of The MMA Hour, “Bearjew” insisted that he would have no interest in competing outside the UFC, and for that reason he was willing to hang up his gloves if the promotion wasn’t willing to offer him a new deal.
“When you set yourself goals, you don’t want anything less,” Craig told Ariel Helwani. “I don’t want to be taking the damage that I take, especially that last fight, for anything less than the best.
“It’s not about financial gains for me because you know you can make more money through other shows. For me, it was about being the best I can be and fighting at the best level. That was my whole reason for doing it.”
Craig made up his mind before the fight that he would walk away if he didn’t secure a new contract, but he kept his decision to himself.
“I never even said it to anybody, my family or my friends. My coach, Brian (Gallacher) said to me afterwards, ‘Was that true?’ and I said, ‘Aye, it was. I set myself the goal of UFC, so it’s either UFC or nothing.’ I’m an all or nothing guy.”
Recalling the sequence that led to the fight-stopping triangle choke, Craig claims that he knew he had to get Ankalaev to over-commit to have a chance of securing the submission.
“I knew if I could get him to over-commit to one of his shots, there was always an opportunity for a triangle. Prior to being in that position he had been swinging these bombs and quite a few of them landed,” he remembered.
“I managed to control his hip and I was controlling his wrist and he over-committed. He opened up and he was pulling back and a gap opened for a split second and I thought I’d nail the triangle. If he hadn’t (thrown the punch) with the same intensity that he threw it, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.”
Although he didn’t know until two days after the win that he had secured a new deal, he described his emotions after he claimed the last-second victory.
“It’s unexplainable, the feeling and the emotion. Even then I still didn’t know if I had got a contract. I was going backstage unaware of anything with regards to contracts,” Craig said.
“In my heart, I was thinking that 15 minutes with an opponent like Magomed Ankalaev, I thought I didn’t do enough to secure a contract. And then on Monday morning we got an email saying that there was no need to worry and that I was getting a contract after my performance.”
Securing a new contract was a “massive relief” for Craig, who gave up a full-time teaching role shortly after his UFC debut. He hopes the experience will serve as a catalyst as he looks to work his way back up the light heavyweight ladder.
“When we got the contract it was this massive relief. As I said, I was leaving the UFC and I was leaving MMA behind, but I still believe I have some gas left in the tank to get more fights and make my way back up the rankings,” Craig said. “There are so many people in front of me and I believe in my head and in my heart that I can beat them.”
Although he would like to think that he would have been kept on by the promotion even if he didn’t get the win, he doubts that would have been the case.
“This sport isn’t just about fighting, we know that now. Going back years ago, it was about the fighting. Now it’s about the whole package, you have to entertain the crowd. Can you bring the people in to love you? That’s what this is: people only support people they love. Look at Conor McGregor, he’s got love all around the world.
“Do I have enough love in the UK and Scotland? Yes. And obviously I have fans in the US that send me messages all the time. I honestly don’t know. I’d love to say that UFC would have took that chance on me and kept me on. They know the level of opponents that I have fought,” he said.
“I’d love to say yes, but my heart says, ‘No, you lost, you were out.’”